Rick Ocasek and Benjamin Orr met in Ohio during the late sixties. They were involved in several different bands and then relocated to Boston
in the seventies. There they met keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson who suggested to name the band The Cars
. He actually influenced the band's image with a modern fashion, which was more typical of new wave artists. They toured New England
in seventy seven and their demo tape was getting generous airplay on a local rock station. The band soon received contract bids from both the Arista and Elektra record companies. They signed with Elektra, because they foresaw an opportunity for a promotional advantage. The album cover features a picture of a Russian born model, who had previously posed for Playboy magazine. Ocasek and Orr met in Ohio, which is the same state where Devo
started out. So how does The Cars
' debut album compare to Devo
's first album?
Rick Ocasek has a humble and honest personality, sort of like Roy Orbison
. With a hint of misery from a downtrodden soul, that helps people to feel better about themselves. Of the nine songs on the album, five of them were sung by Ocasek. The first track, Good Times Roll, was sung by Ocasek. It starts with a series of crafty guitar riffs that are shadowed with synthesized laser sound effects. The song suddenly breaks out with heavy strumming and sharp guitar slashes. The sonic sound distortions enhance the explosiveness of the stringed instruments and the synthesizer embellishes the mood with some orchestra music. It's got a fun and carefree attitude, in a supposedly nicely written and action packed composition. The lyrics are very simple and seem surreal like something within a dream. "Let the good times roll, let them knock you around. Let the good times roll, let them make you a clown. Let them leave you up in the air, let them brush your rock and roll hair. Let the good times roll."
Four of the nine songs featured Benjamin Orr on the lead vocals. He has a clear style of enunciation which is comparable to Paul McCartney
. But the tone of his delivery is sometimes somber, with a dark air of mystery, which is intensified with subtle echo effects. Just What I Needed was sung by Orr. It starts with some precisely timed guitar slashes, amidst flickering bass notes. The bass plucking changes patterns, while Orr's solemn voice comes on with a mild trace of echo reverberation. The guitar notes resume with intervals of exciting riffs. The keyboards come in with a very catchy melody, which was precocious to seventies era new wave music. The guitar licks sparkle with short flowery outbursts. The keyboard music took over most of this three and a half minute song, providing an atmosphere of beautiful elegance. The last four lines of the lyrics go like: "I guess you're just what I needed, I needed someone to feed. I guess you're just what I needed, I needed someone to bleed."
Elliot Easton is the lead guitarist and he gets help from Ocasek, who plays the rhythm guitar. He plays a number of unorthodox guitar arrangements, which were conducive to a modern fad of music. You're All I've Got Tonight was sung by Ocasek. It's a lively hard rocking song, with more in common with old fashioned rockabilly, than it does with the blues. The guitars rock with sharp chops and slashes, utilizing sonic sounding distortion to increase the dynamic ambiance. The drum beats are magnified by interesting echos. The lyrics run like: "I don't care if you hurt me some more, I don't care if you even the score. You can knock me and I don't care. You can mock me and I don't care." Then the music abruptly changes with an uplifting chorus and moves into a splendid keyboard melody. "You're all I've got tonight, I need you tonight."
Greg Hawkes attended music school for two years, then he left to take his musical talents to the musical scene. In seventy six he joined The Cars
, as a keyboardist. He brought all of the latest synthesizer technology to the sound of their music. All of the songs were written by Ocasek, except for Moving in Stereo, which was written by Hawkes and Ocasek. It starts with a wavering sound effect made by the keyboards, which sounds like a cross between a siren and a flying saucer. The electric guitar is strummed with a simple pattern. The pounding bass rhythm is accentuated with curious synthesizer effects, which sound like the beeping noises of the R2D2 robot in Star Wars. The keyboard is then played with a mysterious melody halfway in. It was sung by Orr and the lyrics go like: "It's so easy to blow up your problems, it's so easy to play up your breakdown. It's so easy to fly through a window, it's so easy to fool with the sound."
The new wave genre has been referred to as synth pop, although this music isn't always dominated by the synthesizer. The Cars
feature two guitarists, yet it isn't exactly a guitar oriented band either. These compositions were arranged to give each performer many turns to shine, resulting in a stunning synergy, which is very pleasant to the ears. Lyrical allusions to violence or being hurt emotionally, are scattered throughout the album. Some of those are obviously about domestic violence. Could that be a personal trend of the songwriter? Rick Ocasek has been married three times. This debut release peaked at #18 on the Billboard Top 200 chart and stayed on the chart for 139 weeks, which translates to over two and a half years. All in all it has sold six million copies. This release was much more mature than Devo
's debut album, which was closer to being post punk, with its silly themes.