The Cars broke into my consciousness in college, when they released their first two albums — albums that were just about flawless. Their music fit perfectly into the time and place. People were tired of disco but still interesting in dancing. Older supergroups like Led Zeppelin and CSNY were winding down, and lots of different kinds of music were in the air — punk, country, heavy metal, folk, synthesizer rock, and some music that was impossible to really categorize, like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell album. The Cars somehow captured and reflected a lot of these different kinds of music, and produced a sound that was at once catchy, and bouncy, and totally identifiable as The Cars. My roommate Skip and I hosted a lot of rock ‘n’ roll dance parties during that time period, and songs from The Cars were guaranteed to get even the crappiest dancers off their butts and out onto the dance floor to shake it. For exactly that same reason, when I was played pinball with my friend Nasher we always hoped that a Cars tune would be played on the jukebox, because the rhythm helped you knock the machine around and increase your score.
I’m no music historian, but I think The Cars really helped to move popular music forward and influenced a lot of ’80s music. It was the first rock ‘n’ roll band that I remember where the synthesizer and keyboards were such an important part of the beat, as opposed to setting the kind of space-type mood you find on Dark Side Of The Moon. Take a listen to It’s All I Can Do and Candy-O and see if you don’t agree with me. When you combined that with excellent guitar riffs, a heavy bass line, great drums, and interesting vocals, you had an irrepressible, highly layered sound that really stuck with you. (I remember flying to Europe after graduating from college and having Don’t Cha Stop run through my head for the whole flight.) And The Cars weren’t just two-album wonders — in fact, their 1980s album Heartbeat City was their best-selling album of all.
I’m not sure precisely what the criteria should be for deciding which is the Best American Band, but I think one of the factors should be producing great music that helped to define the sound of an era. The Cars easily pass that test. Not surprisingly, they are well-represented on the Ipod, which includes classics like My Best Friend’s Girl, Just What I Needed, Don’t Cha Stop, Moving In Stereo, All Mixed Up, Let’s Go, Candy-O, Lust For Kicks, Shake It Up, and Magic.
Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!