(Pictured: the young Cars.)
Several years ago—2004 sticks in my mind, but I don’t remember precisely—I bought a CD player with a recording well. My old player had died, and this new one would let me make CDs of some of my favorite vinyl albums. But it didn’t work right often enough, and it wasn’t long before I gave up on it entirely. But I still have a few of the CDs I managed to make, and one of them ended up in my CD bag on a recent trip: the Cars’ 1979 album Candy-O.
If you asked me to name my favorite albums of all time, I suspect I’d name many albums before I got to Candy-O, if I ever got to it at all. But listening to it the other day, all I could think was damn, this is a great record. And I wondered how come I don’t listen to it more often, because it’s every bit the equal of my all-time faves. Listen to it yourself while I rank the tracks on the album:
9. “You Can’t Hold on Too Long.” Every time I do one of these Re-Listening Project posts, I find myself apologizing to the songs at the bottom of the list, which usually end up here not because I actively dislike them, but because I like other songs more.
8. “Got a Lot on My Head.” See previous entry.
7. “Since I Held You.” Ranks ahead of “You Can’t Hold on Too Long” and “Got a Lot on My Head” because it’s a little more commercial than they are. This could easily have been a single.
6. “Lust for Kicks.” The little synthesizer hook on this isn’t so much a hook as it is ear candy. Yummy irresistible ear candy.
5. “Nightspots.” First track, side two, jittery like everybody in the band had six cups of coffee first.
4. “Double Life”/”Shoo-Be-Doo”/”Candy-O.” These three tracks run together for 8 1/2 minutes at the end of side one, and we often played ’em all together on my college radio station. “Double Life” is the edgiest and most futuristic track on the record; “Shoo-Be-Doo” is 96 seconds further out on the edge; “Candy-O” is the hardest-rockin’ thing the Cars ever put on vinyl.
3. “Let’s Go.” This was one of my favorite songs of the summer in 1979, a season in which so many future staples of the classic-rock format were released that it seemed almost like a coordinated reaction to the disco era. What we didn’t really notice then was that you could dance to “Let’s Go” too.
2. “It’s All I Can Do.” This was the second single from the album, and if I were making a list of the all-time greatest #41 singles (hey, there’s an idea), “It’s All I Can Do” would be near the top. Few records have a more pleasing introduction, and if you can keep from singing along with “It’s all I can do / To keep waiting for you,” you’re not me.
1. “Dangerous Type.” From the bottomless low end of it to the glockenspiel flourishes as it gets ready to fade, the Cars use the whole sonic palette to make “Dangerous Type” into something ominous, intense, relentless, and the single best thing they ever did. It goes on for 4 1/2 minutes, the last couple of minutes of which are positively spellbinding—and when it’s over, you’re not ready for it to be.
If Candy-O doesn’t get the same critical praise as the Cars’ debut album from a year before, it’s largely due to the difference between hearing something that’s utterly fresh and hearing the latest iteration of something we’ve heard before. Compare the reaction to Boston vs. Don’t Look Back, for example, and consider also that like those two albums, everything the Cars had spent years creating since their formation was on The Cars, while Candy-O had to be made in a matter of months and in the wake of the first.
I was both surprised and not surprised by how much I liked Candy-O after hearing it again for the first time in a while. Also surprising: how good my vinyl copy sounded, considering it was 25 years old when I copied it to the CD.