Yesterday around noon time, I’m looking out the window to peer into our backyard, when I see a red fox cautiously running across my backyard, close to the farmer’s fence that separates my yard from the soybean/cornfield out back. The problem was that my Shih Tzus simply let the fox cross their yard without a peep. Heaven forbid when the cat next door strolls ever so slowly through their yard. The dogs’ silence was deafening. Come to find out, the fox has made a den under a neighbor’s backyard deck a couple of doors down. The neighbors are working with the local animal control expert to “help” the fox family find new housing, albeit not in a residential area.
My first inclination was to use this story as a lead in to talk about the seminal English glam band from the Seventies Sweet and their song “Fox on the Run.” However, I thought that idea was a tad bit cliched, so I moved on. Then, while researching, I got to reading about MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which lead to reading about other infections that I find interesting while others find repulsive, which lead to videos about lancing cysts…well, you, unfortunately, get the picture. In other words, I got sidetracked by the gross part of my training that I kind of miss: culturing infected areas of the body. Sorry, I said I was a microbiologist, so I happen to find these things fascinating, especially the battle we are beginning to lose as the critters develop resistance to our older antibiotics, which is due to our hubris where we emphasize finding meds to allow hair to grow on the President’s head instead of finding the next generation of life-saving medications. Like I said, I have a warped educational interest.
Back on track, I got to reading about the latest Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony that just took place, and I was thinking that an induction ceremony would have been way cooler if one class would have been back a few years ago with Cheap Trick, The Cars and ELO all being immortalized on the same night. That would have been epic to listen to those three bands, all of whom were popular around the same time, be able to play their music on the same stage. And all of that finally lead me to the epiphany that I have been neglecting The Cars in my blog. And, I have NO excuse for it. I know, I get caught up with my favorites, Cheap Trick, Prince, Tom Petty, etc., and I totally remain silence on a band that totally made new wave, and even punk, cool to listen to in cornfields of Central Indiana.
In 1978, there were many great albums being released, so The Cars eponymous debut was something of a slow burner. Initially, the album was receiving some great reviews in the rock magazines of the time. Most waxed on poetically of how the band cleverly mixed the sounds of Album Oriented Rock with the synthesizer touches of New Wave, combining rock, bubblegum, power pop and the minimalism of the Velvet Underground into a crowd pleasing sound that was both rock and pop. The Cars, along with Cheap Trick, were being pimped by the media as the new sound of rock music.
Back when the debut album was released, The Cars’ record company, Elektra, tapped “Just What I Needed” as the first single. The song, a perfect mix of everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph, slowly was added to rock radio stations across the country. But, for a song that was perfectly suited for car radios and super HiFi systems was not finding its niche on Top 40 radio. I felt it had to do with radio programmers preferring stupids ballads, soft rock and disco to great pop songs like The Cars working making. So, “Just What I Needed” stalled at number 27.
Later, “My Best Friend’s Girl,” a song that leaned more toward New Wave, was released, but stalled at number 35. Still, The Cars album kept selling. It seemed as though many of my friends were hopping on The Cars’ bandwagon. In other words, The Cars were winning the war as this album kept selling, eventually spending 139 straight weeks on the Top 200 Album Chart. So, once more Elektra released another single, this time in early 1979. The song was “Good Times Roll,” the third great single on The Cars. But, once again, the band faced resistance from Top 40 radio, and the song peaked at 41.
Still, you could feel the band gaining momentum. Even though The Cars had peaked at number 18 on the album chart, the album just would not quit selling. Those sales caused Elektra to hold off releasing the follow-up album for a couple of months. So, when the second album, Candy-O, was released during the Summer of 1979, the public AND Top 40 radio was ready for it. But, for The Cars to be such a slow smoldering commercial success truly set the table for the band’s continued success in the Eighties, when the band both artistically and commercially peaked in 1984 with their brilliant and vastly underrated Heartbeat City. Today, an artist would not have received the support and patience that The Cars received with that debut album. Everyone would have pulled support after the first single stopped moving, and The Cars would not be immortalized with the other gods of rock music in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Cars sold enough copies in 1979 to end up being ranked number 9 for the whole year by Billboard magazine. Not bad for an album that had briefly brushed the Top 20 upon its release. Also, the last time Rolling Stone magazine did a Top 500 Albums of All Time list back in 2012, The Cars was ranked at 284, while the album has sold over six million copies. And, one more tidbit for you. The album was produced by long-time Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker, who was a pretty hot producer just with those two bands. RTB produced The Cars’ first four albums.
Well, now that The Cars are finally in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I now can turn my attention to The Jam, a band that never experienced any US success but made leader Paul Weller a member of rock’s hierarchy in the UK, and the RRHOF is for the world, not just the States. Plus, if Bon Jovi and Journey can get it, then a great influential band like The Jam should be a no-brainer. Still, for the time being, Long Live The Cars!