Inductee Insights: The Cars
The Cars's self-titled debut is a New Wave masterpiece jam-packed with hit songs,
including “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Good Times Roll,” “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, and “Moving in Stereo.” There are few debuts filled with lasting power. Take a ride through the new Inductee's sonic history in this PNC Inductee Insights episode.
Hook-savvy with the perfect combo of new wave and classic rock, The Cars are a band you can’t help but sing along to.
The Cars were the ultimate New Wave dream machine: a super-charged quintet that fused Sixties power pop, Seventies glam, and avant-rock minimalism into a decade of dashboard-radio nirvana.
The band’s magnetism and intellectual arrangements resonated with an audience ready to leave the left of the dial underground and cement themselves into the mainstream. The Cars combined Roxy Music, Big Star, and David Bowie into a new wave stew that was uniquely their own.
put it in drive
Guitarist, singer and songwriter Ric Ocasek and singer and bassist Benjamin Orr had a natural yin-yang relationship; Orr polished the melody in Ocasek’s songs with magnetic vocals. The band’s sound was filled out by guitarist Elliott Easton’s rockabilly and surf-rock lines, Greg Hawkes’ ingenious keyboard and drummer David Robinson’s backbeat.
From the start The Cars set themselves apart from their musical contemporaries: Their self-titled debut is a New Wave masterpiece jam-packed with hit songs, including “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Good Times Roll,” “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, and “Moving in Stereo.” There are few debuts filled with lasting power.
The next release, Candy-O, continued the irresistible and innovative trend started with songs like “Let’s Go” and “It’s All I Can Do” – as well as introducing memorable album cover art by pin-up artist Alberto Vargas. This kickstarted the emphasis the band placed on the visual aesthetic, directed by drummer David Robinson. The Cars would be known for both provocative album covers and innovative music videos as a part of their overall legacy.
Though “Shake It Up” became the band’s first top 5 hit in 1981, the band parted ways with longtime producer Roy Thomas Baker. Their next move would build on the visual component television was quickly bringing to the forefront of musical creation with the launch of MTV and music videos.
Heartbeat City – produced with painstaking precision by Mutt Lange – was the Cars’ commercial apex. The music video for “You Might Think” is one of the first videos to use computer graphics. It’s astounding $80,000 price tag – nearly triple the average video budget of the time – was a gamble that won the band acclaim - it was honored with MTV’s first-ever Video of the Year award.
the road ahead
The Cars parted ways in the late Eighties. But their visionary bravado was evident and carried over into the Nineties’ alternative-rock boom. Nirvana played “My Best Friend’s Girl” at their last-ever show in 1994, while Ocasek became a producer-of-choice for younger bands, most notably producing Weezer’s breakout debut album. Today bands like The Killers, The Strokes and other quirky-pop favorites tap into the sonic path laid out by The Cars.