There’s no point in me attempting to recap the life and times of Ric Ocasek and the Cars–others have much more knowledge and insight, and whatever I’d say would be redundant besides. Instead, as is my wont, you get snippets of personal experience and random thoughts, plus a list.
–The Cars’ heyday–which I consider to run through their mid-80s Greatest Hits–lined up precisely with my HS and college years, perhaps the sweet spot in the formation and shaping of my musical tastes. I was really big on virtually all the singles from their first five albums (“Touch and Go” was just okay) but didn’t buy any of their LPS until I started going after 12″ vinyl in earnest in 84. Heartbeat City was the only one I ever purchased new, including CDs.
–From day one of my exposure to them, Ocasek was always (and rightly so) presented as the band’s leader. That misled me into thinking for a good while that he was their only vocalist. Other folks have been making the observation that Benjamin Orr’s voice did bear a strong resemblance to Ocasek’s, with which I very much agree. Alas, this may have had the unfortunate side effect of me further minimizing Orr’s contributions initially. So I’ll take a moment to raise up some of those songs from the first three albums that the gone-far-too-early Orr made memorable: “Just What I Needed” and the epic final trio of tunes on The Cars (am I the only one who thinks “All Mixed Up” makes the list of Top 10 Cars Songs?); both singles from Candy-O; and my favorite from Panorama, “Don’t Tell Me No.” I guess the way I figure out who was on vocals now is, if I’m not certain that it’s Ocasek, it has to be Orr.
–Here’s what I’m claiming today are my five fave Cars tunes featuring Ocasek on lead vocals:
#5: “Hello Again”
It was well into the summer of 84 before I bought Heartbeat City. I was blown away by its lead-off track the first time I put needle to record; their signature jerkiness and quirkiness are both dialed up to 10. The Warhol vid doesn’t do all that much for me, but I was glad nonetheless “Hello Again” became a single.
#4: “My Best Friend’s Girl”
Were we just not fully ready for music like this in 78? Peaks of just #27, #35, and #41 for “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” and “Good Times Roll”? Of those three, this is the one with the best (and most classic) song structure and musicianship.
One of a very few 45s I bought after hearing the song just once. Not quite sure how to take Ric portrayed as a Jesus figure–I noted on Twitter the other night that the walking-on-water payoff takes too long to arrive (it’s pretty easy to guess it’s coming, too, though I get why they try to wait until the first chorus for the big reveal). On the other hand, bonus points get awarded for the sounds following the line “How far can you take it?” that make me think of “Spirit in the Sky.”
For the top two, just scenes from one time I heard them.
#2: “Since You’re Gone”
April 82. I’ve jumped in our 81 Chevy Citation to drive to school on a promising spring morning and cranked the engine. On comes WLAP-FM, which I’ve only recently started tuning in regularly. I’m not even out of the driveway when that distinctive intro fires up.
#1: “Dangerous Type”
Mid-July 81. A bunch of us from my church youth group are in Louisville, having just completed the second leg of a three-day, 200+-mile biking excursion around the Erlanger-Lexington-Louisville triangle. Our youth director’s grandmother lives in town and we’re taking her car to Chi-Chi’s for a well-earned dinner to be topped off with fried ice cream. The radio’s quickly switched over WQMF, the local AOR station. We’re on the Watterson, a beltway around the southern edge of the city. Amidst tracks from REO Speedwagon and the Sherbs, on it comes.
–Prior to this, there hadn’t been all that much mention of the Cars or Ocasek here at the blog–“Dangerous Type” was on the mix tape series that kicked things off, “Something To Grab For” made my first Songs Casey Never Played post, a couple of their singles received brief mention other times. This greatly understates the degree to which I appreciated them back in the day. I have strong and fond memories other than those sketched out here, particularly for “Good Times Roll” and “Let’s Go,” but I’ve gone on long enough as it is. They were easily among my five favorite bands for quite a while, and more than deserved their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.