Archive for the ‘The Cars’ Tag

[50/50] Album #14: “The Cars”

Friday, March 28th, 2014

[50/50] Album #14: “The Cars” — The Cars (1978).

The_Cars_-_The_CarsEven when you try and leave the past behind, it has a way of chasing after you. For the last few weeks I’ve been followed around by 1978 and 1979 like a pair of imprinted geese, honking with joy at every rediscovery. Today is the 35th anniversary of Three Mile Island, for instance, and I’ve already seen a half-dozen posts about it from friends on facebook. I heard recently that the boy’s basketball team from my old high school went to the state finals, just like they did in March of ’79. No doubt the school took bus loads of students to see the championship game, just like they did for us 35 years ago, and there’s a good chance a kid like me met a cute girl on the ride out to arena, and got to make out with her on the way back. Considering the finals were held in Pittsburgh, four hours away, that makes it one of the Best. Roadtrips. Ever.

And a short time ago when I was back for a visit to central Pennsylvania, poking around in my parent’s attic looking for something for my brother, I stumbled upon the motherload, the grand prize, The Holy Grail: a box of Super8 movies that has been missing for decades. Most of the reels were animated shorts Brent and I made in 1978 and 1979, and haven’t seen since. I was so excited, I made a detour through Baltimore on my way home to North Carolina to drop off the box at his place, where he planned to inspect and digitalize the aging film.

When I walked in the house, he already had one of our old vinyl records on a restored turntable, and my trip to the past was complete:

While the Cars’ first album peaked on Billboard in March, 1979, it stayed on the charts for the next two years, and spawn numerous singles that are still, no doubt, in heavy rotation somewhere. (It also gets points for having the greatest sampled snippet in a movie soundtrack.)

Anyway, here’s the whole album. “The Cars” by  The Cars:

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[50/50] Album #28: “Panorama”

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Album #28: “Panorama” — The Cars (1980)

“With nothing to do/except think about you” — Ric Ocasek

220px-Cars_-_Panorama“Panorama” is always known as The Cars’ ‘dark album.’ After two records full of jangly pop tunes about wanting and longing, “Panorama” spends most of its time venting in frustration over never getting. Often set in minor keys, the songs vacillate between whining and begging, self-pity and adolescent sadomasochism. In other words, until Morrissey came along, it was the perfect album for a mopey teenager.

“Panorma” came out the week I turned 16.

It was only later, when I was much older, that I realized how perfectly this record encapsulated the next two years of high school for me. Between the desperation and depression, it could have been a road map for the bleak terrain I was about to pass through, if only I had listened to the lyrics more carefully. (This goes doubly so for the ironic album cover: it waves the checkered flag, while every song leaves the protagonist stranded as yet another potential lover takes flight in the opposite direction.)

Of course, for all the sympathizing Ocasek and crew do with loserdom, they aren’t above turning on their own fans and reminding them how harsh and unforgiving the world is if you forget your place. As Benjamin Orr cuttingly drives home in “Down Boys”: You were tryin’ to be, hysterical/ And I still ain’t laughin.’ There’s 11th grade, right there.

At no point during the album does anyone get lucky. Even with “Up and Down,” the hard-pounding punch that ends  “Panorama,” Ric Ocasek is reduced to begging:

Do you have to be so hard to get
Especially with those emerald eyes
You might have been a neon lover
But you didn’t have to advertise
Come on, come on, well, come on

It’s okay Ric, I know just how you feel.

[50/50] Album #35: “Move Like This”

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Album #35: Move Like This — The Cars (2011)

I’ll say the same thing I said when this record came out:

the cars alt cover“The simple fact that I can write a sentence with the phrase ‘new Cars album’ is reason enough to celebrate. That it’s actually a solid, catchy record is a minor miracle. 24 years after they called it quits, a sudden impulse overtook Ric Ocasek, and he decided to get the band back together one more time. Maybe he was feeling old, or, more likely, Ocasek didn’t want the awful “Door to Door” to be The Cars’ swan song, but whatever the reason,  — OH MY GOD THERE’S A NEW CARS ALBUM.

