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35 Years Ago: The Cars’ Debut Album Released

The Cars The Cars
Elektra Records

When the Cars’ self-titled debut album was released in 1978, rock music fans weren’t really sure what to make of it.

The songs’ big hooks and melodies came from a recognizable place and sounded familiar enough to make the record an immediate hit. But the cold, steely approach to the songs (not to mention the gurgling keyboards that rolled through almost every track) came suspiciously close to the New Wave music traditional rock fans were hearing so much about at the time. No doubt the Cars confused the hell out of a lot of people.

But in the end, it didn’t really matter much. The Boston band, made up of veterans of the local music scene, was embraced by Top 40 radio, rock radio and New Wave fans, who saw one of their own in tall, gangly and kinda-nerdy frontman Ric Ocasek. It helped that all nine of ‘The Cars’’ songs (well, almost all of them) packed enough melodic push and pull and big-time pop hooks to drive the album into the Top 20.

From the opening ‘Good Times Roll’ to the closing ‘All Mixed Up,’ the album is loaded with fat, chunky riffs and a sizable dose of irony (that’s their New Wave roots peeking through). The best cuts – ‘My Best Friend’s Girl,’ ‘Just What I Needed,’ ‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’ – stir pop-music standbys like hand claps and sing-along choruses into a mix of futuristic synths and robotic vocals. It all makes for one of the decade’s most potent musical dichotomies: warm-blooded songs coated in an icy surface.

While ‘The Cars’ never got any higher than No. 18, it’s their bestselling record, with more than six million copies sold since its release 35 years ago. ‘Just What I Needed,’ ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and ‘Good Times Roll’ were released as singles, reaching Nos. 27, 35 and 41, respectively. But it was FM rock radio stations that made them stars, setting them up for their string of four Top 10 LPs over the next five years. The debut remains their masterpiece, a central record of the late ‘70s that documents the time rock ‘n’ roll crawled into bed with New Wave and they made some great music together.

Next: Top 10 Cars Songs

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