The Cars

The Cars

Elektra Records, 1978

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Sometimes it seems hard to believe that so much time has passed since I reviewed a certain artist. The last time we featured The Cars on "The Daily Vault" was back in January -- we were not even a month old then.

So when reader Daniel Hooks wrote in and requested we review the band's 1978 debut album, I thought it was about time to dig into the Pierce Memorial Archive (where we're burning Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt in effigy every night) and dust off the works of Ric Ocasek and company.

In one sense, I do dread reviewing anything by The Cars, simply because they've become so overplayed that I cringe whenever I hear a song by them come on the radio. However, after listening to The Cars, it's interesting to hear how well all these songs sound when they're attacked in their own environment.

Formed in 1976, The Cars were one of the bands that defined new-wave. Armed with synthesizers, sharply dressed and, from what I've read, remaining virtually motionless on stage, they hit the scene at the right time. And the nine songs on their debut album not only have hardly aged in 19 years, they also are a guilty pleasure to listen to... even for an old curmudgeon like me.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Over half of this album can be heard on a classic rock station on any given day. The leadoff track, "Good Times Roll," serves up a healthy dose of Elliot Easton's guitar work and Greg Hawkes's keyboard prowess. And while Ocasek's vocal style is the most up-front, it is the backing harmonies that capture my attention more often. The bombast of them reminds me a lot of Queen - not surprising, seeing that producer Roy Thomas Baker also produced Queen.

Probably the best-known song on The Cars is "My Best Friend's Girl," a song which successfully mixes both new-wave and bubblegum. Hearing Ocasek singing about unrequited feelings for a former love is something I think that everyone can relate to. And while I still wish that Hawkes's keyboard work would rise above "dit-dit-dit" lines on this one, it doesn't detract from the rest of the song.

Other songs that you've probably heard on the radio include "Just What I Needed" (which shows itself off to be a better track here than I've normally given it credit for) , "You're All I've Got Tonight" (same story) and "Bye Bye Love." Of these, only "Bye Bye Love" is one that I can't say I enjoy any more with the other tracks than just hearing it on the radio.

One other track I think I've heard on the radio, but the way that "Moving In Stereo" blends in with "All Mixed Up" seamlessly causes me to question that memory. "Moving In Stereo" is a sparse track more centered on Hawkes's keyboardds than lyrics. By the time bassist Benjamin Orr takes over the microphone on "All Mixed Up" the transformation of the track is through - and you wouldn't know it happened unless you were either reading the lyric sheet or watching the display on the CD player. (At least I think the CD would divide the two songs; I reviewed the record.)

The two tracks that may be unfamiliar, "I'm In Touch With Your World" and "Don't Cha Stop," both have their own strengths,and are by no means throwaway tracks. Rather, The Cars took every quality moment they could scrape together (save for the one mistake, "Bye Bye Love") and put out an incredible 35-minute slab of music history.

If I remember Daniel's original e-mail correctly, he mentioned that this is the ultimate album to listen to while cruising down the freeway. While this judgment may be a matter of taste, there is no denying that The Cars is a worthy addition to any respectable rock library. Here's hoping I don't allow another six months pass before we review the band again.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.