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used records review:

moving in stereo

Chris Auman

The Cars first album

The Cars
The Cars
[Elektra] 1978

Santa dropped some good vinyl on me one Xmas way back in the day (I imagine the albums were purchased at the downtown Ben Franklin, but that’s mere speculation.) At the time, I hadn’t really progressed much past a Queen fixation. It was pretty much all Queen all the time, actually. So, in what was possibly 1984 or 1985, I got a handful of records which would help get my teenaged brain branching out into different directions. One of the albums I received was The Cars self-titled debut album, ironically enough, produced by Roy Thomas Baker who put the sheen on many a Queen jam.

Despite only getting hip to this record in the mid 1980s, The Cars actually came out in 1978. The album went double platinum just a few days shy of its one year anniversary and was still a big seller years later. The Cars followed up with a strong sophomore effort with Candy-O in 1979, and continued to deliver solid albums throughout the 80s.

Talk about debuts that dominate, this Boston band could have packed it all in after one record and they still would have achieved legendary status. As it was, they didn’t and therefore were able to set the tone for the coming decade and their dominance of it. Like their contemporaries, The Police and The Pretenders, The Cars had great songs and deserved their spot on the top of the heap.

The album kicks off with a plea to “Let the Good Times Roll” — a mid temp, cool, hooky tune with plenty of backing vocals Roy Thomas Baker was no doubt quite comfortable with. The lyrics also contain the line, “let it brush your rock and roll hair” which Rob Pollard may wish he would have thought of first. That song would set the template for the rest of the record. “My Best Friend's Girlfriend” is a new wave doo wop tune, followed by “Just What I Needed,” the third perfect pitch in a row resulting in three strikes at the pop charts. The A-side ends with “Doncha Stop” which advises not stopping something if this particular something makes you feel good. Perhaps not the best advice in all situations, but it depends entirely on context.

While Ocasek’s geeky cool, lean and lanky look is a big part of the visual appeal of The Cars, and Ric is generally and rightfully thought of as the leader of the band, bassist Benjamin Orr (born Orzechowski) supplies a more crooning style on three of the albums best tracks, “Moving in Stereo,” “Bye Bye Love,” and “Just What I Needed.” It is Ocasek who takes almost all the writing credits on the LP, with only Hawkes credited as co-writer for “Moving in Stereo”.

“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” is another great track that kicks off the B-side. As a side note, despite knowing the song title, for the longest time I thought the chorus was “You don’t like God tonight,” which would be a much darker song. In retrospect, it's hard to believe now that I could have every misheard it and will chalk it up to the morbidity of a teenaged male and forced Roman Catholic. “Bye Bye Love” has one of my favorite Cars lines, “it’s an orangy sky, always it’s some other guy.” “I’m In Touch with Your World” is alien themed song commonly found on new wave albums.

The Cars was a band of musicians, not rock stars. Elliot Easton was a precise lead guitar player who’s solos were short, to the point, and so far removed from wankery as to be understated and perhaps under appreciated as a result. Greg Hawkes had a mustache that no doubt tickled the ladies as well as he tickled the keys and Ex-Modern lover, David Robinson is as solid on the kit as a BMW 3 Series.

It’s not surprising Ocasek produced Weezer’s debut as that band was The Cars of the 90s in many ways, not the least of which is the ability to write one hell of a catchy hook. A New Cars would put a tour together without their leader and The Cars apparently released a record of originals with Ocasek in 2011 which I am only learning of now. Orr died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer.


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