Last night's Total Bummer News was the passing of Ric Ocasek, who loomed large over the soundscape of my youth. Reading the obituaries written for him, I am struck by how he was much older than I expected (he wasn't a kid when he formed the Cars) and that he had been in a couple of folksy bands in the 60s.
My introduction to the Cars (most people's introduction) was the second single from their debut album, My Best Friend's Girl. a pretty straightforward rocker, though one punctuated with synth-pop flourishes and a rockabilly riff. It's the lyrics which make this otherwise cliche story about lost love into something off-kilter, with slightly subversive references to 'suede-blue eyes' and 'nuclear boots'. Here's a wonderful live version of this immensely appealing singalong:
The band's first, eponymous album has often been described as a 'debut greatest hits compilation', as the saying goes, it's 'all killer, no filler', and it encompasses a range of styles, with I'm in Touch with Your World being particularly surreal. This video comically conveys keyboardist Greg Hawkes' talent with all sorts of musical geegaws:
The album ended on the glorious Moving in Stereo/All Mixed Up combo, which combined the vocals of second frontman Benjamin Orr (who we lost to cancer in 2000) with heavy guitar riffs, swooping synthpop flourishes, and melodic backing vocals. It's the sort of musical epic which must have driven headphone sales back in the late 70s:
To me, the Cars' second album, 1979's Candy-O had a slightly harder sound. The debut single, Let's Go, another Orr-fronted song, had a more upfront synthesizer sound than most of the songs from the prior album:
Perhaps the quirkiest number of the album is the The Dangerous Type, a closer which opens with the double query: "Can I touch you? Are you out of touch?"
The Cars' third album, 1980's Panorama didn't sell as many units as the previous two albums, but it might be my favorite. The sing;e Touch and Go is a lush soundscape with two different time signatures, punctuated by a blistering guitar solo by Elliot Easton:
I also think the album features Ric Ocasek at his funniest:
The Cars released their fourth album in four years, Shake it Up, in 1981. It was a return to the winning formula of the band's two albums, less experimental than Panorama. Here's the late, great Valerie Harper introducing a television segment with the band playing the album's title track:
I think my favorite track on the album is Since You're Gone (from which I derived the post title), in which a breakup song, one of the most tried-and-true tropes of popular music, gets that off-kilter Ric Ocasek treatment:
If I recall correctly, Ric's line 'I took the Big Vacation' was the first veiled drug reference that I understood in a song.
The band took a hiatus from recording, with their fifth album, Heartbeat City, coming out in 1984. It spawned the top ten hit You Might Think:
The plaintive Drive hit number three on the US charts, and was promoted with a video starring the future Mrs Ocasek, Paulina Porizkova. It's definitely the band at its most earnest:
1985 saw the release of a greatest hits album (one that isn't the band's debut. that is) and the previously unreleased Tonight She Comes (no embed code), which was originally intended for a Ric Ocasek solo project.
The band's final album before they broke up was 1987's Door to Door:
Ric Ocasek also released a bunch of solo albums, starting with 1982's Beatitude, which spawned the single Something to Grab For:
That's quite a stellar career as a performer, but I believe that Ric Ocasek will be remembered as much for his production credits as for his own career as a performer. He produced albums for a bewildering diversity of bands, including Bad Brains, Romeo Void, Suicide, Nada Surf, Weezer, No Doubt, Bad Religion, Black 47, and a whole lot of other artists.
He was also a quintessential New Yorker in his later days, and there are plenty of funny stories about people walking into obstructions because they couldn't stop staring at him and his supermodel wife. The general gist of the stories is that he was a nice guy, the sort of guy who wouldn't look askance at starstruck fans. The outpouring of love from musicians who worked with him is also a testimony to his decency. For instance, Larry Kirwan wrote a lovely tribute to the man.
The best way to memorialize the man is to listen to his music, and composing this post was sad, but also a pleasure... it's tough to write about the death of a favorite musician, but the memories brought back by compiling a partial discography are sweet. It's time to finish listening to his catalog now.
ADDENDUM: Of course, I WOULD have to find this after publishing this post. I also figured I'd link the Cars' 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction