The Cars debut album was a commercial and critical success. The pressure was on for a follow-up, and the band delivered big time with their 2nd album, “Candy-O“. The album was packed with more Cars classics, including the subject of this episode, “It’s All I Can Do”, a song that shows the strengths of each band member– everyone contributing something special top this great track.

“It’s All I Can Do” (Ric Ocasek) Copyright 1979 Lido Music Inc

…and check out this previous episode on The Cars:


Time for another edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. I’m your host, Brad Page, sending these love letters to the music we cherish, care of the Pantheon podcast Network. Each episode I pick a favorite song and we look at it in detail, trying to understand what makes it a great song. You don’t have to be a musician or have any advanced knowledge, because we don’t get into music theory or technical stuff here. If you’re willing to listen, then this podcast is for you.

On this episode, we’re exploring a track from a band that came onto the scene as the 70’s were coming to a close, and their sound was critical in launching the sound of the 80’s. This is The Cars with “It’s All I Can Do”.

We talked about The Cars on this show once before, back in episode number 43, “Just What I Needed”. So you can check out that episode for an overview of the band’s history. This time, we’ll pick up where that episode left off.

They released that first album in June 1978. A year later, their second album, “Candy-O”, hit the shelves. That first album was considered one of the strongest debut albums of all time, and it still is. Rolling Stone ranks it in their Top 20 Greatest Debut Albums. So when it came time to record their second album, the pressure was on, and they delivered… no sophomore slump here.

“Candy-O” ended up charting higher than the debut album. It made it to #3 and would eventually sell over 4 million copies. There were three singles released off of “Candy-O”. “It’s All I Can Do” was the second single. The song features Rick Ocasek on rhythm guitar, Elliot Easton on lead guitar, Greg Hawks on keyboards, David Robinson on drums, and Benjamin Orr on bass and lead vocals.

The song begins with a bass drum hit and a quick open and close of the hi-hat. One guitar on the left with a slightly distorted tone is playing staccato, muted power chords. The bass in the center is duplicating that guitar part. On the right, there’s another guitar playing smoothly strummed, ringing chords. Sounds like there’s maybe some reverb, perhaps some chorus effect on that guitar. The rest of the tracks are pretty dry, and Greg Hawks is playing a simple but effective melody on the keyboards.

Rick Ocasek is universally acknowledged as the architect of The Cars’ sound, and he wrote all the songs on the album; but every member of the band contributed something special, and to me, the magic ingredient of the best Cars songs is the vocals of Benjamin Orr. He had a great voice and so perfectly suited to The Cars sound.

For the second half of the verse, the guitar that was playing those clean, ringing chords on the right is going to suddenly shift to playing heavy, distorted chords. Listen for the change.

Then David Robinson is going to do a short drum fill on the toms to launch us into the first chorus, and those toms are pretty high in the mix.

The instrumentation behind the chorus is pretty minimal, not a lot of overdubs, just the basic band performing, but each player is doing something just a little different enough that it sounds nice and full, with Greg Hawke’s melodic keyboard part just riding on top. Let’s bring the vocals back in and listen to that again.

Both The Cars’ first album and “Candy-O” were produced by Roy Thomas Baker, one of the most famous and successful producers of the 1970s. Baker is probably most known for working with Queen, including producing “Bohemian Rhapsody”, so he knew how to layer vocals. Though the cars kept the production tricks to a minimum on this album, there are moments where the Roy Thomas Baker effect shines through those rich backing vocals at the end of the chorus. Here is a good example.

That chorus leads immediately into the second verse, and notice that clean, ringing guitar is back.

That’s one of my favorite lines in the song—“When I was crazy, I thought you were great.” We’ve probably all had a time in our lives where we were so crazy in love that we couldn’t see just how bad that person was for us.

And the distorted guitar returns.

Greg Hawkes is playing pretty much the same keyboard part that he played on the first chorus, but he’s using a different sound this time. Here’s the sound again from the first chorus. And here’s the keyboard sound on this second chorus. They add an extra six beats in there to lead us into the guitar solo.

And I’ve mentioned before on this show that I love Elliot Easton’s guitar playing. And this is another great example of a tasteful, melodic, memorable guitar solo by Elliot Easton. Check it out.

One thing we haven’t looked at yet is David Robinson’s drum part on the verses. What he’s doing is pretty subtle, but it’s not just a straightforward drum beat. He’s put some pretty clever twists into it. Let’s listen.

Also on this final verse, Greg Hawkes has added a new keyboard part. You can imagine a string section playing this part. It really adds a new layer of drama to this last verse. Listen to how it builds through to the end of the verse.

And that’s another great line; “As soon as you get it, you want something new”.  How many of you have been on one end of that in a relationship?

Listen to the way the guitar and the keyboard are going to answer each other. It’s the guitar on the right, the keyboard on the left.

Like the way Benjamin sings this line here.

“It’s All I Can Do” by The Cars

The Cars released six albums between 1970 – 1987. Five of them were top 20 hits. Four of them reached the top ten. They split up in 1988.

Benjamin Orr died from cancer in 2000. The remaining members reformed for one more album in 2011. But without Benjamin Orr, it just wasn’t the same.

Rick Ocasek died in 2019. David Robinson has more or less retired from the music business and owns an art gallery in Rockport, Massachusetts. Elliot Easton is still active and has a number of musical projects that keep him busy, and Greg Hawkes does session and touring work, working frequently with Todd Rungren.

Thanks for taking a few minutes out of your day to listen to this show. I always appreciate it. New episodes of the podcast come out on the 1st and the 15th of every month, so I’ll be back soon with another episode. You can keep in touch with the show on our Facebook page, or on our website,, where you’ll also find all of our previous episodes. And you can find the show on your favorite source of podcasts, whether it’s Amazon, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher– wherever you listen to podcasts, you’ll find this show. We are part of the Pantheon Network of podcasts, the place for music related podcasts, so be sure to check out some of the other shows, too.

Thanks again for listening to this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast featuring The Cars and “It’s All I Can Do”.


The Cars

Candy-O (Album)

Rolling Stone (Greatest Debut Albums)

Roy Thomas Baker

Bohemian Rhapsody

David Robinson’s Art Gallery

Elliot Easton

Greg Hawkes

‘I’m in Love with that Song’ Podcast Facebook Page

Pantheon Podcast Network