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This was written by Jim Peterik, who was the group's guitar player and lead singer. He explains how the song came together:
"On April 9, 1968 while I was waiting to see one of my favorite groups, The Turtles, at Riverside Brookfield High School in the Chicago Suburb of Riverside, my eyes wandered to the girl standing in front of me - she was a vision in knee socks and orange culottes - long silky hair and huge blue eyes. As I was trying to screw up the courage to say hello, she turned to me and said, 'Aren't you Peterik?' Turns out she had seen the Ides Of March a month previously when we opened for the New Colony Six at Morton West High School. I said, 'Yeah,' and from there the conversation just seemed to flow. Never had I met a girl I had so much in common with. Karen and I sat together at the show, and by 'Happy Together
' she had placed her leg on top of mine (A very positive sign for a first date). After about 6 months of great dates, good times, meadows, making out and serenades, Karen informed me that it was over between us, that she wanted to 'See other people." I was thoroughly heartbroken. I spent the next few months writing sad songs, depressive melodies, introspective garbage, and forcing the Ides to do long Blues jams for our show encores (as the audience streamed out of the Grand Ballroom at State Pier). I was also on a mission to find another Karen. There was a girl who looked a lot like her, but when we started dating, I realized that personality was 9/10's of the law. I guess I had to somehow win her back!
One day I got a call from Karen. My heart jumped into my throat. She asked me if I could drive her to modeling school (she knew I had a pristine white '64 Valiant with mag wheel covers). Instead of playing it cool, I found myself saying, 'I'll be right over.' I figured our proximity would remind her how much she really loved me. It was great riding next to her again, though I had to make sure I controlled my hands and my heart. This pattern continued for a few weeks with Karen asking me to drive her to various appointments and functions. We even sang at a few coffee houses as a duo (we called ourselves "Genesis" predating the famous group by about 3 years). Though it was great to be with her, the newly platonic nature of our relationship was bummin' me out.
One day in a fit of frustration, I heard myself blurt out to her 'You know, all I am to you is your Vehicle' (The word baby was added later). Just then the light bulb popped up on top of my head and I thought about all the guys like me who don't mind being taken for a ride by a beautiful girl. I said 'See you later' and started writing the song."
The Ides Of March formed in 1965 in Berwyn, Illinois. Peterik was 14 at the time. The horn section was added in 1968. They were all teenagers when this was released.
Peterik: "I've always loved one word titles because of their strong impact. Musically I was working on a very simple minor key progression E minor to B minor. Rhythmically, I was doing the kind of choppy thing I first heard on the first Blood Sweat and Tears album. (The Ides were huge BS&T fans having seen them at the Kinetic Playground with Jethro Tull a few months earlier.) By the end of the day, I had morphed my emotion into a pretty slick 2 minute and 51 second song."
At first, the opening line was, "I got a set of wheels pretty baby, won't you hop inside my car?" Peterik changed it when his friend showed him a government issued anti-drug pamphlet. It explained the perils of drug use and was illustrated with a little drawing of an undesirable type cruising along the curb looking for easy targets. The caption read, "I'm the friendly stranger in the black sedan, won't you hop inside my car?" The lyrics that followed, about the picture and candy, came from a warning his mother used to give him about walking home from school.
The lyrics are both a love story and a tale of an unsavory guy who's up to no good. Says Peterik, "To me, the dichotomy is kind of cool. To me, the first line is the most important of all. The original line had nothing going for it. It had no scansion, it had no rhythm to it. When I came across, 'I'm the friendly stranger in the black sedan, won't you hop inside my car,' all other concerns went out the window. At age 18 when I wrote the song, I wasn't thinking about coherency of the song or if one half fit the other half. I was just glad I was writing, just glad I had a song to play live."
Peterik: "We totally devalued it as a recording song. It went over great live, and for some reason, we thought it was a great live song but would never be a hit, maybe because it was so simple. We thought so little of it, we put it 4th of 4 songs on the demo we sent to Warner Brothers. They get it and go, 'Forget these first 3, number 4 is a smash.' We go, 'You've got to be kidding.' At that point, we started thinking, 'Maybe we've got a hit here.' We went to Art Roberts, who was kind of this disc jockey/guru here at WLS, probably the most powerful jock in Chicago because he had the night slot on WLS. The managers brought it to him, and he said, 'That's a smash. All you've got to do is add the answers to the 'Love You, Need You's', and you've got a #1 record.' It's funny that we never thought of adding the answers, the call and response. It seems so obvious now, but that was his idea. We went back in the studio and all the tracks were taken up, so we ended up wild tracking onto a 2-track machine. The vocals you hear on the stereo version are different than what you hear on the mono version because we did them each separately. Nowhere on the master do the background vocals exist. When the song was used in Lock Up with Sylvester Stallone in 1990, you don't hear the background vocals because it's not on the master."
Peterik: "The real pivotal moment came at the overdub session. While we were dubbing the brass section, the second engineer pressed the wrong button and erased 13 seconds of the multi-track master (our chief engineer was already on the train home-Thanks Dick!). I still remember the ashen faces in the control room and the hushed expletives being exchanged. The Ides knew something had gone very wrong. In those risky pre-Pro Tools days we had very few options. Our saving grace turned out to be 'Take One.' In about an hour the second engineer asked us to come into the control room. He had taken 13 seconds from the same section of take one and spliced it into the multitrack of take two. Multitrack editing was still in its infancy and the chance that take one's tempo, tuning, attitude and feel were even in the same zip code seemed remote. We listened closely - it was perfect! You couldn't even tell it was a different guitar with five strings. I only had to redo the vocal in that section. (You can find the splice starting at the second 'Great God in Heaven' all the way up to the first note of the guitar solo.) Had the erasure gone through the solo, we would have lost a magical performance that I'm still not sure how I played. Someone must have been moving my fingers because after that I had to learn it note for note off the record."
1970 was a great year to have a huge hit in the US because there were so many Pop festivals going on. The Ides Of March played on bills with Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead that summer.
Peterik formed Survivor in 1978 and co-wrote their hits "Eye Of The Tiger," "High On You" and "The Search Is Over." He sang lead with Ides Of March, but did not sing on Survivor's hits: "When I designed Survivor, it was to be the co-lead singer with Dave Bickler. In the first year of our existence, all the demos and club performances, I was doing basically duets with Dave. You can hear that kind of concept on "Love Has Got Me" on the first album, where I sing the verses and Dave takes over on the choruses. Through the years, certain members of the band didn't want that. They wanted that Journey kind of thing where there's one singer and one focus. I don't begrudge it because it worked. Whether it would have worked as well with me co-singing or taking some of the songs, we'll never know, but I was always blessed with great singers: Dave Bickler through 'Eye Of The Tiger,' Jimi Jameson after that. I couldn't have asked for better singers, so it was kind of a mixed blessing."
After this became a hit, Peterik got back together with Karen, the girl he wrote it for. They've been together ever since, and have been married for over 30 years. Says Peterik:
"To this day, she doesn't like to be in audiences where I tell that story. She feels very embarrassed by it. She knows it's true, but at the same time, she doesn't want to be thought of as this opportunistic woman who just wanted her guy to drive her around and then when the song goes to #1, calls up to do it again. It happened, but that's really not her." (Thanks to Jim for speaking with us about this song. Jim is author of the book Songwriting For Dummies
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