Friday, 17 July 2020

The Cars

I have dabbled a bit here in the new wave work of The Cars, stopping short of their mid-eighties output, however. The album I concentrate the most on is their eponymous debut, although the follow up was probably the better offering....

The Cars (1978)

Back in 1978, although I liked the two hit singles from this album, the rest of it and The Cars as a group sort of passed me by as I remained engrossed with The Clash, The Jam, Elvis Costello and The Ramones among many others. For many, though, including lots of music writers, it is at the top of its new wave genre, rather like they all love Television’s Marquee Moon. I may have heard bits of it on the radio at the time, I can’t remember too well, but this is the first time I have given it proper attention. The group looked a bit like a geekier, studenty Ramones but without the genuine quirky menace. Like The Ramones, The Clash and Blondie, though, they released an eponymously-titled debut.

It only contained nine tracks, but they are all around the four minute mark. For me, this album sounds far more post punk than it does new wave, something I have rarely heard mentioned - all those synths and sombre-sounding tunes-vocals. Surely you can hear it?

Good Times Roll is a slow, grinding almost post punk-sounding number, with Ric Ocasek’s unique, also post punk style voice dominating. The song’s instrumentation merges T. Rex guitar riffage with sone distinctly electronica style keyboard breaks. I seriously loved My Best Friend’s Girl when it came out, with its handclappy backing, jangly guitar and sort of early Joe Jackson ambience. It became a true classic of the new wave. I played it endlessly on the student union jukebox while playing pool and using my cue as an air guitar. It went hand-in-hand with the afore-mentioned Jackson, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Graham Parker and Nick Lowe as very much the sound of 1978-79 for me.

Just as impressive was the powerful, chunky Just What I Needed. I prefer the former single, but this one was good too, although it took too long to get to the chorus. I love the very 1978-79 guitar backing though. I’m In Touch With Your World is a chugging post punker once again, like Talking Heads and Magazine getting together and asking Brian Eno along to twiddle some knobs. Once again, those spacey keyboard riffs are integral, along with the insistent, repetitive guitar riffs. 
Don’t Cha Stop is an upbeat new wave/punk number with a Bob Geldof meets Andy Partridge of XTC vocal and a bit of punky rolling drums in there at one point.

You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
is another muscular, plodding number with impressive guitars and drums, but although perfectly acceptable, there is something about it that means it remains a bit ordinary, for me at least. Nothing gets me out of my seat, it has the feel of the sort of run-of-the-mill rock that punk was supposed to blow away. Sorry. It sounds like a cross between The Adverts (Gary Gilmore's Eyes) and The Glitter Band, drum-wise. 
Bye Bye Love is a jangly, appealing, riffy song, probably the next best after the singles. Some of Bruce Springsteen’s Tracks box set unused songs from 1979 sounded like this, I’m thinking particularly of Cynthia. Moving In Stereo was a sonorous, sombre new wave meets post punk grinder of a track. It reminds me of Television a bit. All Mixed Up is a synthesiser-driven industrial-sounding song that has a certain quirkiness to it, vaguely psychedelic. The saxophone at the end is very early Roxy MusicSo, there you go, an ok album I guess, certainly not a work of genius, and the two singles are still the stand-out tracks.

Candy O (1979)

Also enjoyable, though, (possibly more so) was this excellent follow up album from 1979, which, apart from having a wonderfully sexy cover was packed with fine, punchy and catchy organ and guitar-driven new wave material. 

It is all largely upbeat fare, with hints of The Ramones on the handclap, riffy Let's Go, Elvis Costello & The Attractions on Lust For Kicks and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on Since I Held You in particular, along with some vague post-punkiness on the excellent Candy O and even a T. Rex Jeepster-esque riff on Dangerous Type, but never to the detriment of The Cars’ unique sound. It is definitely the match of the debut album, very much tapping in to the sound of 1979-80. 

It is one of those albums where, while nothing sticks out incredibly, you still can’t say that there’s a bad track on it. Not at all. Great album of its time.

The Cars were second only to The Ramones in looking weird and geeky, weren't they?

This next batch of albums from The Cars finds them increasingly leaving behind the guitar-driven new wave sound that so characterised their first two albums and heading down a post punk road, with synthesisers to the fore and darker soundscapes. By the mid-eighties they had ended up as synthy stadium rockers.

Panorama (1980)

This album had The Cars going all post punk, with a collection of dark, heavily synthesised numbers that had them sounding like Gary Numan or Magazine in places. Many of the trademark Petty-esque guitar riffs have been replaced with deep, sonorous synth ones and the drums have that dense, programmed sound to them. Although experimental and decidedly uncommercial (in comparison to the band’s previous work) it still had an edgy, booming vitality to it that definitely tapped into the musical zeitgeist.

Shake It Up (1981)

Although still featuring a fair few synthesised beats, there is far more jangly, poppy guitar on this album, as the band return to their previous new wave sound, comparatively. You get some of the vocals, guitar riffs and handclaps that so characterised the first two albums. Although Panorama had its muted appeal, I have to say that I prefer this one - it provides a bridge between The Cars’ traditional Petty-Byrds-Velvet Underground sound and the dense, synthy post punk vibes of the previous album. I prefer The Cars as The Cars as opposed to trying to be Ultravox or Gang Of Four. Having said that, as the album progresses, it gets more and more post punky and those Tubeway Army influences can be heard once more. They end the album sounding like Duran Duran.  

Heartbeat City (1984)

By the time of this album’s release, it was 1984 and new wave was long gone, as too was post punk. This is very much a product of its time - pure mid-eighties keyboard-powered slick pop full of sweeping, programmed orchestration. For that reason, is not particularly to my personal taste, but there is no denying its vibrancy and energy. It all sounds a bit too Duran Duran meets Robert Palmer to me, however. I'm never going to really like it. At some points they sound like stadium rockers Journey too. The whole album is far too representative of sanitised, slick, soulless eighties rock for me and I much prefer its four predecessors. It displays a complete lack of balls, to be honest, epitomising the worst of mid-eighties music.

It also contained the typically mid-eighties song that everyone remembers from Live Aid that was probably the most un-Cars song of their entire canon. 


  1. Good times roll is the greatest. Moving in Stereo and My Best Friend's Girl are the other two great ones. There was actually more good ones on the next album Candy-O. And even more on Shake It Up. Usually their albums were about half and half. The good ones were really good though.

  2. I was only ever half into The Cars, so your knowledge of them will be better.

    By the way, do you Aphoristical's quizzes? I scored a miserable 8 out of 20 on this week's one and the same last week. Actually, I'm quite proud that I know fuck all about Ariana Grande! The lower the score the more credible, I think!

  3. I always try to to play those games but I always do something wrong near the beginning and f*** the whole thing up. I always know the answers but I don't know how to work the game that good. I always screw it up. And by time I figure out how to work the game the clock is running out. I would score really good if only I could figure it out.

  4. But I guess I wouldn't score very good if the quiz was about Ariana Grande. I agree with you the lower the score you got the better. LOL

  5. I wear my low score as a badge of pride!