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The Cars' lineup:
- Ric Ocasek: Lead vocals, rhythm guitar, wrote or co-wrote every song
- Benjamin Orr: Lead vocals, bass (1976-88)
- 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, Ohio, 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 share lead vocals, and 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 Mutt Lange, released their Magnum Opus, 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 New Wave. Five songs were Top 40 hits, the ballad "Drive" went to #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.
Ben died of cancer in 2000. 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.
- 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)
The Cars provide examples of:
- 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.
- Adorkable: Ric, in both voice and looks. Especially on his less-cynical songs like "Victim Of Love" and "Magic."
- Album Title Drop: Move Like This, "Too Late"
- All Lowercase Letters: the lyrics printed in each album
- Arena Rock
- Bishonen: Greg. Just look at the picture above.
- Break Up Song: A few here and there.
- The Cameo: Candy-O's album cover was by Alberto Vargas, and Andy Warhol directed and appeared in the video for "Hello Again".
- Dance Sensation: The song "Shake It Up".
- The Eighties: No collection of '80s pop is complete without Heartbeat City.
- Fading Into the Next Song: "Moving in Stereo" to "All Mixed Up", "Think It Over" to "Maybe Baby", "Coming Up You" to "Wound Up On You".
- Fan Service: Babe-laden videos, especially "Shake It Up" and "Hello Again".
- A Good Name for a Rock Band: And one that provided Ric with plenty of opportunities for puns and double entendres.
- 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.
- Intercourse with You: You betcha!
- 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".
- Mr. Fanservice: Ben.
- New Wave: One of the genre's essential bands.
- Record Producer: Ric produced Door to Door and many albums by other bands, during and after his time with The Cars. Credits include Bad Religion's The Gray Race, Weezer's Blue and Green self-titled albums, and The Pink Spiders' Teenage Graffiti.
- 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.
- The Smart Guy: Both Elliot and Greg are Berklee College of Music grads.
- Stage Names: Ben shortened his last name from Orzechowski.
- Ric Ocasek shortened his from Otcasek.
- 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.
- Textless Album Cover: The vinyl LP of Candy-O.
- Vocal Tag Team
- Word Salad Lyrics: "I'm in Touch with Your World", "Gimme Some Slack", "A Dream Away".