Rhinofy-The Cars

I didn’t buy the LP because of the cover. Any band that refuses to put its mugs on its debut…makes me suspicious. Meanwhile, that girl in the photo…she seemed to be from a different era, not 1978, when New Wave was ascendant.

And then I heard the record.

That’s right, I passed up a chance to buy a promo because of the cover and the band’s lame name. And then on a long drive up from La Costa, after visiting my girlfriend’s parents, KMET, or maybe it was KLOS, played the whole first side at 10 PM on a Sunday night and I heard “Good Times Roll.”


Let them brush your rock and roll hair


The magic in this track is encapsulated in its sound. The lyrics are just a dollop of irony laid on top, along with the Beach Boys harmonies…WHAT EXACTLY IS THIS?

Billed as the aforementioned “New Wave,” the Cars’ music was not. Rather it was rock with new sounds. They may have been wearing skinny ties, but this sounded nothing like the angry young men coming out of the U.K., never mind the leather-jacketed youth from NYC.

And there hadn’t been a new hit band from Boston in years.

But it was really all about those synths. Before they became overdone and burned out.

How could you employ one of the most famous song titles of all time and create something brand new?

That’s the magic of “Good Times Roll.” Never mind leaving out “Let The”…

And the irony was they didn’t sound like such good times. It’s as if the most alienated man in the world was sitting on a couch reflecting. This album with the obvious cover was suddenly the coolest thing around, it resonated.


Like a Shadow Morton production transposed into the eighties. Street, yet the more it played on the more fully-developed and modern it became.

And when Ric Ocasek sang…

But she used to be mine

That was the hook.

Simple, yet so right.


Just what we need right now. A track that starts off in your face, grabs you by the neck and won’t let go. There’s no crime in writing a perfect hit. It might seem obvious, but it’s so hard to do. A 3:46 minute ditty, “Just What I Needed” is irresistible, and it attaches itself to you and won’t let go the more you play it. You could crank it on the radio and it would fill the space. It was new, but it was not thin, “Just What I Needed” hooked all those who weren’t paying attention. They were suddenly fans. This is how you make a star.


It was heavy. This presaged the hair band ballads of a decade hence, but sans the calculation and the wimpiness.

Well, it isn’t exactly a ballad, it’s not really slow, but it’s not really fast either. Beavis & Butt-head might make fun of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” but they would be unable to stop themselves from banging their heads to it.

And there you have the magic of the Cars. Whatever you thought of the band intellectually, you couldn’t resist the music, you were drawn in.


I actually prefer this to “My Best Friend’s Girl.”

It’s denser, yet even more simple. It’s a blend of modern and the Beach Boys, except for that magical pre-chorus. Where did they come up with that?

This was back when it was no crime to be catchy. Why does everybody who doesn’t make Top Forty music refuse to be catchy today? When did catchy get such a bad rep?

Those synths, those drums, those guitars, that vocal, that chorus. A pocket symphony a decade and a half hence!


Slower, darker, made for your bedroom more than radio, it showed the Cars’ range. I got into this track last, but that was the pleasure of diverse albums, when LPs weren’t over an hour long and you could comprehend and digest them, that which you passed over ultimately became your favorite.

Dark and dreamy, with an underbelly you wanted to caress and lay down next to…”Moving In Stereo” is subtle yet it enraptures you.

The very next day I went to the record store in Westwood. I was afraid I’d missed my chance, was that promo copy of “The Cars” still available?

It was. Word had not yet gotten out.

I came home and dropped the needle and fell into immediate bliss. That was the magic of the Cars, their music wasn’t obvious, but it did not require repeated listenings to get into.

At this point we did not know that Ric Ocasek was the genius, even if Ben Orr was the face. Ben sang some of the songs, but not all. And that was David Robinson on drums, to the cognoscenti forever the man behind Jonathan Richman.

The band had cred.

They’d also paid their dues.

In the late seventies paying your dues still counted. We were not inundated with wet behind the ears pre-adolescents, pop didn’t rule until MTV dominated in the eighties. Rather this was the age of AOR, the behemoth stations that were hip and owned their marketplace. They were not eager to move on from corporate rock, but bands like the Cars eased the way, made it easier for angrier stuff like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. Then disco came along and blew the paradigm apart.

Not that the Cars helped themselves.

Every album got worse.

And then, when it looked like it was nearly over, they hooked up with Mutt Lange and released “Heartbeat City,” which was all over MTV and the airwaves back in ’84.

But the debut was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, before he lost the plot, before Mutt inherited his mantle as the go-to guy.

And on one level the Cars’ debut sounds dated.

On another, it exists in its own ether. Nothing ever sounded exactly like it, either then or now. As a result we’re left with this masterpiece which gets no accolades, that seems to have been lost to the sands of time, but will never be forgotten by those who were alive and aware back in ’78.

It was just what we needed!

Rhinofy-The Cars

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