Listening: The Cars

This will be a semi-regular feature where I pick a band I haven’t listened to more than what has played on the radio. I was going to try to make it weekly, but I quickly realized that was too lofty of a goal since I really want to listen to the entire band’s discography.

The Cars are a great singles band.  There is no denying it.  But here is the thing, a lot of those “singles” actually aren’t.

Look at their first album. “Just What I Needed,” My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Times Roll” are actual singles. However, side two has three songs that have extended radio airplay.  “Moving in Stereo’ especially has a special place in most men’s brains because of a certain movie scene.

Again, that song is not a single, but it’s no longer a deep cut.  And that’s the great thing about The Cars: almost every song sounds like a single.

The Cars are a new wave band and sometimes it shows and dates their music.  Surprisingly, though, it’s mostly on the most experimental tracks. Yet, none derail any of their albums.

One of the strongest aspects of The Cars sound was that main songwriter Ric Ocasek knew when a song wasn’t right for his voice.  While he may have been able to pull off “Just What I Needed,” he knew that Benjamin Orr was the one to sing their best song, “Drive.”

I hadn’t listened to “Drive” in years.  I thought it might sound dated when I came upon it again.  God, was I wrong. It has a beautiful melody that shows a synthesizer can be an emotional instrument, but it’s Orr that’s the star on this song. He does the remarkable feat of sounding emotionally vested and, yet, somewhat detached.  His phrasing is sometimes not where you expect it causing the listener to get caught up in the drama in the song. If this was the only song The Cars ever recording, they would belong in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

What really surprised me was how much I liked Panorama, the album with the fewest charting tracks. While it doesn’t really have any songs that stick out from the others, it is a great album through and through.  There is no filler.

Actually, The Cars whole discography is strong. For a band known for its many singles, their albums are mostly great from the first song to last.  A lot the credit needs to go to producers Roy Thomas Baker and Mutt Lange. This, in turn, led to Ric Ocasek being a great producer in his own right with credits such as Weezer’s Blue and Green albums along with Everything Will Be Alright in the End.  The Cars was a band with a gifted songwriter who knew and played to the strengths of his bandmates.

Next up: Dio


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