The Cars’ first Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hit almost never made it to tape at all. While recording their sparkling, glossy 1981 album Shake It Up, the group kicked around the years-old demo of the title track, but it wasn’t working.
Says drummer David Robinson in the group’s out-of-print 1985 biography Frozen Fire: “It never sounded good. We’d dumped it, and we were going to try it one more time, and I was fighting everybody. So we thought, let’s start it all over again, like we’d never even heard it.”
It was a song-saving maneuver. While the demo is a fun yet inchoate little trifle, sort of nodding toward reggae in all of its two chords, it’s positively crying out for those layers of production gloss the group excelled at. Comparing the demo to the original, it’s Greg Hawkes’ wheedly little keyboard arpeggios that truly spit-shine a half-drawn sketch into a hit. Take that with guitarist Elliot Easton’s brilliant guitar solo (“I wanted it to sound like two guys trading off,” he stated, and it does!) and the added elements really send the whole record through the roof.
It’s all a valuable lesson in production, arrangement and perseverance, and in honor of the band’s upcoming Shake It Up expanded edition due March 30, we’re honored to share an exclusive premiere of the title track’s demo. Whether for personal research, late-night debates or just contrasting and comparing all by your lonesome, may this nugget of new-wave history serve you well.