If you weren't a teenager back then, it's hard to overstate how fresh and exciting those Cars songs sounded. In a rock world that had grown flaccid and undisciplined, they were taut and gleaming. I'm sure there were other bands that were playing music like that - where I was, in Louisiana, the Talking Heads didn't arrive till about 1983 - but the Cars brought them to the masses.
Looking back now, I'm surprised at how little chart success the Cars had back then. They didn't reach the pop Top Ten until 1981's "Shake It Up," off their fourth album. But those songs were all over AOR radio - "Just What I Needed," "Let's Go," "You're All I've Got Tonight." Somehow, it seemed like everyone knew every song on The Cars and Candy-O; as guitarist Elliot Easton said, "We used to joke that the first album should have been called The Cars' Greatest Hits."
Meanwhile, they just got more popular, if anything, adapting well to the demands of the MTV culture and moving more forcefully into the Top Ten with "You Might Think," "Drive," and "Tonight She Comes." But after 1984's Heartbeat City (well, actually after 1985's Greatest Hits), they put out one more album, 1987's dud Door to Door, and it was over. The Cars had released just five meaningful albums
And those songs have never really gone away, which is in a way part of the problem. They eventually revealed themselves to be slick enough to be in heavy rotation in big-box-retailers' commercials. I'm not altogether certain how well they've held up. And their career was pretty short.
I could definitely see a vote for the Cars; at times, as I've been ruminating over my ballot, they've been a yes vote for me. This is their first year as a nominee for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and if they're still on the ballot next year, I'll probably vote for them. But for the moment, I vote NO for the Cars.
I've been putting videos at the end of these things because I figure if you're like me, after reading about all these great artists, you're in the mood to listen to some of their stuff. My plan was to put the classic MTV video of my favorite Cars song, "Since You're Gone," down here, until I discovered that the Cars did that song on ABC's early-Eighties SNL knockoff Fridays. I don't know how funny it was, but Fridays had much better music than SNL at that point. This is from an episode hosted by Valerie Harper, and who doesn't love Valerie Harper - but for this song, they're introduced by none other than Larry David. Enjoy.