American art-rock was often stilted and lacking in humor until the New Wave arrived. Liberated by the influence of the Velvet Underground, Roxy Music and punk-era fellow travelers like Blondie and Suicide, the Cars methodically linked hookiness (enough to produce three hit singles and several other FM favorites from this debut album) and at least one raised eyebrow. The result still plays as a rock & roll classic. And if charm wasn't their aim, the fact is, it's undeniable. --Rickey Wright
Review by Greg Prato
The Cars' 1978 self-titled debut, issued on the Elektra label, is a genuine rock masterpiece. The band jokingly referred to the album as their "true greatest-hits album," but it's no exaggeration -- all nine tracks are new wave/rock classics, still in rotation on rock radio. Whereas most bands of the late '70s embraced either punk/new wave or hard rock, the Cars were one of the first bands to do the unthinkable -- merge the two styles together. Add to it bandleader/songwriter Ric Ocasek's supreme pop sensibilities, and you had an album that appealed to new wavers, rockers, and Top 40 fans. One of the most popular new wave songs ever, "Just What I Needed," is an obvious highlight, as are such familiar hits as "Good Times Roll," "My Best Friend's Girl," and "You're All I've Got Tonight." But like most consummate rock albums, the lesser-known compositions are just as exhilarating: "Don't Cha Stop," "Bye Bye Love," "All Mixed Up," and "Moving in Stereo," the latter featured as an instrumental during a steamy scene in the popular movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. With flawless performances, songwriting, and production (courtesy of Queen alumni Roy Thomas Baker), the Cars' debut remains one of rock's all-time classics.
When Fountains of Wayne topped the charts last year with "Stacy's Mom", Ric Ocasek could have sued for custody. The Cars' debut record provided a template for effortlessly catchy, hook-filled and radio-friendly rock that has proven every bit as effective now as it was then. While songs like "Stacy's Mom" use limp verses to justify exuberant choruses, The Cars still stands as an album that never sacrifices its momentum for cheap thrills. From the immortal synthline of "Just What I Needed" to the playful guitar of "My Best Friend's Girl", nothing is taken for granted here. And though The Cars has become one of the definitive archetypes for pop music, it's a record that still has yet to be bested on its own terms. --Matt LeMay