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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Cars

It's that time of year to talk about the new slate of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, and I'm starting with The Cars. They were a major presence in my high school and college days, a kind of pop-new wave band that, though they didn't set out to be, became a singles band.

In listening to their greatest hits collection, it becomes one of those times when you say, "Oh, I remember that!" There are only a couple of songs that I don't know, and they are from later albums that were put out when their arc was completing. But geez they consistently put out song after song that was finger-snapping and just a little bit weird, especially the ones with vocals by Ric Ocasek.

The Cars were formed in Boston in 1976, and maintained the same lineup throughout their history, until the death of bassist Ben Orr in 2009. Their style was to use a combination of synth-pop and guitar-driven rock, plus a post-punk sensibility, but always with hooks, fantastic hooks. If you can listen to The Cars and not tap your foot, you may need to see an ear doctor.

They exploded quickly, with their self-titled debut album selling six million copies. The rise of The Cars coincided with the importance of the music video, and, in a bit of trivia, they won the first MTV Video Award for best video with "You Might Think." The song is fairly mild in tone--most of The Cars' songs were about relationships--but the video can be categorized as about a stalker. Ocasek is the vocalist, and is seen popping up in a young woman's life, even showing up in her bathtub. Eventually, of course, she is won over.

Other singles that have firmly established themselves in our subconscious are "Drive" (their biggest hit, and where Ocasek met Paulina Porizkova, who starred in the video, and stole her away from me), "All I Can Do," "Let's Go," "Touch and Go," "The Dangerous Kind," and, borrowing from the Everly Brothers' title, "Bye Bye Love." Perhaps my favorite Cars' song is "Moving in Stereo," which is more experimental and not about the affairs of the heart.

The Cars had been eligible for a few years for the Hall but were kept waiting. I think they definitely belong there. They sold a ton of records, and they were high quality.

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