The Cars are an American rock band that emerged from the new wave scene in the late 1970s. The band originated in Boston, Massachusetts, with lead singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter Ric Ocasek, lead singer and bassist Benjamin Orr, lead guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson. They were signed to Elektra Records by George Daly, then A&R head, in 1977.
The Cars were at the forefront in merging 1970s guitar-oriented rock with the new synth-oriented pop that was then becoming popular and which would flourish in the early 1980s. The Cars started fresh with their debut album The Cars which went on to go platinum in late 1978. The Cars' debut album was called a "genuine rock masterpiece" by Allmusic. The most successful and well known song from the album, "Just What I Needed", started as a demo in 1977. The song was sent as a mix tape to a local DJ in the Boston area, who played the song in heavy rotation. This soon caught the attention of other DJs, which led to the signing of the band by Elektra Records in 1977.
The band broke up in 1988, and Ocasek had always discouraged talk of a reunion since then, telling one interviewer in 1997 "I'm saying never and you can count on that." Bassist Benjamin Orr died in 2000 from pancreatic cancer. In 2005, Easton and Hawkes joined with Todd Rundgren to form a spin-off band, The New Cars, which performed classic Cars and Rundgren songs alongside new material. The surviving original members reunited in 2010 to record a new album, titled Move Like This, which was released May 10, 2011, and a tour to start on the same day.
Early years (1973–1975)
Before The Cars, the members of the band began coming together in several early forms. Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr met in Columbus, Ohio, where they began performing as a duo, covering rock and roll classics as well as performing their own material. After deciding that Boston would be a better place to break into the music business, Ocasek and Orr relocated there. It was there that they met Greg Hawkes, who had studied at the Berklee School of Music and would later join Ocasek and Orr in various bands, including The Cars.
In 1972, Ocasek and Orr (then using their real last names, Otcasek and Orzechowski), along with lead guitarist Jas Goodkind, formed a folk band called Milkwood. They released an album titled How's the Weather on the Paramount label in 1973 that failed to chart. Hawkes, miscredited as Greg "Hawks", also played on the album as a session musician.
After Milkwood, Ocasek and Orr formed the group Richard and the Rabbits, whose name was suggested by Jonathan Richman. They were a local club band for a while. Soon after, Hawkes temporarily left Ocasek and Orr and joined up with groups including Orphan, a soft-rock band, and Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture, a musical comedy act in which Mull played a variety of instruments. Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr then performed as an acoustic duo called simply Ocasek and Orr at the Idler coffeehouse in Cambridge. Some of the songs they played became the underlying music in early Cars songs.
Later, Ocasek and Orr teamed up with future Cars guitarist Elliot Easton (who had also studied at Berklee) in the band Cap'n Swing. Cap'n Swing also featured drummer Kevin Robichaud and a jazzy bass player, which clashed with Ocasek's more rock and roll leanings. Benjamin Orr acted as frontman, did not play an instrument, and sang the bulk of Cap'n Swing's demos. Ocasek soon got rid of the bass player, the keyboardist, and the drummer and decided to form a band that better fit his style of writing. Kevin Robichaud was replaced by David Robinson. Robinson said that he should really have a regular job instead, and that the Cars would be his last band. Best known for his career with the Modern Lovers, Robinson had also played in DMZ and the Pop! It was Robinson who came up with the name "The Cars," which led to automobile-related puns. Ocasek said of the name, "It's so easy to spell; it doesn't have a 'z' on the end; it's real authentic. It's pop art, in a sense." Hawkes returned to fill the keyboard slot, and the band was on its way.
Peak years (1976–1984)
The band spent the winter of 1976–77 playing throughout New England, developing the songs that would become their debut album. They shortly thereafter caught the attention of Maxanne Sartori, a local DJ on the Boston radio station WBCN, who began playing their demo of "Just What I Needed". By virtue of that airplay, the band was signed to Elektra Records. "Just What I Needed" would turn out to be the first single from the band’s debut album, The Cars, released in 1978 and reaching No. 18 on the Billboard 200. "My Best Friend's Girl" and "Good Times Roll" soon followed, charting on the Billboard Hot 100. The band commissioned famed Playboy artist Alberto Vargas to design the sexy illustration for the cover of their second album, Candy-O, released in 1979. Hits from that album included "Let's Go", "It's All I Can Do" and "Dangerous Type."
A more experimental album, Panorama, was released in 1980, charting only one Top 40 hit with "Touch and Go". Rolling Stone described the album as "an out-and-out drag". In 1981, the Cars purchased Intermedia Studios in Boston, renaming it Syncro Sound. The only Cars album recorded there was Shake It Up. It was their first album to spawn a top 10 single with the title track, and included another hit "Since You’re Gone". Following their 1982 tour, the Cars took a short break and went to work on solo projects, with Ocasek and Hawkes both releasing debut albums (Beatitude and Niagara Falls, respectively).
The Cars re-united and released their most successful album, Heartbeat City, in 1984. The first single, "You Might Think", helped The Cars win Video of the Year at the first MTV Video Music Awards. Other hit singles from the album included "Magic", "Hello Again", and "Why Can’t I Have You". Their most successful single, "Drive", gained particular notability when it was used in a video of the Ethiopian famine prepared by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and introduced by David Bowie at the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London (The Cars themselves performed in the Philadelphia Live Aid concert). Actor/director Timothy Hutton directed the band's 1984 "Drive" music video.
