The Cars

The Cars

1978: Elektra 135-2 (64135-2)

  1. Good Times Roll
  2. My Best Friend’s Girl
  3. Just What I Needed
  4. I’m In Touch With Your World
  5. Don’t Cha Stop
  6. You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
  7. Bye Bye Love
  8. Moving In Stereo
  9. All Mixed Up

I bought this in September of 2003 after hearing it playing at my favorite local pub; what triggered the shift from “oh yeah, I haven’t heard THAT in ages” to “MUST BUY!” was the seventh track, “Bye Bye Love,” which I had completely forgotten about until just then. It was startling: I knew most of the songs from the album from radio play or other early-’80s experiences (it came out in 1978, but it didn’t reach Walla Walla until around 1980 as far as I know), and some of the tracks have remained in my general memory of the time, but “Bye Bye Love” is one of those rare recordings that preserves as a perfect snapshot the dark shiny dangerous night feel of those days, which comes back immediately when I hear the song. “Nice Girls” by Eye To Eye is similarly powerful but with a detached twist.

Really it is a lovely song, in its oddly enclosed space of sound and mood—I especially love how the chorus’s maybe-sarcastically wistful, almost-sentimental melody somehow manages to push through the crisp hammering of the vocal/instrumental chords and drums. “It’s just a broken lullaby….” Doing a little web-surfing to see what’s been written about that track, I was surprised to read references to it as a “mistake” or just a fluff track; I can’t disagree more, it really does encapsulate some of the finer elements of that moment’s manifestations, and I’m so glad The Cars recorded it just as it is, because every aspect of it (from the rockiest guitar riffs to the most conspicuous synth elements and especially the almost-punk clipped/hammered structural repetitions) contributes to the complex and skewed portrait of that place in time.

I’ll tell you, though, I never knew what to make of The Cars at the time that I first heard them. For years I was only aware of their hit songs and of course Rick Ocasek, and even so I didn’t identify all of their songs I’d heard as being theirs—“Bye Bye Love” again is an example, I only had heard it at the edge of my awareness and didn’t have opportunity to link it to a specific group or mood as I did with The English Beat (for example). Therefore they are now in that small-but-powerful group of musical experiences I wish I had known I was hearing at the time; if I could live any part of my life over again, it would probably be my high school years but only so I could listen to the music that was just starting to arrive on the scene at the time…maybe I would have had a different adulthood if I’d latched onto the vitality of the sound more at the time instead of just noticing some electricity in the musical air and responded to it from that point on. I don’t know. “The Cars” was pretty intensely the sound of the musical landscape shifting at that time, in any case, and it makes for an astonishing listen even 25 years after its release, provided you have some recollection of its original context.

Maybe when I play it I hear “Bye Bye Youth” instead of “Bye Bye Love.”