“Granted, it isn’t perfect: Benjamin Orr, who died of cancer in 2000, is sorely missed. It was Orr’s voice that carried the band’s ballads, and Ocasek isn’t up to the task, straining to match the gossamer tones the songs need. That said, Ocasek’s writing is as beat and whip-smart as ever, and the overall effect is incredible. They somehow managed to pick up their original sound, as if they had stepped out for a smoke instead of taking a quarter century break, with songs that both recall their biggest hits and feel completely new. In it’s review, the AV Club said, ‘considering how many other bands have tried to make modern versions of classic Cars songs, it’s nice to see the original article doing it better than most.’”

“This isn’t just a nostalgic cash grab by a bunch of old dudes playing at new wavers. Ocasek’s lyrics in particular are world worn, a generational coda to the capricious cool of their top 40 hits. As one critic said, ‘Sad Song’ is the bookend to ‘Let’s Go’ and ‘My Best Friend’s Girl,’ as though it’s sung by the same character thinking about how much he’s learned since. And ‘Hits Me’ is clearly penned by a guy who been through it all and just wants to get to next week. It is their darkest album since ‘Panorama.’

“And, still, it’s a joy. My brother saw them perform in Philly (at the Electric Factory no less) and said, while they weren’t a great live act they were never a great live act. Yet, it was absolutely clear these four guys were just plain happy to be on stage and playing together, and that reenergized youthful enthusiasm — along with a fans who felt the same way — made for a great show. While it would have been good to see them one more time, I’m just happy I’ve got one more Cars album to listen to, one that fits perfectly along side their very best stuff.”

[50/50] Album #43: “Heartbeat City”

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Album #43: “Heartbeat City” — The Cars (1984)

heartbeatcityThanks to MTV and their videos, the Cars hit their zenith in 1984 with their biggest commercial success, “Heartbeat City.” It was thanks to those videos that lead singer Ric Ocasek met future wife, model Paulina Porizkiva, (who starred in the video for “Drive”and who, one wag famously put, ruined it for all the models out there because now every grotesque geek thought they had a shot with a supermodel). It would also mark the start of the decline of the band, as long-simmering personality conflicts would end the group after their next album, the forgettable Door to Door.

There was nothing forgettable about Heartbeat City, however. Thanks to it’s five Top 40 hits — with one video directed by Timothy Hutton (the aforementioned “Drive”) and another by Andy Warhol (the cheestastic “Hello Again“) — they were a constant and pervasive presence in 1984.

Magic,” the music video with Ocasek walking on water across a swimming pool, neatly summed up both the band’s creativity and the source of it’s creative tensions in one smooth metaphor. That song was forever cemented in my mind as well as we got drunk around my friend Rusty’s pool one perfect summer evening before going to see The Cars on tour. So too “Drive,” which, while it got played waaaay too often after my college girlfriend broke up with me that spring, reminds me more of Pittsburgh. “Drive” hit the charts just as I transferred to the Art Institute that fall, and even now I can’t play it without seeing the mercury-lit glow of the Pittsburgh skyline in all it’s Blade-Runneresque glory as we drove about after the clubs closed looking for Primanti Bros. I put this album on and I feel 20 again — and hungry.

[50/50] Album #47: “Change No Change”

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Album #47: “Change No Change” — Elliot Easton (1985)

change_hiWhile Ric Ocasek took much of the credit for The Cars, their sound and success was clearly a group effort — as is evidenced by Ocasek’s many (failed) efforts to break out as a hit solo artist. Guitarist Elliot Easton also went the solo route, once, and the result, while not a big commercial hit, did make a splash. It’s certainly one of my favorites.

