How Ric Ocasek and The Cars Shaped the Sound of Pop

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That Boston broadcast piqued the interest of record companies, eager to sign bands that were at the top of the New Wave. The Cars eventually signed to Elektra, at the time the home of folk artist Jackson Browne and The Eagles, whose songs dominated American radio. The band moved to London to record their album with producer Roy Thomas Baker, who had produced Queen during their rise to success.

“With The Cars, you had this band with a sparse rhythm section and a single singer in Ric Ocasek, but when the harmonies kicked in, it was a wall of sound,” Baker told Mix magazine in 1999. “They came at a time when rock radio really needed a refresh.”

baker

The Cars album opens with good times roll. The guitar buzzes and is abrasive, Ocasek’s voice is lost in the ether behind her. It sounds sparse and clean. But then comes Baker’s secret weapon.

“When the harmonic vocals come in, there are as many vocals as there are on a Queen record,” Baker told Mix magazine. “The only difference is that she was inside and then she left. Good Times Roll is a classic for that. When they sing those words, it’s huge and then it’s gone, and everything is sparse again. I was able to put great voices in a sparse and punk background, like inventing post-punk pop”.

Bill Janovitz, leader of the Boston rock band Buffalo Tom and music writer, was instantly hooked. “This album came out when he was 12 or 13 years old. It was a perfect time to hear it and it was everywhere on the radio.” he tells BBC Music.

“I was still in New York, but when I moved to the Boston area a few years later, The Cars was God, dude,” he says. “I don’t know anyone who would dare to disrespect this record. I honestly think everyone loves it. Everyone I know, anyway. If they don’t like it, I don’t like it.”

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