An Album for the Weekend: The Cars (1978)

With Boston on our minds so much this week, I started to look for more uplifting reasons to think about The Hub. It didn’t take long. Boston’s music scene has given us plenty over the years: the band Boston, Aerosmith — and The Cars. Their debut album, self-titled, came out during an intensely trendy time. But it has aged well.

The_CarsWell, not exactly. The Cars sounds like it hasn’t aged at all. Back then, we were conditioned to look for oddity in sound, to expect punkiness and New Wave weirdness and disdain the mild. Fortunately, a lot of us bypassed that crap and went straight to the music. The Cars managed to move in the fashion-soaked New Wave world while still providing edgy substance. Their early music hasn’t lost any of that quality since the days when it rushed at me out of open dorm windows in Philadelphia.

Everyone knows about angular/skinny Ric Ocasek, with his penchant for fashion model girlfriends and his offbeat lead vocals. All well and good, but there’s so much more to listen to. Elliot Easton was a precise guitarist who worked adventure into a clean, out-front sound. He could dirty it up just a little, though, when it worked, such as on the solo that spins “Don’t Cha Stop” to its end. Drums are sharp too; the break David Robinson played to dive “Just What I Needed” from its introductory verse into the main part of the song has been air-played at more frat parties than “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.”

Even the recording techniques amp up the intensity. Check out the phasing on the opening drums of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight.” And butting that song end-to-end with the lead-off guitar/bass thumps of the next one, “Bye Bye Love,” gives the pair a jumpy, live-show feel that keeps a party revving. (I always did like the lead vocal on “Bye Bye Love;” it was by Benjamin Orr, the band’s bassist and other lead singer. Sadly, Orr died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer.)

If you were there when people were self-piercing their earlobes with safety pins and obsessing about Adam Ant, The Cars will take you back. If you weren’t there, listen in and mosh.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr except album art and linked music

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4 thoughts on “An Album for the Weekend: The Cars (1978)

  1. Jim Teague says:

    I recall cranking “Just What I Needed” when it came on the radio in a certain friend’s Cutlass Supreme as we headed down Cochran Road away from a long day of high school. Great memories. Great album.

    • Everyone had a friend with a Cutlass Supreme — or they WERE the friend with the Cutlass Supreme! … And if you didn’t have a friend with a Cutlass Supreme, then you surely had one with a Pontiac Firebird. … Either car, they likely had Jensen speakers in the back, and a Pioneer deck in the dash.

  2. Ben Orr = Clevelander. I think he met Ocasek in Columbus, and they ended up in Boston.

  3. […] An Album for the Weekend: The Cars (1978) ( […]

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