They’re oddly marginalised in the collective pop memory now, as if the Live Aid-related ubiquity of Drive consigned them to AOR ballad purgatory. Yet The Cars were vastly influential on the US new wave sound of merged guitars and synths that bossed the 80s.
Surfacing with staccato hits My Best Friend’s Girl and Just What I Needed from their 1978 debut, they pretty much repeated their one song over and over. Yet there was arch knowingness to the tweaks, and their persistent Pop Art references culminated in Andy Warhol directing a video (atrociously) for 1984’s Hello Again. They were the Ramones for kids with a degree, who weren’t afraid to talk to girls.
There are diminishing returns across their first six albums, bar the freak success of Drive. The diamond-hard debut is followed by the crystalline Candy-O, crackling with night-out anthems like Let’s Go and Since You’re Gone. It’s as classily cheap as its Alberto Vargas sleeve. On Panorama and Shake It Up they try, faintly, to reboot: you’ll notice tracks where they’ve heard The Cure or Suicide.
After four albums with Roy Thomas Baker producing with ruthless clarity, Robert “Mutt” Lange tackles 1984’s Heartbeat City. He doesn’t reinvent the band, or wouldn’t have, had Drive not hit the crossover road. The self-produced Door To Door in 1987 preceded their split (the survivors reconvened in 2011), and only scraped by its MOT. When they were cruising though, the ice-cool Cars were as adept at pop-rock as Blondie or Cheap Trick. Va-va-vroom.