The Cars have always been summed up and best described as a New Wave Band. Alright, I’ll let that jive with me, only on their first album, The Cars had some serious Rock in their Wave. Missing Persons were a New Wave Band too, so was Men Without Hats and neither of those two bands come even remotely close in sounding like The Cars. So, were The Cars really a New Wave Band after all? A Flock Of Seagulls… now that’s what I consider a New Wave Band from the 80′s to sound like.
Due to the timing of The Cars being released, I gather it is probably “convenient” to lump this band into the New Wave crowd too. The debut and self titled album from The Cars was perhaps, just a few hundred slivers heavier, than your standard New Wave Band of the late ’70′s and early ’80′s. Sure, Missing Persons had a few “heavier” songs for their New Wave sound and style, with very decent drumming from Terry Bozzio, his playing and songwriting really was standout with that band. (Plus, Terry Bozzio was and still is an excellent drummer and all around musician too… in my Metal opinion).
I can recall hearing the “first” single off of this album, it was Just What I Needed. Can I recall the actual year I first heard this song? Ugh. Maybe it was 1979. No, I think it was 1980. Who really gives a flying elephant crap about when I first heard Just What I Needed. The simple fact is that I loved this song from the opening note. Seriously, this song’s significance lies in it’s originality for no other song really sounded like it, back in 1978.
I’m trying to “think back” and remember if there was another band out there that sounded like The Cars did, at the time of their 1978 debut album. This was 1978, not 1988, when a decade later you could swoop up a hundred New Wave Bands or so and compare them all against each other. Growing up in the late 70′s and early 80′s, I just accepted The Cars and their sound without giving any thought as to what music genre they belonged to. (Now that I’m a cranky old man, I scrutinize music genres like there’s no tomorrow). As each new song from their debut album trickled onto FM radio, I became more of a fan of them and this album.
Out of the nine songs heard on The Cars, seven of them made it to FM airplay. Seven! That is nothing to sneeze at either… how many Rock or Hard Rock bands can any of us name in 2010, that can boast seven songs from one album, being accepted into FM airplay and becoming hits? A “debut” album no less! It’s not as if these songs on The Cars were “Poppy” either, they were mainstream certainly, still a far cry from sounding “bubble gum”. These seven songs were played so often on the Connecticut FM radio stations, (WHCN, WCCC and WPLR), that I am guilty of never having bought this album, many years after it’s release.
Elliot Easton played guitar on The Cars with an obvious hard edge, his solo on Just What I Needed is an example of what I mean. It’s guitarists like Elliot that really exemplify playing for the song unselfishly and skillfully, versus the household name guitarists out there, who have accentuated their fame through piles of average solo albums throughout the decades.
Ric Ocasek’s vocals were meant for The Cars. I know that sounds rather cliche, only it’s so true. Ric Ocasek gave The Cars a booming personality with his vocals. The “modern” vibe that The Cars pulsated with through their songs seemed to stick to Ric’s voice like glue. The late/great Benjamin Orr not only played bass for The Cars, he was the lead vocalist on All Mixed Up as well. Benjamin Orr’s vocals were perfect for this song, giving it that added emotion and personal element befitting of the lyrics. (His vocals on The Cars 1984 hit Drive, from their Heartbeat City album is another memorably gigantic performance from him as well).
The Cars presented an edgy futuristic listen into Rock’s eventual “wide-open” Pop feel of the 80′s, courtesy of Greg Hawkes on keyboards and an open mindedness of this band to create songs that were fabulously accessible. Regardless of the Rock/Pop direction The Cars did take into the 80′s, this debut album is by far, their best full-throttle, Rock teetering on Hard Rock effort… with a New Wave approach, let’s not forget.
Moving In Stereo can be the cornerstone New Wave song for The Cars. There was and still is something almost fantastically mystical about my never wanting to turn this song off, when I hear it on the radio. Could it be that The Cars really are moving me, through stereo? I feel semi-scared now. Good Times Roll has all the ingredients of bursting out of it’s seams with a loud guitar solo and a psyched out tempo that doesn’t relent. It does not happen that way though. It’s the keyboards that administer the melancholy antidote of calm, making this song still feel like the good times are rolling, nonetheless… in a Logan’s Run sort of cosmic way.
The Cars as I look back upon them now, were a mighty decent Rock, I mean, New Wave Band. After all these years, however, it is more beneficial for me personally, to call The Cars debut album a Classic Rock gem. If I was to recommend that “one” album from The Cars to a civilization outside of our Milky Way, it would no doubt be their debut album. For those on this planet, that are just being introduced to The Cars, I would recommend their debut album as well. These excellent musicians that decided to call themselves The Cars, as I look back now, are a symbolic example of their era, showing just how dynamic and memorable a band could become, by solidifying a unique sound from a Rock meets New Wave fusion.
* THE CARS was released in June of 1978, on Elektra Records.
Track Listing For The Cars:
Good Times Roll
My Best Friend’s Girl
Just What I Needed
I’m In Touch With Your World
Don’t Cha Stop
You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
Bye Bye Love
Moving In Stereo
All Mixed Up
Rest In Peace, Benjamin Orr.