Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

CARS, The

A USA new wave group which began with songwriter/guitarist Ric Otcasek (b 23 March 1949, Baltimore MD; dropped the 't' from his name), Ben Orr (b Benjamin Orzechowski, 9 August 1955, Cleveland; d 3 October 2000 of cancer) who met at a party in Cleveland, Ric a college dropout, Orr a session musician (ex-Upbeat TV rock show). They formed a folk act called Milkwood, made an eponymous LP '72, then How's The Weather (both on Paramount) with keyboardist Greg Hawkes (b Baltimore) who'd worked with singer/comedian Martin Mull. They added lead guitar Elliot Easton (b Elliot Shapiro, 18 December 1953, Brooklyn) and the then Boston-based group became Cap'n Swing.

The catalyst was drummer David Robinson (b 2 April 1953, ex-Modern Lovers/Pop/DMZ): he changed their name again, galvanized them into making demos '77, evolved a red/white/black colour scheme to overcome their ill-assorted appearance. They played Boston's Rat club in February, later opened for Bob Seger at Music Hall; the demos got airplay and they were signed in December by Elektra; The Cars '78 produced in London by Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, etc): was punchy powerpop, instantly successful in the wake of punk. The album was no. 18 in the USA charts, stayed 139 weeks and sold two million; three singles from it went top 40 USA: 'My Best Friend's Girl', 'Just What I Needed', 'Let's Go'; the first two made the top 20 UK, aided by then-unique picture-discs. Candy-O '79 had sleeve artwork by pin-up artist Alberto Vargas; it peaked at no. 3 USA, stayed 62 weeks. Ric demanded control of guests and presentation of the USA Midnight Special TV show in the autumn of 1979 and turned it into a showcase of favourite bands.

After album Panorama '80, they took a year off: Ric revealed more sides of musical outlook, working with singer/model Bebe Buell and the avant-garde duo Suicide; Shake It Up '81 was made with Baker in the group's Synchro Sound studio, title no. 4 USA hit; Ric's solo Beatitude '83 showed a more adventurous approach than the band formula (most of the group seemed happy to indulge themselves solo so as not to rock the boat); but they showed equal adventure in replacing Baker with Robert John 'Mutt' Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard, etc) for Heartbeat City '84, including their most popular singles to date, with 'You Might Think' no. 7, 'Magic' no. 12, 'Drive' no. 3 in USA '84. The latter entered the UK chart twice: when it was used as a theme for Live Aid famine film footage, Ric donated the royalties. 'Tonight She Comes' was released '85 with a reissue of 'Just What I Needed' on the flip, the new track included in a Greatest Hits showcase '85.

Ric's second solo was This Side Of Paradise '86 with Tom Verlaine as well as fellow Cars; Orr made solo The Lace '86; Door To Door was a new Cars LP '87. Ric's son Christopher made solo album '89, formed group Glamour Camp. Fireball Zone '91, Negative Theater and Quick Change World '93 were solo Ric albums; Easton made Change No Change '85, formed Band of Angels for an album '93 with Benmont Tench and Stan Lynch. The Cars re-formed for Move Like This 2011, not to cash in but because they thought it would be fun. Critics pointed out that the hit singles were always their best work.