1978, Music

The Cars (1978)

The Cars’ debut album marks the point where, for better or worse, New Wave goes commercial. Basically very previous (American) New Wave album was too arty, too quirky, too herky jerky to connect with the average listener. But Ocasek and company found how to merge New Wave with that basic American need for big dumb hooks.

If this music is New Wave – and I guess I must grant that it is New Wave given Ocasek’s delivery and the synthesizers – this is Arena New Wave. It’s New Wave for people who find DEVO just way too weird and are even put off by Talking Heads. (Don’t dare force them to listen to Pere Ubu…)

Nothing embodies this more than “Good Times Roll,” which sounds like New Wave given Ocasek’s delivery, but has backing vocals that belong in a Boston song and has some of the most inane lyrics of any arena rock song. To wit:

“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
Let the good times roll
Let the good times roll”

And it goes on like this…

I will grant that “Just What I Needed” is a borderline perfect power pop song; again, those lyrics aren’t good but the rest of the song is so well done it’s hard to get upset that it’s just power pop pretending to be New Wave.

The rest of the songs are not up the quality of “Just What I Needed” but most of them are better than “Good Times Roll.” But they all have the same thing in common: they are straight ahead American rock songs pretending to be New Wave songs, but with enough polished gang vocals to overcome any fears of the actual new. (“I’m In Touch With Your World” is the only song that actually qualifies to me as New Wave.)

I want to say this is some kind of awful record, but I can’t. It’s well made and it is catchy as fuck. But I hate what they’re doing, taking something interesting and dumbing it down so that people driving in their cards or getting drunk in bars can remember the choruses. This record is the birth of New Wave as that ’80s phenomenon but it, in some ways, the death of American New Wave as a creative, revitalizing movement.


All tracks written by Ric Ocasek, except where noted.

  1. “Good Times Roll”3:44
  2. “My Best Friend’s Girl” 3:44
  3. “Just What I Needed” 3:44
  4. “I’m in Touch with Your World” 3:31
  5. “Don’t Cha Stop” Ocasek 3:01
  6. “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” 4:13
  7. “Bye Bye Love” 4:14
  8. “Moving in Stereo” (Greg Hawkes, Ocasek) 4:41
  9. “All Mixed Up” Orr 4:14
  • Ric Ocasek – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
  • Elliot Easton – lead guitar, backing vocals
  • Greg Hawkes – keyboards, percussion, saxophone, backing vocals
  • Benjamin Orr – lead vocals, bass
  • David Robinson – drums, percussion, Syndrums, backing vocals

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