|Day 131: The Cars (All Mixed Up)
September 4, 2020
It's time to bring out another heavy hitter.
In a week that saw me channel Cher and The Archies, elucidate at length on the accordion, and contemplate that I might never want to confront "concert flu" again, I need to return to my roots. Besides, it's the Labor Day weekend, and now more than ever who knows what the first week of classes at SMC might bring. I have spent enough sleepless nights wondering.
"She says to leave it to me/Everything will be alright."
God I hope so.
"All Mixed Up" may be the most played song ever in my life. I have no way of knowing for sure, but it was the first of several "I-Can't-Live-Without-This-Song" entries in my catalog of favorite songs. It has a 5-year head start on "The Backyard," an 8-year gap on "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out," and a whopping 20-year lead on "Deathly." And with all due respect to all three of those great songs, nothing leads to repeated plays more than the bored melancholy of a teenager. I am sure there were days in high school when I listened to "All Mixed Up" well over a dozen times.
"All Mixed Up" closes one of the best albums ever made, The Cars, where every song (with possible exception of "I'm In Touch With Your World") explodes out of the speakers with crisp guitar licks, catchy hooks, beautiful harmonies, and intriguing lyrics. Especially if you know side two of The Cars' debut album, you know that the intensity never lets up, starting with David Robinson's tomahawk drumming on "You're All I've Got Tonight" to Greg Hawkes' haunting saxophone that fills "All Mixed Up's" outro.
"All Mixed Up" was my song in high school, so much so that I took its name for the back of my high school (and later college) intramural basketball jersey. I don't want to alarm you but I am pretty sure that out there still walks "Dangerous Type," "Let's Go," "Moving In Stereo" and "That's It," perhaps one of them wearing a replica of that jersey. Sadly at least one "Candy-O," one of our few fans, is no longer with us and we miss her tremendously.
But, and you know the line by now, I digress. Why did "All Mixed Up" have to be my song?
From its spectral opening, David Robinson barely flickering his cymbals, with a guitar riff that sounds like a spirit trying to flit off the speakers, "All Mixed Up" sets out to bring something a little more ephemeral to an album that up to that song served as the poster child for alienation and the icy coolness of new wave.
As a teenage boy confused by lust and love, somehow convinced that romantic love fixes all, that chorus, "she said to leave to me/everything will be alright" captured it all. All the angst I had surely would be corrected by the girl, mythical as she was in my life, telling me to let her take care of it. The fantastic harmonizing didn't hurt the cause.
I am not sure the rest of the lyrics necessarily gave me much direction, although the "I wait for her forever/but she never does arrive" nailed my moody self-pitying perfectly. The fact that "she's always out the window/when it comes to makin' dreams" certainly didn't bolster my optimism either.
Still, Ben Orr's velvety-smooth voice, those harmonies, Greg Hawkes' sporadic piano, and the fantastic drum fill by David Robinson to set up Elliott Easton's short guitar solo before the final verse sucked me in every time.
In the end, often as I was falling asleep at night, there was that "leave it to me/everything will be alright." It reinforced a message that love can conquer all. I spent a long time looking for someone who I could leave it all to. It may have been unfair expectation and fruitless search for a long time. Eventually the vocals abandon all of the chorus except a lovely harmonized "be alright," which by that point becomes a command.
When The Cars released the demo version of their debut album, "All Mixed Up" is the only song that emerged as much different. For one thing, Ric Ocasek sings, and he just doesn't have the emotional pull Orr has. Secondly, the song features guitars instead of keyboards, and it just doesn't register the same way. As with all of the demos, the harmonies are not as sharp, which is o.k., but the studio mastery of the vocals seem to be missing also for the drumming, especially the cymbals. In the end, the outro is longer and the saxophone is lost to more guitar. I never thought I would say less "guitar," especially Elliott Easton's, but almost every decision to turn the "All Mixed Up" demo to the album version was spot on. The song goes from a straight-forward rocker to the unforgettable fantasy world that it became.
And as I write this, I realize not only is one of our high school Candy-O's long gone to the world, so are Orr and Ocasek. It's even harder to believe that "it'll be alright."
"All Mixed Up." The Cars. The Cars. Elektra. 1978. Link here.
Day 130: The Archies. "Sugar Sugar."
Day 132: Fatboy Slim "Praise You."->
See full unfinished list here.