The Cars – The Cars

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

For a band that just blew up popularly in 1984, with a cutting edge sound and revolutionary music video style, the Boston-sourced Cars had a very long history. Rick Ocasek and bassist Benjamin Orr started playing together in the ‘60s; in fact, Ocasek was a few days shy of 44 years old when “You Might Think” was released as a single. But the band was always pretty successful. Their debut from 1978 charted three hits and sold a million copies within the year. They were a band that was quietly greater than the sum of their parts. Ocasek was the principal songwriter and vocalist; multi-talented Orr sang on some of the biggest hits; drummer David Robinson had played in the Modern Lovers – he was responsible for the band’s name, and designed all their album covers except for the first one (he did design one for it, but the label rejected it; it’s a collage of black and white photos and is now the inner sleeve); Elliot Easton was the hotshot guitarist, cited by Slash, of all people, as one of his influences; and keyboardist Greg Hawkes was the musical visionary who pushed the band to adopt the newest technologies.

What I Think of This Album

I came to this album very late and roundabout. I had purchased Shake It Up (the band’s fourth album) when I was in fourth grade, and obviously was a huge fan of Heartbeat City come 1984, but I was a grown ass adult with kids by the time I picked up this disc (I believe in a Walmart in downstate Illinois during a tornado watch). Full of hits, I am not sure I love this album like some people do, but I think that may just be a function of my backwards journey to it.

The intro of “Good Times Roll” is pretty odd, with a stuttering, stinging guitar line, alien electronic beats, and the cold vocals of Ocasek (who does not sound like he believes in good times), but when the backing vocals come crashing in, all is right. Easton adds a lot of color with riffs here and there, and Hawkes fills in the gaps nicely with some arpeggios, adding up to a great example of 1978 new wave.

“My Best Friend’s Girl” is essentially a slicked-up rockabilly song – strip this down to its melody, lyrics, and the guitar part, and it’s a Roy Orbison number. Of course, the window dressing is perfect:  the handclaps are wonderful; the backing vocals cushion Ocasek’s voice; the keyboard vamp sinks it teeth into you; and the drumming is spot on. “Just What I Needed” is a steamroller of a song. Easton’s guitar leads burn themselves into your grey matter, and Hawkes’s synth parts are equally critical. Robinson keeps things steady and then throws everyone off balance at about 2:11 when he inverts the beat. Finally, Orr provides a fantastic lead vocal, perfectly delivering the blasé lines about the woman he “doesn’t mind” having around.

The band plays it loose on the goofy “I’m In Touch With Your World,” which is distinguished by an abundance of percussion effects; this is nothing more than filler. “Don’t Cha Stop” is a driving (Cars, driving) number that may not say anything clever but is still a fun song, with more quality work from Easton and Hawkes, and some fun tom rolls by Robinson. The drumming and riffage at the start of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” suggests something harder than what we end up with; Ocasek’s delivery, the group vocals, and the icy synth lines change the complexion of the song completely. This sounds like a band playing in hangar bay on a spaceship.

Orr again takes the lead on the underrated “Bye Bye Love.” And now, “Moving In Stereo.” People love this song. I am not a fan, and no amount of Phoebe Cates can change that. It seems too self-consciously arty; there is no real melody, it just drags on, and the keyboard parts are annoying. Finally, “All Mixed Up” is okay – I like it when Orr goes falsetto and the backing harmonies are cool there; also, Robinson plays a decently soulful sax solo at the end.

Full of hits, and arguably making new wave cool for rock traditionalists, this is indeed a groundbreaking album. The producer was Roy Thomas Baker, who had done work with Queen, and later produced the Smashing Pumpkins and Devo.

The Best Thing About This Album

The guitar solos in “My Best Friend’s Girl” are amazing.

Release Date

June, 1978

The Cover Art

A little much; a little too jokey; a little too on-the-nose. Robinson hated it, apparently, as did Elliot. The model is Nataliya Medvedeva, a Russian singer, poet, and novelist.

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