Talking Heads may have had the critics hearts and Blondie all the hits, but The Cars were the most successful American new wave band to emerge in the late ’70s. Also inspired by proto-punk, garage rock, and bubblegum pop the difference was the Cars were strictly a rock & roll band, and they had enough attitude to cross over to album rock radio, to make their name. Their debut and second albums sold more than 6 million copies worldwide, and each album since (except their final group effort, Door to Door) has sold over a million copies. They used their great album cover art as their primary visuals until ’84 when a series of MTV video staples, including “You Might Think,” “Magic,” and “Drive”, led them to superstar status.
Ric Ocasek (guitar, vocals) and Ben Orr (bass, vocals) had been partners for almost a decade before starting The Cars. When Ocasek was 16 years old, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from Maple Heights High School, Ocasek briefly attended Bowling Green State University and Antioch College, then dropped out to pursue a career in music. Ocasek had met Orr earlier after seeing him perform with his band the Grasshoppers, the house band on the Big 5 Show (or Upbeat), a local Cleveland musical variety show produced by WEWS-TV. Orr was a Lakewood native and later attended Valley Forge High School in Parma. The two began writing songs and led bands in Cleveland, New York City, Woodstock, and Ann Arbor before settling in Cambridge, MA in the early ’70s.
As part of a folk trio, Milkwood, they released How’s the Weather on Paramount in 1972, with Greg Hawkes as session keyboardist. In 1974 guitarist Elliot Easton joined Cap’n Swing, Ocasek and Orr’s band at the time, which became popular in Boston but broke up when the hopes of a recording contract never came to be. Ocasek, Orr, and Easton then formed a new band called The Cars in 1976 with former Modern Lovers drummer Dave Robinson and keyboardist Hawkes. The name was suggested by Robinson, whose sense of fashion would have a strong influence on the band’s image.
Early in ’77, the Cars sent one of their demo tapes including “Just What I Needed” to the influential Boston radio station WBCN and it quickly became the station’s most-requested song. By the airplay and touring, The Cars signed to Elektra Records. Recorded in just two weeks, The Cars yielded 3 chart singles; “Just What I Needed” (#27, 1978), “My Best Friend’s Girl” (#35, 1978), and “Good Times Roll” (#41, 1979), and went platinum. The album stayed on the charts for over 2 and a half years, delaying Candy-O‘s release, recorded early in ’79. Candy-O was a hit, quickly climbing to number 3 on the charts and going platinum 2 months after its release. The record included the Top 10 hit “Let’s Go” as well as “It’s All I Can Do”, sending the band to perform at arenas. Exploring diffferent territory on 1980’s Panorama, the album still peaked at number 5 and went platinum including the song “Touch and Go”. The Cars released their 4th album, Shake It Up, in the fall of ’81, and it quickly went platinum, with the title track becoming their first Top 10 single at #4 as well as “Since You’re Gone”. Following their ’82 tour, the band took a short break and went to work on solo projects, with Ocasek and Hawkes both releasing debut albums (Beatitude and Niagara Falls). Ocasek also produced the debut Bad Brains record.
Reunited, the band released their most successful album, Heartbeat City, in 1984. Debuting alonside a groundbreaking, computer-animated video, the album’s first single, “You Might Think,” became a Top 10 hit at #7, sending the album to number 3 on the charts. Three other Top 40 singles, “Magic” (12), “Drive” (3), and “Hello Again” (20), followed and the record went triple platinum in the summer of ’85.
Taking time off again to pursue solo projects, Easton and Orr released their debut albums (Change No Change and The Lace), while Ocasek released his 2nd solo album, This Side of Paradise. The group was unraveling due to personal conflicts and released a half-hearted album, 1987’s Door to Door, containing their last hit “You Are the Girl”. The band broke up in 1988 and all members pursued solo careers, but only Ocasek released albums with regularity and also became a sought-after producer in the 90’s. His credits include Weezer’s blue album, Bad Religion, No Doubt and many more alt/punk albums. Easton played with Creedence Clearwater Revisited, while sadly, Orr lost a battle with pancreatic cancer and died on October 3, 2000.
Ocasek continued to perform as a solo artist, having released over 7 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) to form pop supergroup The New Cars, and performed classic Cars songs alongside some new work and select Rundgren songs and released an album in 2008. By 2010, The Cars officially reunited for the first time in 2 decades, the late Orr not being replaced, with Hawkes and Lee handling all the bass parts. The band released Move Like This in 2011 which debuted at #7.
- Ric Ocasek – rhythm guitar, lead and background vocals, synthesizer (1976–88, 2010–present)
- Benjamin Orr – bass guitar, lead and background vocals (1976–88; died 2000)
- Elliot Easton – lead guitar, background vocals (1976–88, 2010–present)
- Greg Hawkes – keyboards, synthesizer, percussion, saxophone, rhythm guitar, bass guitar, background vocals (1976–88, 2010–present)
- David Robinson – drums, percussion, background vocals (1976–88, 2010–present)
NE OHIO CONCERTS
- Cleveland Stadium – August 26, 1978
- Blossom Music Center – August 7, 1984
- The New Cars at Blossom – June 4, 2006
- “Just What I Needed”
- “Moving In Stereo”
- “Shake It Up”
- “All Mixed Up”
- “Good Times Roll”
- “Let’s Go”
- “My Best Friend’s Girl”
- “Dangerous Type”
- “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”
- “Bye Bye Love”
- “You Might Think”