The Cars

TrackAlbum
Good Times RollThe Cars
All Mixed UpThe Cars
Double LifeCandy-O
Got A Lot On My HeadCandy-O
Gimme Some SlackPanorama
Up And DownPanorama
Since You're GoneShake It Up
Maybe BabyShake It Up
You Might ThinkHeartbeat City
Hits MeMove Like This

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Contributor: Brian Greene

The Cars have always been about duality. They have been both accessible and avant-garde. In their late 1970s/early-to-mid-80s heyday they were admired both by people who flocked to commercial, fly-by-night new wave and synth pop acts, and others who appreciated the work of more experimental units like The Velvet Underground, early Roxy Music, and Berlin-era David Bowie. Their classic lineup had one member who looked like a male model and another who looked like your high school Computer Science teacher. They are both stylish and geeky, remote yet easy to understand. They are glam, bubblegum, synth pop, new wave, power pop, art rock, radio heroes, etc. all in one band.

Their trajectory through their vintage years was a fascinating thing to witness as it played itself out. Their first two albums, the eponymous debut from 1978 and ‘79’s Candy-O, both perfectly captured their multiple personalities. Each of those records contained easy-to-listen-to hits, such as My Best Friend’s Girl, Just What I Needed, and Let’s Go; but both also included denser, more complicated fare like Moving In Stereo, All Mixed Up, and Shoo Be Doo. Their fans in those earliest years were split into two factions, to my mind: those who were content with tapping the steering wheel to the radio hits, then those of us who appreciated the pure pop of those singles but who also enjoyed the more involved album tracks.

The insanely catchy Let’s Go was their biggest chart-maker to date when it scaled the top 5 in ’79, and the pop world appeared to be at their feet at that point. So how did they respond? By releasing their most complex, un-radio friendly record of all, with Panorama (1980). The single Touch And Go taunted fickle fans with its stubborn oddness, and the album’s opening title track was a song that thrilled people who dug stuff like early Suicide and frustrated those who wanted some easy synth pop to which they could sing along. ‘81’s Shake It Up was a commercial comeback to an extent, with the accessible and danceable title song and Victim Of Love, both of them friendly to the commercial side of the new wave world. But that album also had less easily penetrable deep cuts like the multi-layered, out-there Maybe Baby.

Finally, in ’84, the band reached the kind of mega-stardom they’d seemed destined for from the outset, with the release of Heartbeat City. At that time you couldn’t go 10 minutes without hearing the hits Magic, You Might Think, and Drive on the radio or seeing their videos on MTV. The Cars were no longer very weird and were now an act that belonged to the world at large rather than to an extensive yet confined set of avid fans. And then, typical of the band, they broke up just four years later, after issuing only one more (forgettable) album in ‘87’s yawn-inducing Door To Door.

Most “comeback” albums would have been better left in their makers’ closets, but The Cars’ 2011 set Move Like This thrilled their most ardent fans with its razor-sharp power pop. Whether it will be their last album or not is to be seen. They didn’t need to make that fine record to cement their place in popular music history – it was just some hook-laden gravy.

 

The Cars facebook

Ric Ocasek website

In memory of Benjamin Orr

Greg Hawkes facebook

The Cars biography (iTunes)

This is Brian Greene’s fifth post for Toppermost. You can find his blog here.

TopperPost #318

2 Comments

  1. Calvin Rydbom
    Jul 17, 2014

    I’d have to disagree with you about Move Like This, I really felt the lack of the late Benjamin Orr on that album.

  2. Glenn Smith
    Jun 20, 2015

    I missed this first time around and it’s still open so I better have a crack. The first two albums were big moments in pop, they always conjured up Buddy Holly for some reason, Ric Ocasek’s songwriting has more than a passing nod of acknowledgement to Buddy even with the “new wave” sound that they were operating in. Ric knew what to do with B flat F and C and aren’t we all glad for it. Best Friend’s Girl is timeless, crying out for a decent updated cover, and one of my secret shames (along with the Carpenters) is that I really love Drive. I defy anyone to not get caught up in the schmaltz that is that song, who’s going to drive you home baby … thanks for a great appraisal of a great band.

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