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Music / The Cars

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The Cars in 1979, from the inner sleeve of Candy-O. Left to right: Benjamin Orr, Ric Ocasek, Greg Hawkes, David Robinson, Elliot Easton

"You can't go on
Thinking nothing's wrong
Who's gonna drive you home tonight?"
— "Drive"

The Cars were one of the most successful American New Wave/Power Pop bands, and a pioneer in distilling the various strains of New Wave into something both progressive and accessible.

The Cars' lineup:

  • Ric Ocasek: Lead vocals, rhythm guitar, wrote or co-wrote every song (died 2019)
  • Benjamin Orr: Lead vocals, bass (1976–88; died 2000)
  • Elliot Easton: Lead guitar, backing vocals
  • Greg Hawkes: Keyboards, saxophone, various odd noises, backing vocals
  • David Robinson: Drums, backing vocals

Ric and Ben met in Cleveland, and moved to Boston in the early 1970s, attracted to its music scene. They formed and disbanded four bands, and met various other local musicians. Finally, they started The Cars on New Year's Eve, 1977. Elliot and Greg had been in their earlier bands, and David was from their favorite Boston punk band, The Modern Lovers.

They recorded some demo tapes, which caught the ear of WBCN DJ Maxanne Sartori, giving them national exposure and leading to a deal with Elektra Records. They went to London in early 1978 to record their first album with producer Roy Thomas Baker, who had previously worked with Queen. He gave The Cars' songs the same lush multi-tracked vocal arrangements heard on "Bohemian Rhapsody", and this became a signature of their work.

They released an album a year from 1978 to '81: The Cars, Candy-O, Panorama, and Shake It Up. The first two are their most Power Pop work, loaded with pop hooks, strange lyrics from Ric, high-tech (for the time) synths and electronic percussion, Shout Outs to bands that influenced them, surprisingly tuneful guitar solos from Elliot, and the aforementioned huge backing vocals, especially in the choruses. Panorama and Shake It Up are more experimental; Panorama is Darker and Edgier, and Shake It Up is Lighter and Softer.

Ric and Ben shared lead vocals; it can be hard to tell them apart. Ric is the neurotic one, Ben is the sexy one.

They took a break in '82; Ric and Greg released solo albums. They reunited in '83, and after eight months of studio tweaking with producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, released Heartbeat City in early '84. With this album, they nearly completely ditched their Power Pop tendencies and instead went for high-energy, synth-laden high-tech but still rocking New Wave and Arena Rock. Five songs were Top 40 hits, the ballad "Drive" was their highest-charting hit at #3 (Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" kept them from #1), and MTV put the videos for "You Might Think", "Magic", and "Drive" into heavy rotation. They performed at Live Aid, and were superstars... for about two years.

They released a best-of in '85, with one new song, "Tonight She Comes". They took another break in '86; Ric, Ben, and Elliot released solo albums. They reunited in '87. Door to Door, produced by Ocasek, brought them back to their roots as an early New Wave band with a lot of Punk influences. They tried to get away from the mechanical sounds of their previous albums, but they didn't make it. Critics panned it, and sales were modest, nothing compared to Heartbeat City. The tour was difficult, with the band drifting apart and a lot of empty seats at each venue. It was enough to give Ric a nervous breakdown, and so The Cars broke up for what appeared to be the last time in February 1988. 1995's best-of and rarities collection Just What I Needed was intended to be the final nail in the coffin. But the band members remained friends, ready to reunite any time Ric was ready.

On October 3, 2000, Ben died of pancreatic cancer at 53. Ric continued his solo career, and in 2010, he put together a set of songs that he really liked. A call with Elliot led to a reunion, and Move Like This was released in May 2011. Greg and producer Jacknife Lee filled in on bass. Move Like This is a return to the sound of the first two albums. In 2018, the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the band reunited to play a four-song set, with Weezer's Scott Shriner on bass guitar. On September 15, 2019, Ric died of atherosclerosis at 75.

