It’s been 40 years since the world was introduced to the New Wave sound of The Cars. Or were they Rock? Pop? Or maybe even Punk? The cars had their own sound that mixed elements of all of them.
This Boston band’s first album, The Cars, came out in June of 1978, and had three singles that charted…”Just What I Needed” (#27), “My Best Friend’s Girl” (#35), and “Good Times Roll” (#41). It also had a much-played album cut “Moving in Stereo”. Despite the modest rankings of the singles, the album grew in popularity. By the end of 1978 it had gone platinum, it was the #4 ranked album for 1979, and went on to eventually sell over 6-million copies. Rock radio liked the cars. When I was programming a Rock station in the late ’80’s, I remember a list of the most-played classic songs on Rock stations, and at the very top of the list was “Good Times Roll”.
Ric Ocasek wrote almost all of their songs, and he had his own distinctively quirky style of singing. Benjamin Orr also sang some of the leads. He had a little smoother style, so he often did the ballads. Keyboardist Greg Hawkes used synthesizers extensively, guitarist Elliot Easton experimented with guitar effects, and David Robinson often used drum programming. All of that gave The Cars a sound that was called New Wave in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, but the group also featured strong melodies and harmonies that had a wide appeal to radio programmers and listeners alike.
The Cars second album, Candy-O, also went multi-platinum, and featured their biggest hit so far, “Let’s Go” (#14), with the lead vocal by Benjamin Orr. In 1980, their third album Panorama, was a bit of a let down, even though it did go platinum.
By the end of 1981, The Cars released album number 4, Shake It Up. The title song made it to #4, helped in part by that newfangled video thing, MTV, which had just started in August of that year. The Cars were back to multi-platinum, and their biggest album was next.
Heartbeat City was released in March of 1984. It had five hit singles…”You Might Think” (#7), “Magic” (#12), “Drive” (#3), “Hello Again” (#20), and “Why Can’t I Have You” (#33). A sixth song, “It’s Not The Night” was #31 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. The Cars spent a lot of time in the studio for Heartbeat City, and had enlisted the help of producer Mutt Lange.
The video for “You Might Think” is one of the first computer graphic videos, and won the first MTV Video Music Award for “Video of the Year” (in 1984).
After that high point, The Cars only had three more Top-40 singles…”Tonight She Comes” (#7), “I’m Not The One” (#32), and “You Are The Girl” (#17). In 1987, they had their lowest-selling album Door To Door. The Cars broke up in 1988. (There was a reunion album in 2011.)
Above is a photo of my double CD anthology by The Cars from 1995. It not only has a lot of great songs, it’s one of the coolest album packages ever. The brightly-colored cardboard sleeve looks like metal-flake car paint, with added fire & pin-striping, and of course the CD’s look like wheels.
The Cars had 15-years of eligibility before they were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (class of 2018). It’s a shame the honor couldn’t have come before Benjamin Orr passed away from cancer (at age 53 in 2000). Cars fans were still happy to see the group get their recognition this year.
As always, there were some music fans who thought their own favorite bands should have been selected instead. The Cars came up with a very original musical style that was even hard to categorize, and high quality songs with great appeal. The Cars induction was a good choice.