Friday, August 17, 2012

Cars 1: The Cars

One of the most willfully odd bands dedicated to perfecting the pop song, the Cars made a sizable stamp on the music scene in the time they were with us. Mostly run by Ric Ocasek’s iron fist, they boasted not one but two lead singers—him, and the much handsomer and easier-on-the-ears Ben Orr, who was used less. Greg Hawkes epitomized the potential of nerds and geeks alike, adding wacky synth color everywhere. Elliot Easton was a left-handed riff and solo machine, with a great mop of hair. And even though most of his output would end up being delivered by a succession of processed drums, David Robinson provided a bridge to the past, having done time in the “seminal” Modern Lovers.
They also made a fantastic debut, with every song a gem. Side one alone kicks off with the one-two-three punch of “Good Times Roll” (with its nod to “Good Day Sunshine” on the chorus), “My Best Friend's Girl” (with its “Words Of Love” homage in between the verses) and “Just What I Needed”. Lyrically these tracks would be dull if not for Ric Ocasek’s inimitable phrasing, but having Ben sing the latter track provides a change-up. “I’m In Touch With Your World” is usually where most people get off, with its robotic wind-up arrangement, but “Don’t Cha Stop” picks up the pace nicely.
Side two is something of a suite, with no breather between the tracks. “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” puts it in motion, building and building till it just stops. Ben takes over the lead mike from here, beginning with “Bye Bye Love”, a wonderful showcase for keyboards and guitars. “You think you’re so illustrious you call yourself intense” indeed. Another buildup to a dead halt leads into “Moving In Stereo”, which will always evoke the famous Phoebe Cates scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. That crossfades with the dynamic “All Mixed Up”, all tension in a bottle that’s finally released on the “leave it to me” fade. Whew.
One of our record store cohorts from back in the day insisted that the only way you could have a Cars greatest hits album would have to include all of these tracks in order before moving on to things like “Shake It Up”, “Magic” and so on. We have to agree. The Cars is just plain toe-tapping fun. (It was also the first of the band’s albums to get the Deluxe Edition treatment from Rhino, well ahead of the others, in a fold-out package bolstered by a bonus disc of demos that sound pretty close to the sleek finished product.)

The Cars The Cars (1978)—4
1999 Deluxe Edition: same as 1978, plus 14 extra tracks


  1. You left out Greg Hawkes' nerdy Moustache! Would kill to be able to again see the live TV performance c. ~1980 where Hawkes played a small Casio synth.

  2. Thankfully he lost that after the first album. From then on he looked like 7th grade me, and that is not meant as a compliment to either of us.

  3. The cars are one addictive band to listen to. So good and tasty like candy. 42 years on, this debut is fresh today as it was back then. Hey,when can I buy the deluxe edition of the debut? But then again, i have just what i needed, the 2 CD hits set. If you are out of car albums, get the double setas it has b sides. All of the bands music is written by ric except were noted.

    Anyway, I love the cars reviews.