The Cars are an American rock band that emerged from the new wave scene in the late 1970s. The band originated in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1976, with singer, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter Ric Ocasek; singer, songwriter and bassist Benjamin Orr; lead guitarist Elliot Easton; keyboardist Greg Hawkes; and drummer David Robinson.
The Cars were at the forefront in merging 1970s guitar-oriented rock with the new synthesizer-oriented pop that was then becoming popular and which would flourish in the early 1980s. Robert Palmer, music critic for The New York Times and Rolling Stone, described the Cars' musical style by saying: "they have taken some important but disparate contemporary trends—punk minimalism, the labyrinthine synthesizer and guitar textures of art rock, the '50s rockabilly revival and the melodious terseness of power pop—and mixed them into a personal and appealing blend."
The Cars were named "Best New Artist" in the 1978 Rolling Stone Readers' Poll and won "Video of the Year" for "You Might Think" at the first MTV Video Music Awards in 1984. Their debut album, The Cars, sold six million copies and appeared on the Billboard 200 album chart for 139 weeks. As of 2001, the Cars have sold over 23 million albums in the United States.
The band broke up in 1988, and Ocasek later discouraged talk of a reunion. Orr died in 2000 from pancreatic cancer. In 2005, Easton and Hawkes joined with Todd Rundgren to form a spin-off band, the New Cars, which performed classic Cars and Rundgren songs alongside new material. The original surviving members reunited in 2010 to record a new album, Move Like This, which was released in May 2011, followed by a short tour. In 2017, they were announced as inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for 2018.
Before the Cars, members of the band performed together in several different incarnations. Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr met in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1960s after Ocasek saw Orr performing with his band the Grasshoppers on the Big 5 Show, a local musical variety program. The two were in various bands in Columbus, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Michigan before re-locating to Boston in the early 1970s. In Boston, Ocasek and Orr, along with lead guitarist Jas Goodkind, formed a Crosby, Stills and Nash-style folk rock band called Milkwood. They released one album, How's the Weather, on Paramount Records in 1973 that failed to chart.
After Milkwood, Ocasek and Orr formed the group Richard and the Rabbits, whose name was suggested by Jonathan Richman. The band included Greg Hawkes, who had studied at the Berklee School of Music and had played saxophone on Milkwood's album. Hawkes left to tour with Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture, a musical comedy act in which Mull played a variety of instruments. Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr then performed as an acoustic duo called simply Ocasek and Orr at the Idler coffeehouse in Cambridge. Some of the songs they played became the early Cars songs.
Later, Ocasek and Orr teamed up with guitarist Elliot Easton (who had also studied at Berklee) in the band Cap'n Swing. Cap'n Swing also featured drummer Glenn Evans, later followed by Kevin Robichaud, and a jazzy bass player, which clashed with Ocasek's more rock and roll leanings. Benjamin Orr was the lead vocalist and did not play an instrument. Cap'n Swing soon came to the attention of WBCN disc jockey Maxanne Sartori, who began playing songs from their demo tape on her show.
After being rejected by several record labels, Ocasek got rid of the bass player and drummer and decided to form a band that better fit his style of writing. Orr took over on bass and Robichaud was replaced by David Robinson, best known for his career with the Modern Lovers. Robinson had also played in DMZ and the Pop! Hawkes returned to play keyboards and the band became "The Cars," a name suggested by Robinson, whose sense of fashion would have a strong influence on the band's image.
Rise in popularity, The Cars, and Candy-O (1978–1979)
The Cars played their first show at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire on December 31, 1976 and spent early 1977 playing throughout New England, developing the songs that would become their debut album. A nine-song demo tape was recorded in early 1977 and soon "Just What I Needed" was getting heavy airplay on Boston radio stations WBCN and WCOZ. By virtue of that airplay, the band was signed to Elektra Records. The band's debut album, The Cars, was released in June 1978, reaching No. 18 on the Billboard 200. "Just What I Needed" was released as the debut single from the album, followed by "My Best Friend's Girl" and "Good Times Roll" all three charting on the Billboard Hot 100. The album also featured multiple album tracks that received substantial airplay, such as "You're All I've Got Tonight," "Bye Bye Love," and "Moving in Stereo."
The band's second album, Candy-O, was released in June 1979. Featuring an album cover created by the famed Playboy artist Alberto Vargas, the album reached No. 3 on the Billboard album chart in America. The album featured their first Top 20 single, "Let's Go." Follow-up singles "It's All I Can Do" and "Double Life" were also released, although with less success.
Change in sound, Panorama, and Shake It Up (1980–1983)
Following the success of Candy-O, the band's third studio album, Panorama, was released in 1980. The album, considered more experimental than its predecessors, featured only one Top 40 hit with "Touch and Go". Although the album peaked at No. 5 in America, it did not receive the critical praise of The Cars and Candy-O, with Rolling Stone describing the album as "an out-and-out drag".
In 1981, the Cars purchased Intermedia Studios in Boston, renaming it Syncro Sound. The only Cars album recorded there was the band's fourth album, Shake It Up, a more commercial album than Panorama. It was their first album to spawn a top 10 single with the title track, and it included another hit in "Since You're Gone". Following their 1982 tour, the Cars took a short break and went to work on solo projects, with Ocasek and Hawkes both releasing debut albums (Beatitude and Niagara Falls, respectively).
Heartbeat City, Door to Door and break-up (1984–1988)
The Cars reunited and released their most successful album, Heartbeat City, in 1984. The first single, "You Might Think", helped the Cars win Video of the Year at the first MTV Video Music Awards. Other hit singles from the album included "Magic", "Hello Again", and "Why Can't I Have You". Their most successful single, "Drive", with Orr on lead vocals, gained particular notability when it was used in a video of the Ethiopian famine prepared by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and introduced by David Bowie at the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London (the Cars themselves performed in the Philadelphia Live Aid concert). Actor/director Timothy Hutton directed the band's 1984 "Drive" music video.