Official site


  • The Cars (1978)
  • Candy-O (1979)
  • Panorama (1980)
  • Shake It Up (1981)
  • Heartbeat City (1984)
  • Greatest Hits (1985)
  • Door to Door (1987)
  • Move Like This (2011)

Let the tropes be told, let them say what they want:

  • Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: Ric pronouncing "introverts" as "in-TRO-verts" on "Gimme Some Slack". Also, the way he pronounces "cement" in "Touch and Go" makes it sound like...something else.
    • "Since You're Gone": "You're so treacher-ESS" (rhymed with "mess"). It may be an Affectionate Parody of Bob Dylan doing such things in his lyrics - note how Ric's voice becomes more nasal and twangy for that one line.
  • Album Title Drop: Move Like This, "Too Late"
  • all lowercase letters: the lyrics printed in each album.
  • Animated Music Video: The video to "You Might Think" was an early use for CGI by putting the band and model Susan Gallagher into an animated world and interpenetrating some of the lyrics quite literally. The result not only netted the video an MTV Music award, but put the creators behind it, Charlex, into the spotlight and built upon their Signature Style of animation.
  • Anti-Love Song: "Just What I Needed", where the protagonist is perfectly okay with a friends-with-benefits setup because neither party carries feelings towards the other or is in danger of developing them, allowing them to continue to have casual sex without things getting complicated.
  • Arena Rock
  • The Band Minus the Face: The New Cars, with Elliot Easton and and Greg Hawkes from the classic lineup, Benjamin Orr replaced by Kasim Sulton, Dave Robinson replaced by Prairie Prince, and fronted by Todd Rundgren but with Ric Ocasek's blessing.
  • Break-Up Song: A few here and there. "Since You're Gone" is one of them, and notably finds Ric doing a Bob Dylan impression.
  • The Cameo: Candy-O's album cover was by Alberto Vargas, and Andy Warhol directed and appeared in the video for "Hello Again".
  • Careful with That Axe: The end of "Shoo-Be-Doo". Also a Last Note Nightmare.
  • Cool Shades: Ric often wore sunglasses in live performances, music videos and interviews. Elliot and Ben also wore sunglasses on occasion.
  • Dance Sensation: The song "Shake It Up".
  • The '80s: No collection of '80s pop is complete without Heartbeat City.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "You're All I've Got Tonight" hard-cuts into "Bye-Bye Love", giving the illusion of them being one song. On their other albums, there's "Think It Over" to "Maybe Baby", "Coming Up You" to "Wound Up On You", "Night Spots" to "You Can't Hold On Too Long".
    • "Bye Bye Love" to "Moving in Stereo" to "All Mixed Up", "Double Life" to "Shoo Be Doo" to "Candy-O."
  • Fan Disservice: "You Are the Girl" - scantily-clad alien babes with various facial and body deformities.
  • Fanservice:
    • Babe-laden videos, especially "Shake It Up" and "Hello Again".
    • Babe-laden album covers, especially The Cars, Candy-O, Shake It Up and Heartbeat City.
  • Gratuitous Panning: "Don't Cha Stop", "Moving in Stereo", and the transition from "Think It Over" to "Maybe Baby".
  • Greatest Hits Album: Greatest Hits, and several after they broke up.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Ric and Ben. Not entirely heterosexual for at least one half of the partnership (Ric implied that he was bisexual in this radio interview) but they knew each other since high school and were very, very close. Silver from Nexterday, Ric's first solo album released after Ben's death, is about Ben, and the Move Like This album is dedicated to him.
  • Hood Ornament Hottie: Candy-O's cover is a classic example.
  • Intercourse with You: You betcha! "Don't Cha Stop," "Touch and Go" and "Tonight She Comes" in particular.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Zig zagged with "My Best Friend's Girl". While the protagonist doesn't actively do anything to try and split them apart and ultimately lives and lets them be, he does seem to at least have some attraction to his former lover.
