The Cars

  • New wave band formed in 1976, from Boston Massachusetts. Members of the group were Ric Ocasek (born Richard Otcasek – lead vocals, guitars, keyboards, songwriting), Benjamin Orr (bass guitar, backing and lead vocals), Elliot Easton (guitars, backing vocals), David Robinson (drums, backing vocals) and Greg Hawkes (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals).
  • Ocasek and Orr met in 1965 when Ocasek saw Orr performing at a concert in Cleveland. By 1968, they were performing together in a band called Id Nirvana in Columbus Ohio. In the early 70s, they moved to Boston, and formed a folk rock band called Milkwood. This band released 1 album, which did not chart. After Milkwood, they formed the group Richard and the Rabbits, which included Hawkes, who had contributed as a studio musician to the Milkwood album. Hawkes soon left, and Ocasek/Orr continued performing at a coffee house. By the mid 70s, Ocasek and Orr joined Easton in the band Cap’n Swing. A Boston radio station began to play songs from Cap’n Swing’s demo tape. They were rejected by several record labels, and Ocasek decided to change the band to one that leaned more to art rock & roll, incorporating synthesizers and a punk edge. Robinson joined on drums, and Hawkes returned, and they became The Cars.
  • The Cars played their first show on New Year’s eve in 1976, and they made a demo tape early the next year. Included on the demo was Just What I Needed, which received heavy airplay in Boston. This got them signed to a record deal, and they released their debut album, the self-titled The Cars, in the summer of 1978. The album was a major hit – it sold over 6 million copies in the U.S., and featured 3 songs – Just What I Needed, My Best Friend’s Girl, and Good Times Roll – that charted and reached the forefront of a developing music genre called new wave.
  • The next album, Candy-O, was released in 1979. It went 4x platinum and peaked at #3 on the Billboard album chart. The song Let’s Go reached #14 on the Hot 100. The album is famous for its cover art – a painting of a woman lying on a Ferrari by Playboy artist Alberto Vargas, who was retired at 83 years old, but agreed to do it when his niece, a fan of the band, asked him to (the model, named Candy Moore, was Lucille Ball’s onscreen daughter on the TV show The Lucy Show from the 60s). Here’s the cover:
  • Three more platinum albums were released from 1980 to 1984 – Panorama, Shake It Up, and Heartbreak City. Thanks to their popularity on MTV, The Cars had 3 singles from these albums break into the top 10 of the Hot 100 – Shake It Up, You Might Think and their highest charting single at #3, Drive. You Might Think also topped the Top Rock chart – the video for the song was one of the earliest to use computer graphics, and it won Video of the Year at the first MTV Video Music Awards in 1984.
  • The band had 2 more songs reach #1 on the Top Rock chart – Magic in 1984 and Tonight She Comes in 1985. In 1987, they released the Door to Door album – You Are the Girl and Strap Me In were top 5 songs on the Top Rock chart, though they were less successful on the Hot 100, and the album was their first not to go platinum. By 1988, they were finished, announcing their breakup.
  • Ocasek and Orr concentrated on solo work during the 90s. Orr died of pancreatic cancer in 2000. In 2010, the surviving members of The Cars reformed for an album and concert tour, with Hawkes performing Orr’s bass parts, and Ocasek handling Orr’s lead vocal duties. At the end of the tour, the band split up again. They reconvened only once – at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, where they played 4 songs together, with Scott Shriner of Weezer handling bass guitar.
  • Ocasek died in September 2019 of natural causes, at the age of 75.
  • The Cars were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. I immediately loved The Cars when they hit the radio. In fact, the summer of 1978 was one of the best ever for me, and songs like Good Times Roll and My Best Friend’s Girl were a big part of it. I loved New Wave, and in many ways, The Cars defined the genre. Here’s a clip of the band performing Just What I Needed – these guys were so nerdy cool!

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