I picked up this record when Easton came through Pittsburgh on tour in 1985. My girlfriend Cayce Barch and I saw him play in a literal hole–in–the-wall, some club down in McKee’s Rocks that was built in a cave in the side of the hill over looking the Ohio. The sound was terrible, but the songs were such that I had to have the album immediately. “Change No Change” is a jangly, sweet blast, and makes it abundantly clear Ric Ocasek wasn’t the only talented guy in the bunch. (It doesn’t hurt that it Easton’s album was also produced by the same guy who did the first four Cars records, giving it much the same energy).

“Change No Change” probably would’ve remained an nostalgic artifact of my year at the Art Institute and my time with Cayce if I hadn’t rediscovered it a few years ago. It has been re-released a number of times and has aged beautifully, in part because it reached into Easton’s love of early rock ‘n’ roll as a starting influence, added in some ’80s guitar wailing and projected forward into the jangle pop that would become popular over the next 20 years. Elliot Easton shows he would have been at home anywhere from 1950 to 2000.

Top 50 Albums so far

Top 5 albums of 2011: Part II: Electric Boogaloo

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

#1 The Cars — Move Like This

The simple fact that I can write a sentence with the phrase “new Cars album” is reason enough to celebrate. That it’s actually a solid, catchy record is a minor miracle. 24 years after they called it quits, a sudden impulse overtook Ric Ocasek, and he decided to get the band back together one more time. Maybe he was feeling old, or, more likely, Ocasek didn’t want the awful Door to Door to be The Cars’ swan song, but whatever the reason,  — OH MY GOD THERE’S A NEW CARS ALBUM.


Granted, it isn’t perfect: Benjamin Orr, who died of cancer in 2000, is sorely missed. A lot of people pointed out that it was Orr’s voice that carried the band’s ballads, and Ocasek isn’t up to the task, straining to match the gossamer tones the songs need. That said, Ocasek’s writing is as beat and whip-smart as ever, and the overall effect is incredible. They somehow managed to pick up their original sound as if they had stepped out for a smoke instead of taking a quarter century break, with songs that both recall their biggest hits and feel completely new. In it’s review, the AV Club said, “considering how many other bands have tried to make modern versions of classic Cars songs, it’s nice to see the original article doing it better than most.”


This isn’t just a nostalgic cash grab by a bunch of old dudes playing at new wavers. Ocasek’s lyrics in particular are world worn, a generational coda to the capricious cool of their top 40 hits. As one critic said, “Sad Song” is the bookend to “Let’s Go” and “My Best Friend’s Girl,” as though it’s sung by the same character thinking about how much he’s learned since. And “Hits Me” is clearly penned by a guy who been through it all and just wants to get to next week. It is their darkest album since Panorama.


And, still, it’s a joy. My brother saw them perform in Philly (at the Electric Factory no less) and said, while they weren’t a great live act they were never a great live act. Yet, it was absolutely clear these four guys were just plain happy to be on stage and playing together, and that reenergized youthful enthusiasm — along with a fans who felt the same way — made for a great show. While it would have been good to see them one more time, I’m just happy I’ve got one more Cars album to listen to, one that fits perfectly along side their very best stuff.

Honorable Mention: Daft Punk — TRON: Legacy 

Technically, this came out in 2010 along with the film of the same name, but I didn’t pick it until well into last year. None of which changes the fact that I played this soundtrack in 2011 more than any record I’ve bought in years. TRON: Legacy — the movie — is seriously flawed and, I strongly suspect, would have failed if it weren’t for this stunning techno score. It is the best thing about the movie, and pulls the story along even when the plot, acting and special effects refuse to do so.


Beyond their driving synth numbers, the duo of Daft Punk — who, with their robot-masked public personas were tailor made to work on this movie (and indeed appeared as themselves in one scene) — composed a tight orchestration that is a worthy successor to Wendy Carlos original TRON score, and belongs among the most famous and listenable of soundtracks.


I’ve listened to it while writing, while playing games, while cooking, while folding laundry — seriously, there is nothing it can’t make more exciting.