Hook-savvy with the perfect combo of new wave and classic rock, you can't help but sing along to The Cars.
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.
Founded in Boston in 1976 by singer-guitarist-songwriter Ric Ocasek and singer-bassist Benjamin Orr, the Cars were the ultimate New Wave dream machine: a hook-savvy super-charged quintet that fused 60s pop, 70s glam and avant-rock minimalism into a decade of dashboard-radio nirvana.
Their epic ride of 13 Top 40 singles across six classic studio albums – including four straight Top 10 LPs – drove the fury and intellectual adventure of punk rock out of the underground, firmly and forever into the American mainstream. Former hippie-folk compatriots, Ocasek and Orr were a natural yin-yang; Orr polished the terse, melodic grip and experimental vigor in Ocasek’s songs with vocal-dreamboat magnetism. Guitarist Elliot Easton’s rockabilly and surf-rock flourishes, Greg Hawkes’ ingenious keyboard science and drummer David Robinson’s futurist-Charlie Watts backbeat completed the design, already honed to maximum appeal on the Cars’ 1978 self-titled debut album. That record’s first three tracks, “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Just What I Needed,” were all hit singles. Heartbeat City was the Cars’ commercial apex, a Number 3 album that featured the ravishing ballad, “Drive,” sung by Orr with broken-heart perfection.
The group broke up in the late 80s. But the Cars’ visionary bravado was evident in the 90s 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 such as Weezer and Bad Religion. Orr’s death in 2000 seemed to end any hope for a Cars reunion – until 2011, when the surviving members issued Move Like This, a new studio album that proved the Cars always sound like this year’s model, in every decade.
“Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Just What I Needed,” The Cars (1978) • “Let’s Go,” “It’s All I Can Do,” Candy-O (1979) • “Touch And Go,” Panorama (1980) • “Since You’re Gone,” Shake It Up (1981) • “Magic,” “Drive,” Heartbeat City (1984) • Move Like This (2011)