Another self-titled debut album today, and definitely one of my favorites of all time. Although they may sound like an early-entrant British new wave act in some ways, The Cars were all American, hailing from the Boston area. Their first album, “The Cars”, is the #353 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
When I think of The Cars, I always think of intersection. First off, I don’t believe there has ever been another band that has so seamlessly and evenly blended the musical contributions of guitar and keyboards. Secondly, and even more significantly to me, through their run of success into the 1980s, The Cars represented a point of unity among the crowd of music fans I grew up with. There was a growing divide between the guitar/classic rock traditionalists and the group of fans who were embracing the change of punk/new wave/alternative music. Socially and in style, these subgroups drew strong lines in their allegiances and preferences, but there was one thing that was universal to us all… We all LOVED The Cars.
The first album by The Cars is an absolute breakthrough, and you will likely recognize the majority of songs on this album. One last element to discuss before we look at the songs more closely, was the commonality and shared vocal leadership between Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr. As a novice Cars fan, I naively assumed nearly every song was sung by Ric Ocasek. That said, their voices are remarkably similar in style and range, and I was surprised to learn how many of The Cars’ most successful tracks were actually sung by Ben Orr. In addition to Ocasek, who sang and played rhythm guitar, and Orr, who also played bass, we have Elliot Easton on lead guitar and backing vocals, Greg Hawkes on the essential keyboards and backing vocals, as well as the occasional saxophone, and David Robinson on drums and backing vocals.
The album opens with the introductory “Good Times Roll”, which they certainly do, with Ocasek on lead. The hyper-catchy “My Best Friend’s Girl”, also featuring Ocasek, comes next. This song has always been a favorite of mine, and even my mom loved this song. This is followed by “Just What I Needed”, which has been featured in many recent commercials, and is our first introduction to the similar voice of Ben Orr. Side one winds down with the quirky but perfectly Cars-sounding track “I’m in Touch with Your World” and “Don’t Cha’ Stop”, a faster-paced rocker, both with Ocasek on lead.
Side two opens with my other favorite track on the album, “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”. Such a great intro with the drums, then the guitars, then the keyboards and Ric Ocasek’s unusual voice all coming together in perfect harmony. The rest of side two features Ben Orr on lead vocals, even if like me, you might have thought these were Ric Ocasek songs. “Bye Bye Love” is a perfectly simple little rocker, and then comes “Moving in Stereo”. Not only is “Moving in Stereo” a great song, for most teens of the 80s, especially male ones, it is permanently equated with “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”… “Hi Brad…”.
“All Mixed Up” is an ideal closing song to this highly memorable debut. The Cars would make many more albums, each with several high points, but it would be hard to argue against this debut album as their finest and most complete work. It is just a great record, one I thoroughly enjoyed listening to again.