It’s often said (though inaccurately) that The Cars’ first album was more or less a greatest-hits album. The truth in that claim is that the album is crammed with amazing songs, many of which were indeed big hits.
“My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Good Times Roll,” “Just What I Needed” – and need I mention the song that accompanied Phoebe Cates’s imaginary emergence from the swimming pool in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the wonderful “Moving in Stereo”? This band burst out of Boston with a fully formed sound that grabbed the late-seventies airwaves and didn’t let go for half a dozen years.
It’s (Partly) All About The Sound
If you know your producers, when you hear the name “Roy Thomas Baker,” you ought to think layered vocals, over-the-top orchestration, and operatic rock and roll – you ought to think “Bohemian Rhapsody.” (And you bet The Darkness was thinking of that song, and all five Queen albums he produced, when they brought him on board for epics of their own like the so-ridiculous-it’s-sublime “Dinner Lady Arms” and “Knockers.”) But Baker also produced The Cars’ first four albums, and he undoubtedly helped them find those totally new sounds for every single instrument – lead guitar, keyboards, and bass, for sure, but notably drums and rhythm guitar.
Drums And Rhythm Guitar? Really?
Just listen to “My Best Friend’s Girl.” The rhythm guitar sounds like a factory machine; the drums snap, crackle, and pop, they’re deep, they’re glossy – the entire sound is, frankly, perfect. For all the musical changes (and there were lots, though the essential vibe remained the same) The Cars went through, they retained those distinctive, signature instrument sounds. Add to the mix Ric Ocasek’s and Benjamin Orr’s just-right vocals and, let’s face it, some of the best pure-pop songs of the last quarter of the twentieth century, and you have an almost incomparable debut.
And There’s More
In fact, I’m on record – on this very site – as preferring the band’s second album, Candy-O, to their first, but I’m in a minority there. To my ears, though, the band never faltered; even when four of the five originals regrouped in 2010, they were utterly themselves. If you are unfamiliar with The Cars or have just forgotten to listen to them recently, slap on some of these pop-music gems.
Check out our review of Move Like This.