Certain Songs #176: The Cars – “All Mixed Up”

(But really, side two of The Cars.)

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Album: The Cars.

Year: 1978.

So just as “Just What I Needed” was a stand-in for the triptych of singles that introduced The Cars as the great singles band they would be throughout their entire career, “All Mixed Up” will be a stand-in for the songs on the second side that made The Cars the only great album they made in that career.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  side two of The Cars is one of the greatest artistic achievements of Western Civilization. And because I think of the four songs that comprise it as one single suite – a la Abbey Road or Dark Side of the Moon – I’m going to write about them all together.

With its phased-out drum opening, “love the one you’re with” lyrics and two long Elliott Easton guitar solos, “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” is probably the single most conventionally “rock” song on the whole record. But when the the “ahhhhhhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhhhhs” kick in just before the chorus it’s also pop song nirvana, as is the moment between when it ends and “Bye Bye Love” begins as a jumble of drums and guitars.

Blink and you’ll miss that an entirely new song has started, until you realize that the tempo has dropped and the riff has gotten somewhat Beatlesque and and the lyrics somewhat surreal:

Substitution mass confusion
Clouds inside your head
Involving all my energies
Until you visited
With your eyes of porcelain and of blue
They shock me into sense
You think you’re so illustrious
You call yourself intense

The passion with which Benjamin Orr sings this the second time around totally negates that it just might be utter nonsense. Also negating any kind of reason you might want to bring to a song that steals its title from The Everly Brothers: Ocasek’s high harmonies on the big chorus.

 “Bye Bye Love” ends the same way it started – a jumble of drums and guitars – but also leaves us with a lone synthesizer announcing that we are moving into the future, for that is where we all shall live. And how are we moving into the future, you might ask? Why, in stereo!

With Ben Orr and David Robinson is such perfect lockstep that you barely notice that they’re fucking around with the beat, “Moving in Stereo” glides with such effortless technological cool – even 35 years later – that you might not even realize that it’s basically one riff repeated over and over and over and over again. 

But what a great riff! If that’s the reason that Greg Hawkes gets a songwriting credit, totally worth it.

And, finally, “All Mixed Up, which sealed the deal for me.  More so than the guitar solo in “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” or “Substitution / mass confusion / clouds inside your head!” in “Bye Bye Love” or the messing with the beat in “Moving in Stereo,” the entirety of “All Mixed Up” just slays me.

Starting with a quiet opening fading up from the final synth fade of “Moving in Stereo,” “All Mixed Up” slowly builds through the first verse until Orr utters the title phrase a few times, and it just explodes. For a moment. Then it pulls back.

And up and down and up and down it goes, with David Robinson never fully committing to a straight beat until – suddenly – a drum roll annoucing what I’ve always called “The Phil Spector part:”  

She says to leave it to me
And everything will be alright
She says to leave it to me
And everything will be alright

And as that big Phil Spector beat does battle with those Roy Thomas Baker harmonies leading into an especially terse Elliott Easton guitar solo, “All MIxed Up” finally shifts into fourth gear, and never lets up.

The end, where the bring back the Phil Spector part one more time only to layer instrument upon instrument (even a sax solo) over it, “All Mixed Up” sounds like the Last Pop Song of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Era. It wasn’t, of course, but it sure feels like that’s what they were going for.

Side two of The Cars was like nothing else I’d ever heard and yet instantly familiar. It didn’t change my life – but it opened me up to the possibility of my life changing.

“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight performed live in 1978

Fan-made video for “Bye Bye Love”

Fan-made video for “Moving in Stereo”

Fan-made video for “All Mixed Up”

All of the songs I’ve written about

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