After the resulting period of superstardom and another hit single, "Tonight She Comes", a No. 7 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart (their last No. 1), from their Greatest Hits, the Cars took time off again to pursue solo projects. Easton and Orr released their debut albums (Change No Change and The Lace, respectively), while Ocasek released his second solo album, This Side of Paradise. In 1987, the Cars released their sixth album, Door to Door. It contained their last major international hit, "You Are the Girl", but the album failed to approach the success of their previous albums. They announced the group's breakup in February 1988.
Post break-up, solo careers and Benjamin Orr's death (1989–2009)
In the late 1990s, rumors circulated of a Cars reunion, with no results. However, in 1995 Rhino Records released a two-CD set Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology, containing all the group's hits mixed with rarities (demos, non-album b-sides). They followed up with the releases of The Cars: Deluxe Edition (1999), their debut album in 2-CD format, and Complete Greatest Hits.
In the mid-1990s, Orr recorded tracks with guitarist John Kalishes for an unreleased follow-up to The Lace and performed with three bands, his own band "ORR", The Voices of Classic Rock, and Big People. Orr did appear with his former bandmates one last time in an interview for a documentary about the group prior to his death from pancreatic cancer, at age 53, in 2000.
Ocasek continued to perform as a solo artist, having released over seven studio albums. Robinson retired from music and spent most of his time working in his restaurant. In 2005, Easton and Hawkes combined their talents with Todd Rundgren, Prairie Prince (The Tubes, Journey), and Kasim Sulton (Utopia, Meat Loaf) in a revamped lineup, The New Cars, to perform classic Cars songs along with some new original material and selections from Rundgren's career.
In 2008, the band's first album was released for the video game Rock Band.
Reunion and Move Like This (2010–2011)
In 2010, the founding members of the Cars suggested a reunion when Ric Ocasek, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes and David Robinson placed a photo of the four members together in Millbrook Sound Studios, Millbrook, New York on their Facebook page. On October 13, they also posted a snippet of a new song, "Blue Tip", on their Facebook page. A picture of Jacknife Lee in the studio was posted on the group's Facebook page hinting that he would be producing the new Cars album.
In October Billboard reported that a new album which may be supported by a tour is being recorded at veteran engineer Paul Orofino's studio in Millbrook, New York. A music clip of a new song, called "Sad Song", was added to the band's Facebook page on December 7, 2010; another clip of a song called "Free" was shared on their Facebook page on January 1, 2011. The official debut video for "Blue Tip" was released February 17, 2011. The video was directed by Roberto Serrini and Eron Otcasek from The Lab NYC and features the four members of the band, and NYC based street artist Joe Iurato. According to Rolling Stone, the surviving Cars mutually agreed there would be no replacing the late Benjamin Orr, so Hawkes and Lee handled all bass parts.
The new album, titled Move Like This, was released on May 10 by Hear Music/Concord Music Group, debuting at No. 7 on Billboard's album charts. It featured 10 songs in under 40 minutes. The album's first single, "Sad Song", was released to radio stations March 1. In May 2011, the Cars went on a ten-city tour of the United States and Canada and also performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago in August.
Though the Cars have not broken up, they have been inactive since the tour's conclusion in 2011, and their website has not been updated since that time. Though on April 28, 2016 Ric Ocasek appeared on behalf of the Cars for a Q & A with SiriusXM satellite radio. 2016 has also seen a release of remastered Cars music on CD and vinyl. Ocasek supervised the remastering.
The Cars' music has been described as new wave, and power pop, and is influenced by proto-punk, garage rock, and bubblegum pop. They have also used rockabilly in songs such as "My Best Friend's Girl". Robert Palmer, music critic for The New York Times and Rolling Stone, described the Cars' musical style by saying: "they have taken some important but disparate contemporary trends—punk minimalism, the labyrinthine synthesizer and guitar textures of art rock, the '50s rockabilly revival and the melodious terseness of power pop—and mixed them into a personal and appealing blend." They have also had hard rock-oriented songs including "You're All I've Got Tonight."
The Cars have been an influence on many bands over the years, as evidenced by the list of varied artists that have covered their songs. These include Nirvana (who covered "My Best Friend's Girl" at their last-ever live performance on March 1, 1994), Smashing Pumpkins ("You're All I've Got Tonight"), Melvins ("Candy-O"), Red House Painters ("All Mixed Up"), Alkaline Trio ("Bye Bye Love"), Ziggy Marley ("Drive"), Poison ("Just What I Needed"), Deftones ("Drive"), and Hayseed Dixie ("My Best Friend's Girl"), Scorpions ("Drive"), Sixx:A.M. ("Drive"), and others.
In 2011, the Strokes were joined by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker for a cover of the Cars' "Just What I Needed". This took place when the Strokes were headlining the Reading leg of the Reading and Leeds Festival.
- Ric Ocasek – lead vocals, guitars, keyboards (1976-1988, 2010-present)
- Elliot Easton – guitars, backing vocals (1976–1988, 2010–present)
- Greg Hawkes – keyboards, guitars, saxophone, backing vocals (1976–1988, 2010–present), bass (2010-present)
- David Robinson – drums, percussion (1976–1988, 2010–present)
- Benjamin Orr – bass, backing and lead vocals (1976–1988; died 2000)
- The Cars (1978)
- Candy-O (1979)
- Panorama (1980)
- Shake It Up (1981)
- Heartbeat City (1984)
- Door to Door (1987)
- Move Like This (2011)
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