Synopsis of Pop Music
"Well, dance all night, play all day,
Don't let nothing get in your way..."
At a time when popular music was dominated by arena-rock and disco, The Cars brought a breath of fresh air to the music scene with their synth-dominated ‘new wave’ sound. They released a series of hit albums and singles between the late 70’s and early 80’s that blended a smart sense of pop songcraft with a space-age sense of style. As a result, The Cars became one of the most influential and popular acts of the new wave era.
Each member of the group was a veteran musician on the Boston music scene by the time The Cars were formed at the end of 1976. They began to play local clubs as they refined their blend of 60’s punk-pop and spacey electronics and recorded demos. They soon got a record contract and went to work with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. The result was a million-selling, self-titled debut album that blended crunchy, punkish guitar sounds with icy synths and all manner of state-of-the-art studio effects. It also produced a Top-30 single in “Just What I Needed.”
In 1979, The Cars were voted Best New Band Of The Year by the readers of Rolling Stone magazine. They also released their sophomore album, Candy-O. It quickly went platinum and featured a hit single in the synth-driven love ode “Let’s Go.” The group continued their platinum streak in 1980 with Panorama, which featured one of their cleverest singles, “Touch And Go.” This song blended ethereal washes of synthesizer with a chugging, reggae-style guitar line to become a Top-40 hit.
The Cars built their own custom studio in 1981 and used it to record their next album, Shake It Up. The title track was a new-wave dance song that offset bouncy synths with an edgy guitar solo. It became one of their biggest hits, peaking at #4. Meanwhile, lead vocalist Ric Ocasek began a side career as a producer and worked with bands like Romeo Void and Bad Brains. He also launched his solo career with the Beatitude album and got significant airplay on MTV with “Something To Grab For,” a video from the album.
In 1984, the Cars experienced their greatest success with the Hearbeat City album. The first hit from this album was a typically quirky love ode, “You Might Think.” It was promoted with an unforgettable music video that made revolutionary use of computer animation, winning the band the first-ever MTV Video Music Award for Best Video. “Magic” was another hit with an interesting video, which depicted Ric Ocasek walking on water. However, the biggest single from this album was “Drive”, an uncharacteristic ballad that was sung by the bassist Ben Orr. The album also featured a Top-20 hit in “Hello Again,” which led to a video directed by pop art legend Andy Warhol.
In 1985, The Car’s Greatest Hits was released and became a massive success. It also featured a new song that became a hit on its own, “Tonight She Comes.” In 1987, Ben Orr released a solo album, The Lace, and scored a Top-30 hit with “Stay The Night.” The group released Door To Door, which had a Top-20 single in “You Are The Girl,” accompanied by a memorable sci-fi video set on a spaceship. In 1988, The Cars broke up after a decade of success.
Since The Cars ended, most of its members have continued to work in music. Easton has recently joined a new lineup of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Ocasek has become a very successful producer, working with groups like Bad Religion and Weezer. Meanwhile, their work with The Cars remains a staple of rock radio, its state-of-the-art sonic textures still sounding fresh today. Modern groups like The Rentals frequently pay tribute to The Cars, and it's easy to see why: Their mixture of attitude, style and smart songwriting is something any good group would aspire to.
Artist Release History1978 - The Cars
1979 - Candy-O
1980 - Panorama
1981 - Shake It Up
1984 - Heartbeat City
1985 - Greatest Hits
1987 - Door to Door
1995 - Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsThe Cars’ Greatest Hits (Elektra)
Band MembersRic Ocasek vocals
Elliot Easton guitar
Ben Orr bass
Greg Hawkes keyboards
David Robinson drums