Greatest Hits, Door to Door and break-up (1985–1988)
After the resulting period of superstardom and another hit single, "Tonight She Comes", a No. 7 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart (their last No. 1), from their Greatest Hits, the Cars took time off again to pursue solo projects. Easton and Orr released their debut albums (Change No Change and The Lace, respectively), while Ocasek released his second solo album, This Side of Paradise. In 1987, the Cars released their sixth album, Door to Door. It contained their last major international hit, "You Are the Girl", but the album failed to approach the success of their previous albums. They announced the group's breakup in February 1988.
Post break-up, solo careers and Benjamin Orr's death (1989–2009)
In the late 1990s, rumors circulated of a Cars reunion, with no results. However, in 1995 Rhino Records released a 2-CD set Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology, containing all the group's hits mixed with rarities (demos, non-album b-sides). They followed up with the releases of The Cars: Deluxe Edition (1999), their debut album in 2-CD format, and Complete Greatest Hits.
In the mid 1990s, Orr recorded tracks with guitarist John Kalishes for an unreleased follow-up to The Lace and performed with three bands, his own band "ORR", The Voices of Classic Rock, and Big People. Orr did appear with his former bandmates one last time in an interview for a documentary about the group prior to his death from pancreatic cancer in 2000.
Ocasek continued to perform as a solo artist, having released over seven studio albums. Robinson retired from music and spent most of his time working in his restaurant. In 2005, Easton and Hawkes combined their talents with Todd Rundgren, Prairie Prince (The Tubes, Journey), and Kasim Sulton (Utopia, Meat Loaf) in a revamped lineup, The New Cars, to perform classic Cars songs along with some new original material and selections from Rundgren's career.
In 2008, the band's first album was released for the video game Rock Band.
Reunion and Move Like This (2010–present)
In 2010, the founding members of The Cars suggested a reunion when Ric Ocasek, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes and David Robinson placed a photo of the four members together in Millbrook Sound Studios, Millbrook, NY on their Facebook page. On October 13, they also posted a snippet of a new song, "Blue Tip", on their Facebook page. A picture of Jacknife Lee in the studio was posted on the group's Facebook page hinting that he would be producing the new Cars album.
In October Billboard reported that a new album which may be supported by a tour is being recorded at veteran engineer Paul Orofino's studio in Millbrook, New York. A music clip of a new song, called "Sad Song", was added to the band's Facebook page on December 7, 2010; another clip of a song called "Free" was shared on their Facebook page on January 1, 2011. The official debut video for "Blue Tip" was released February 17, 2011. The video was directed by Roberto Serrini and Eron Otcasek from The Lab NYC and features the four members of the band, and NYC based street artist Joe Iurato. According to Rolling Stone, the surviving Cars mutually agreed there would be no replacing the late Benjamin Orr, so Hawkes and Lee handled all bass parts.
The new album, titled Move Like This, was released on May 10 by Hear Music/Concord Music Group, debuting at No. 7 on Billboard's album charts. The album's first single, "Sad Song", was released to radio stations March 1. In April 2011, The Cars announced a ten-city tour of the United States and Canada to start in May 2011.
The Cars have used genres that spanned through all of rock and pop music, including new wave, pop rock, protopunk, garage rock, and bubblegum pop. They have also used rockabilly in songs such as "My Best Friend's Girl".Robert Palmer, music critic for The New York Times and Rolling Stone, described The Cars' musical style by saying: "they have taken some important but disparate contemporary trends—punk minimalism, the labyrinthine synthesizer and guitar textures of art rock, the '50s rockabilly revival and the melodious terseness of power pop—and mixed them into a personal and appealing blend." They have also had hard rock-oriented songs including "You're All I've Got Tonight."
The Cars have been an influence on many bands over the years, as evidenced by the list of varied artists that have covered their songs. These include Nirvana (band) (who covered "My Best Friend's Girl" at their last-ever live performance on March 1, 1994),Smashing Pumpkins ("You're All I've Got Tonight"), Melvins ("Candy-O"), Red House Painters ("All Mixed Up"), Alkaline Trio ("Bye Bye Love"), Ziggy Marley ("Drive"), Poison (American band) ("Just What I Needed"), Deftones ("Drive"), and Hayseed Dixie ("My Best Friend's Girl"), among others.
- Current members
- Ric Ocasek – rhythm guitar, lead and background vocals (1976–1988, 2010–present)
- Elliot Easton – lead guitar, background vocals (1976–1988, 2010–present)
- Greg Hawkes – keyboards, synthesizer, percussion, saxophone, bass guitar, background vocals (1976–1988, 2010–present)
- David Robinson – drums, percussion, background vocals (1976–1988, 2010–present)
- Former members
- Benjamin Orr – bass guitar, lead and background vocals (1976–1988; died 2000)
- The Cars (1978)
- Candy-O (1979)
- Panorama (1980)
- Shake It Up (1981)
- Heartbeat City (1984)
- Door to Door (1987)
- Move Like This (2011)
- on Myspace