Album #1: “Candy-O” — The Cars (1979)
I have a confession to make.
When The Cars first arrived in 1978, I hated them. No really. I have no idea why now—maybe they were too janglely, too alien—but I distantly recall mocking my cousin that Christmas as she went on about The Cars and the Ramones and all things punk and new wave. What can I say: teenagers are idiots. Especially this one.
My Road to Damascus moment came when Candy-O, their second album, appeared the next summer, it’s airbrushed Vargas cover calling like a siren song. I recollect a moment with fellow PK Monty Link and his friends as they challenged each other to name the songs in play order on both records without looking at the jacket. Eventually I could do the same. Eventually I embraced all things punk and new wave and so much more, and it started with this band and this album.
The Cars provided the soundtrack to my high school years quite literally, each record indelibly marking the grade in which it dropped.
(Decades later I found myself reading some music critic who snidely dismissed fans that thought of music merely as the soundtrack to their life — as if the power songs had to create memory and color experiences were a trivial thing compared to the importance of music criticism. Whatever, dude.)
The Cars self-titled debut album appeared the summer before 9th grade, just as my friends and I headed off to the halls of Susquehanna Twp. High School; it remained on the charts so long it eventually become familiar, comfortable, necessary. Panorama‘s dour soundscape landed as I hit 11th grade with a thud, and Shake It Up showed up—appropriately enough—in the middle of my senior year as I began a long process of reinventing myself after a long bout of depression and failure. Each record seemed to mirror the dash and turmoil of my adolescence with pop aplomb.
The Cars ubiquitous presence continued throughout college — here’s Moving in Stereo blasting out a dorm window as we roll out to Friday Happy Hour!; there’s Drive topping the charts the semester my college girlfriend and I broke up in ugly, sprawling fashion!; look at us partying around Rusty’s swimming pool the perfect summer night we finally see the band on City Island!
Candy-O came out shortly before 10th grade, and —never left. Not really. I’ve played it so often over the past 40 years it became a benchmark for a dozen adventures, a steady reference point for my brother and close friends that acted as a shorthand for numerous girlfriends over the decades.
Ric Ocasek, with his awkward pose and beat-inspired prose, had somehow tapped into virtually every relationship I had growing up: the longing, the confusion, the waiting—and the eventual growing up.
Wherever you are now — thanks.