[Review] The Cars: Shake It Up (1981)

The Cars’ fourth gets out of the gate quick on the strength of “Since You’re Gone” and “Shake It Up” and never looks back.

Kronomyth 4.0: A whole lot of shakin’ going on

I was a sixteen-year-old kid when this came out and I remember thinking that, compared to The Cars’ Panorama, this was the cat’s pajamas. So much depends upon a pink electric guitar when you’re sixteen. It didn’t hurt that the albums strongest tracks were all up front. By the time “Victim of Love” rolled around, I was shaken and stirred from the ennui of two successive, slightly disappointing albums.

I’ve mentioned before that 1980 was a watershed year for music. Scary Monsters in particular scared the hell out of me. While The Cars were never as revolutionary as Devo or as robotic as Ultravox, they were at a minimum a brilliant hybrid of new wave and rock ‘n roll. On Shake It Up, the sounds of revolution seeped back into the music, particularly on the guitars (compare Elliot Easton’s solo on “Since You’re Gone” to Robert Fripp’s solo on “Because You’re Young”–or don’t, for all the reasons cited in the comments below). This album strikes a better balance between the guitars and synthesizers than their last two (Easton seemed too buried on Panorama), but it’s not just a matter of balance that sweetens Shake It Up. Ric Ocasek seems to recognize that the catchy singles (“Shake It Up,” “Since You’re Gone”) purchase the cachet to write moody electronic songs (“This Could Be Love,” “A Dream Away”), and then pays for the whole album in the first ten minutes.

The biggest difference between this album and their debut is the disappearance of Benjamin Orr. Although he sings lead vocals on several tracks (“Cruiser,” “This Could Be Love,” “Think It Over”), he doesn’t add anything that Ocasek couldn’t at this point, and in fact adopts Ocasek’s hiccupy style on “Think It Over,” rendering the distinction moot. The videos for “Shake It Up” and “Since You’re Gone” reinforced the point that Ocasek was the band’s visual and vocal lead, even as they did a good job of showcasing each member of the band.

I’m sure there were (and still are) punk purists who will scoff at the idea of The Cars as an alternative rock band, but for me they were the very model of a workable alternative. They weren’t as manic as XTC, as mechanical as Ultravox or as mean-spirited as Devo, and with their pretty girls and pretty faces were never meant to subvert the fashion of the day so much as infuse it with a certain outlier hipness. Anything that moves the radio dial to left, says I. Panorama proved that The Cars weren’t as effective in the outside lane, and Shake It Up is the commercial correction they needed to regain their pole position as one of the leading new rock groups of the 80s.

Read more Cars reviews

Original elpee version

A1. Since You’re Gone (3:30)
A2. Shake It Up (3:32)
A3. I’m Not The One (4:12)
A4. Victim of Love (4:24)
A5. Cruiser (4:54)
B1. A Dream Away (5:44)
B2. This Could Be Love (Ric Ocasek/Greg Hawkes) (4:26)
B3. Think It Over (4:50)
B4. Maybe Baby (5:04)

All songs written by Ric Ocasek unless noted.

LP/CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Since You’re Gone (early version)
11. Shake It Up (demo)
12. I’m Not The One (remix)
13. Cruiser (early version)
14. Take It On The Run (early version of “A Dream Away”)
15. Coming Up You Again (1981 version of “Coming Up You”)
16. Little Black Egg
17. Midnight Dancer

The Players

Elliot Easton (guitar, backing vocals), Greg Hawkes (synthesizer, backing vocals), Ric Ocasek (guitar, lead & backing vocals), Benjamin Orr (bass, lead & backing vocals), David Robinson (drums). Produced by Roy Thomas Baker; engineered by Ian Taylor.

The Pictures

Cover design by David Robinson. Photography by Clint Clemens.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on November 6, 1981 in the US (Elektra, 5E/5CS/5T8-567), the UK (Elektra, K-52330/452330), Australia (5E 567), Canada (Elektra, X5E-567), Japan (Elektra, P-11087E) and Portugal (Elektra, ELE 52330) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #9 on the US charts (RIAA-certified 2x platinum record). 8-track features slightly different track order. A picture disc elpee version also exists.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Elektra, 567-2).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in Canada (Elektra, 60585-2).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in Japan (Elektra, 20P2-2343).
  4. Re-released on remastered 180g vinyle elpee and 24k gold compact disc in 2009 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-325/UDCD 788).
  5. Re-packaged as Original Album Series with The Cars, Candy-O, Panorama and Heartbeat City on 5CD set in 2009 in the US (Elektra/Rhino, 98281).
  6. Re-released on super high material compact disc on March 7, 2012 in Japan (Elektra, WPCR-14385).
  7. Re-released on expanded, remastered red vinyl 2LP and compact disc in 2018 in the US (Elektra/Rhino, R2 565270) and Europe (Elektra, 86199) with 8 bonus tracks.

4 thoughts on “[Review] The Cars: Shake It Up (1981)

  1. Candy-O…”slightly disappointing?”

    If you’ve ever seen the movie Ed Wood, and are familiar with the moment when a googly-eyed fanboy asked Bela Legosa for an autograph…you might be able to hear the above statement in the proper tone.

    Ah heck, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouHZsRE94i0

    Missed you, by the way. Glad you’re back.

  2. Hi, Dave. Loved Ed Wood, although I can’t watch Martin Landau without thinking of Space: 1999. I took the summer off from writing reviews to focus my hobbytime energies on stamp collecting. Sadly, I’m not kidding, although it was good to turn the writing part of my brain off for an hour or two each day.

  3. Pete Townshend played the guitar on “Because You’re Young”, not Robert Fripp!

    1. Oh, man, that’s embarrassing. “Teenage Wildlife.” That’s what I meant. I could have simply said “Heroes” but, no, I had to be all contemporary-like. Thanks for setting me straight, Miles.

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