It’s now been a week since I saw the news release announcing that the main songwriter of The Cars, Ric Ocasek, had passed. Now it has not affected me the same way Prince or Tom Petty hit me, but his passing has hit me hard, putting yet another metaphorical nail in the coffin of my youth.
You see, in many ways, The Cars represented something of an gateway drug into my continued obsession with alternative music. Looking back, I was reading about the Sex Pistols, Ramones and The Clash but had yet to gain the intestinal fortitude to eschew my Boston and Styx records for the more enjoyable music of my youth. Then, in 1978, I discovered the now-classic eponymous debut album by The Cars, and my life literally changed. Now, I was hearing the sounds of a new generation. Sure, they played classic rock sounds with the pop sheen of the bubblegum music from my elementary school days. But, this music was also laced with futuristic synth swooshes and new wave rhythms that told me the punk waters were warm, safe and inviting for this Midwestern kid.
The best part about The Cars was that my, and this is an endearing term when used by someone whose housing addition was surrounded by corn fields, hick friends could find common ground when at parties and cruising around our hometown. This was the band that unified the different factions in our high school. Metal heads, stoners, science nerds, jocks, seemingly all of us loved The Cars, and, anecdotally speaking from class reunions we still do, continues to unite my generation. Perhaps the coolest thing was how influential the band was throughout the Nineties (Ric Ocasek produced Weezer’s now-classic debut album!) and into the 21st century (Listen to The Killers, Bloc Party and a host of others).
I give you that they weren’t an overtly flashy band, like say A Flock of Seagulls or Billy Idol, but their songs have had much more staying power than perhaps any other artist from the same time period, outside of Prince, Michael, The Boss or Madonna. And, that, my friends, says it all to me.
Therefore, in one last salute to The Cars, I present to you my Top 20 Songs by The Cars.
20. “I’m Not the One” (Shake It Up, 1981)
19. “It’s All I Can Do” (Candy-O, 1979)
18. “Sad Song” (Move like This, 2011)
17. “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” (The Cars, 1978)
16. “You Are the Girl” (Door to Door, 1987)
15. “Tonight She Comes” (Greatest Hits, 1985)
14. “Hello Again” (Heartbeat City, 1984)
13. “Magic” (Heartbeat City, 1984)
12. “Shake It Up” (Shake It Up, 1981)
11. “Moving in Stereo” (The Cars, 1978)
10. “Good Times Roll” (The Cars, 1978). This great song is the THIRD single from the band’s fantastic debut album and a classic rock standard. It’s hard to remember just how different this song was from everything else on Central Indiana radio at the time.
9. “Dangerous Type” (Candy-O, 1979). I am a big fan of the darker music by The Cars, and this song wasn’t much of a radio hit but was included in the now-forgotten 1980 coming-of-age Times Square movie to great effect. It’s a shame the song was left off the soundtrack because it’s inclusion would have made the double album perfect.
8. “You Might Think” (Heartbeat City, 1984). A prime example of the quirky pop-rock The Cars perfected. And, back in 1984, no video was more cutting edge than the one for this terrific song.
7. “Drive” (Heartbeat City, 1984). The Cars made their entry into ballad-land with this haunting tune. It was used to great effect during the Live Aid video that depicted the famine in Africa.
6. “Just What I Needed” (The Cars, 1978). To me, this was the safest-sounding Cars song and, in retrospect, the perfect way to introduce the band to the world.
5. “Touch and Go” (Panorama, 1980). I wasn’t joking when I said that I love the weird side of this band. And, outside of “Moving in Stereo,” no song was as jarring at the time as this one was when you first heard it. As a matter of fact, it remains so. It’s light years ahead of the music world.
4. “Bye Bye Love” (The Cars, 1978). Easily my favorite non-single cut by The Cars. I love the dark imaginary utilized to describe a disintegrating relationship. Plus, you know something good has to be going on when this song got a HUGE reaction from a Ted Nugent/AC/DC crowd when played during the pre-concert music.
3. “Since You’re Gone” (Shake It Up, 1981). Once again, I’m walking on the dark side of the street, but this song has never really gotten the praise it truly deserves. WHY WASN’T IT A HUGE HIT?!?!?!
2. “My Best Friend’s Girl” (The Cars, 1978). This one challenged radio programmers NOT to add it to their playlist. It’s like radio around here went from safe music to playing more and more new wave after this song got on the playlists around here. “Stayed tuned, because The Police will be back with “Roxanne” after this word from our sponsors.” Would have NEVER happened if this song was popular first.
1. “Let’s Go” (Candy-O, 1979). You know, there are just certain songs that simply tell you everything you need to know about an artist. Guns N’ Roses have “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” R.E.M. has “Losing My Religion.” And, Michael Jackson has “Billie Jean.” Well, to me, “Let’s Go” is that song for The Cars. Even Prince loved the song! How much better could an endorsement get?