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A more hit-efficient collection of the Cars
on January 25, 2004
Though starting out in the late 70's as part of the New Wave/pop sound, the Cars unique sound of running bass line, rhythm guitar, and prominent keyboards helped define the sound of the 1980's.
The ongoing bass pulse with guitar riffs defining their first single "Just What I Needed" gives the girl in the song a lackadaiscal, left-handed compliment as well as visual observations: "I don't mind you coming here, wasting all my time" and "it's not the perfume that you wear/it's not the ribbons in your hair."
The instrumentation and harmonies that accompany "Here she comes again when she's dancing underneath the starry sky" from "My Best Friend's Girl" is a sign of the sound that would explode into hit-mania in Heartbeat City. And "Let The Good Times Roll" with its layered backing vocals was another defining sound with the Cars.
Judging a group solely by the number of Top Forty or Top Ten hits isn't always a good barometer. The Cars didn't have many during their decade-long career, and only four of those hit the Top Ten. And it took till their fourth album, Shake It Up, to do so. The first one of those was "Shake It Up", whose pulsing racing synths and upbeat drums, and Ocasek's quirky voice, which to me is the epitomy of the Cars sound.
"You Might Think" with its pulsing keyboards, rhythm guitar, and heavy guitar, is my second favourite song, and a more produced sound is apparent here without sacrificing the usual Cars sound. I remember this from the video where Ric Ocasek turned into a flying insect. This came from their Heartbeat City, their masterpiece album produced by Mutt Lange. Also from there is my favourite Cars song, their highest charting one, the haunting and sombre Ben Orr-sung ballad "Drive" which got to #3 on the charts abetted by its multiple atmospheric synths. The girl in this song seems in need of a reality check or a fast lifestyle with that refrain "you can't go on thinking nothing's wrong/who's gonna drive you home tonight?" The verses consist of questions to this girl: "who's gonna pay attention to your dreams/who's gonna plug your ears when you scream?" A similar feel was later attained in Orr's solo single hit "Stay The Night."
The #7 "Tonight She Comes" was their fourth and last Top Ten single. The new song from their Greatest Hits, it was just as quick-tempoed as "You Might Think" with a cool guitar solo by Easton, but by 1985, the arrival of new groups and the novelty of New Wave was dying down.
With the exception of "Drive", they didn't seem to have much luck on their moodier songs such as "Since You're Gone" or the keyboard-oriented "I'm Not The One."
Of the other three singles from Heartbeat City, "Magic" scores great with its opening space-age sounds and the hard guitars even though the tempo's a bit slower than "You Might Think." "Hello Again" is good, but its #20 showing denoted that the album was selling more, and was "oversingled" by the time "Why Can't I Have You" was released.
As for their last Top Forty hit, "You Are The Girl", it was more of the same but more polished and programmed. The song itself is more musing and romantic, and lyrical, "why don't you flash that smile like you used to do?" and "You are the girl in my dreams", and I'm partial to it due to the crazy sci-fi/planet of alien women video it spawned.
A more budget-priced and hence hit-efficient compilation compared to the sprawling Just What I Needed anthology, Complete Greatest Hits has the essentials in one disc, with peak positions and release dates for the albums and singles included.