  • "King Kong" Climb: Ric Ocasek does one in the "You Might Think" video.
  • Large Ham: Happens surprisingly often for a band often stereotyped as cold and detached. Ben hams it up on "Bye Bye Love" and "Don't Tell Me No," Ric on "You're All I've Got Tonight" and "Getting Through" (Both of those pairs of songs also happen to be consecutive on their respective albums.) The whole band turns into pure pork on "Door to Door".
  • Lead Bassist: Benjamin Orr shared lead vocals with Ric Ocasek.
  • Living a Double Life: "Double Life".
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Type 1's logical extreme. Formed in 1976, the five members never changed until their breakup in 1988.
  • Lyrical Shoehorn: "My Best Friend's Girl", "Bye Bye Love", "Moving in Stereo", "Double Life", "Candy-O", "Dangerous Type", "Don't Tell Me No", "Cruiser".
  • Lyrical Tic: Ric, uh-oh.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Benjamin Orr. Seriously, go onto YouTube. Most of the comments are about his looks.
  • Mushroom Samba: A rather literal example in "I'm in Touch With Your World" with the line "I'm a psilocybin pony".
  • New Sound Album: Two in the span of two years — Panorama found them shifting from power pop-inflected new wave to frantic, Talking Heads-esque post-punk, while Shake It Up is bouncy, shiny Synth-Pop, and Heartbeat City is glossy Arena Rock.
  • New Wave: One of the genre's essential bands.
  • Power Ballad: "Drive"
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: "Let's Go":
    She's so beautiful now
    She doesn't wear her shoes
  • Record Producer:
  • Self-Titled Album: The first one. Jokey nicknames about its cover ("Edible Steering Wheel" and the like) aren't uncommon.
  • Silly Love Songs: Most of their work are this, run through Ocasek's wry lyrics.
  • Shout-Out:
    • From "They Won't See You":
      Let's turn on the TV and relate to Spock
    • A musical one is found in "Just What I Needed" in that it begins with the same guitar riff as "Yummy Yummy Yummy" by Ohio Express. Lyrically, "time-time" is a reference to The Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray".
    • Similarly, Elliot Easton said that the rockabilly-esque guitar lick in "My Best Friend's Girl" is inspired by the lick in "I Will" by The Beatles.
    • The chorus to "Let's Go" interpolates the clapping and chant from the song "Let's Go (Pony)" by The Routers.
    • From the music video of "You Might Think", footage of the film Robot Monster is shown midway through, with Ric even turning into Ro-Man shortly after.
  • The Smart Guy: Both Elliot and Greg are Berklee College of Music grads.
  • Solo Side Project: Ric, Ben, Elliot, and Greg all released solo albums between '82 and '86:
    • Ric: Beatitude (1982), This Side of Paradise (1986)
    • Ben: The Lace (1986)
    • Elliot: Change No Change (1985)
    • Greg: Niagara Falls (1983)
  • Stage Names:
    • Ben shortened his last name from Orzechowski.
    • Ric Ocasek shortened his from Otcasek.
    • Elliot Easton changed his last name from Elliot Shapiro.
  • Subdued Section: "You Might Think"
  • Synth-Pop: A few on Shake It Up and Heartbeat City with little or no guitar.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Ric, although a rather atypical sort of attractiveness, given he's rather lanky and goofy.
  • Title Track: "Candy-O", "Panorama", "Shake It Up", "Heartbeat City", "Door to Door".
  • Uncommon Time: The verses of "Touch and Go" make use of a polymeter: Orr and Robinson are playing in 5/4, while Ocasek, Easton and Hawkes are playing in 4/4.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Mainly between Orr and Ocasek, with the other band members providing backing vocals.
  • Walk on Water: Ric Ocasek is seen walking on top of a swimming pool in the "Magic" video as a bunch of on-lookers reach out to touch him. In reality, Ric was standing on top of a transparent platform just below the surface.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "I'm in Touch with Your World", "Gimme Some Slack", "A Dream Away", and "Cruiser".