The Cars are an American rock band
that emerged from the early New Wave music scene in
the late 1970s. The band consisted of lead singer and
rhythm guitarist Ric Ocasek, lead singer and bassist
Benjamin Orr, guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg
Hawkes and drummer David Robinson. The band
originated from Boston, Massachusetts, and was signed
to Elektra Records 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 flower 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. Probably the most successful and well
known song from the album "Just What I Needed", started as a demo in 1977. A mix tape was sent to a local DJ in the
Boston area, who played the song in heavy rotation. This soon caught the attention of other DJ's, which led to the
discovery and signing of the band by Elektra Records in 1977. The Cars have mentioned this numerous times including in
their last interview in June of 2000. 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."
Allmusic reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine commented on their style saying "the Cars were nevertheless inspired by
proto-punk, garage rock, and bubblegum pop." He also called them an official rock & roll band.
The band broke up in 1988, and Ocasek has always discouraged talk of a reunion since then, telling one interviewer in
1997 "I'm saying never and you can count on that." 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. On October 21,
2010, the Cars confirmed that they have reunited and are recording their first album in 24 years. Greg Hawkes will fill in
on bass for Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000.
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 the three,
along with lead guitarist Jas Goodkind, formed a folk band called Milk wood. They released an album titled How's the
Weather on the Paramount label in 1973 that failed to chart.
After Milk wood, 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
Later, Ocasek and Orr teamed up with future Cars guitarist Elliot Easton (who had also studied at Berklee) in the band
Captain Swing. Captain 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
Captain 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."
The band spent the winter of 1976–77 playing throughout New England, developing, honing, and ultimately perfecting 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 #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 "Lets
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 Sync 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,
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).
Break-Up and Solo Careers
After the resulting period of superstardom and another hit single, "Tonight She Comes", a #7 hit on the Billboard Hot 100
and a #1 hit on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart (their last #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 last 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.
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. Sadly, Benjamin Orr would die in 2000 of pancreatic cancer, though not before he would appear
with his former bandmates one last time for an interview to be shown in a documentary about the group.
Ocasek continues to perform as a solo artist, having released over seven studio albums. Robinson has retired from music
and spends most of his time working in his restaurant. In 2005, Easton and Hawkes combined their talents with Todd
Rundgren, Prairie Prince (The Tubes, Utopia), and Kasim Sulton (Utopia, Meat Loaf) in a revamped lineup, The New
Cars, to perform classic Cars songs along with selections from Rundgren's solo work and some new original material.
Sometime in the mid 1990s, Orr recorded tracks with guitarist John Kalishes for an unreleased follow-up to The Lace.
From 1998 until his death in October 2000, he performed with three bands, including his own band "ORR", The Voices of
Classic Rock, and Big People.
In 2008, the band's first album was released for the video game Rock Band.
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 a Boston studio 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 is producing the new
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.
David Robinson has mentioned that the working title of the new project is "Sharp Subtle Flavor", according to Rolling
A music clip of a new song, called "Sad Song", was added to their Facebook page on December 7, 2010.
Another clip of a song called "Free" was shared on their Facebook page on January 1, 2011.
The new album, now titled Move Like This, is currently scheduled for release May 10th by Hear Music/Concord Music
Group. The album's first single, "Sad Song", will be released to radio in March.
The official debut video for "Blue Tip" was released February 17th, 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. ~ by