The Cars‘ zero-to-platinum popularity came amidst the final fizzle of the mid-Seventies Punk Rock sparkler, and the sound and attitude that survived was labeled by at least one rock writer as the nebulous one-size-fits-none term New Wave. The drivetrain of the five man Boston band was always powered by the songs of Ric Ocasek. Growing up in the Otcasek household ( Ric(k) later would also drop the “t” from his surname ), early 1960s Sputnik paranoia and Telstar technology mixed with Cold War James Bond spy intrigue for Ric, courtesy of his father.” He was a systems analyst for NASA,” Ocasek informed me.”There were ‘black boxes’ around our house that were locked. People from the government used to come and interview my Mom and ask her if he talked in his sleep!” The Cars’ test track where they had tuned up their sound was the mid-Seventies Boston club scene, and the first recording to roll off the assembly line,”Just What I Needed“, contains every musical hallmark of their identifiable style: the catchy simplicity of Ocasek’s songwriting; the half-spoken halting unconventional lead singing by both Ric and bass player Benjamin Orr, allowing The Cars to be a versatile hybrid crossover with all-terrain vocals; the insistent industrial beat by former Modern Lover drummer David Robinson; the quirky, campy, reedy organ and synthesizer of Berklee School of Music grad Greg Hawkes; and the melodic yet economical lead guitar of Elliot Easton.
With the follow up to their surprise hit debut ( #16 on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 100 Debut Albums of All Time ), the torque of the Cars’ “Let’s Go“,”Touch and Go”,”Shake It Up”,”You Might Think“, and monster ballad “Drive” all propelled the cross-legged Woodstock generation off of their butts and back onto the dance floor. The sleek polished chrome and glass production combined distinctive instrumental touches from rock and roll’s past in a way that, paradoxically, sounded cutting edge modern. With ten Top 30 hits and twenty-five million albums sold just in the US, you will be carjacked to know that The Cars remain in the parking lot, unable to get the green light for entrance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Regardless, this week In the Studio Ric Ocasek is behind the wheel with Greg Hawkes riding shotgun. –Redbeard