The Cars is the eponymous debut studio album by the American new wave band the Cars. It was released on June 6, 1978 on Elektra Records. The album, which featured the three charting singles "Just What I Needed," "My Best Friend's Girl," and "Good Times Roll," as well as several album-oriented rock radio hits, was a major success for the band, remaining on the charts for 139 weeks. It has been recognized as one of the band's best albums.
Formed in Boston in 1976, the Cars consisted of Ric Ocasek, Benjamin Orr, Elliot Easton, David Robinson, and Greg Hawkes, all of whom had been in and out of multiple bands throughout the 1970s. After becoming a club staple, the band recorded a number of demos in early 1977. Some of these songs later appeared in finished form on The Cars, such as "Just What I Needed" and "My Best Friend's Girl", while others were saved for a later release, such as "Leave or Stay" and "Ta Ta Wayo Wayo" (both of which later saw release on their 1987 album Door to Door.) The demos for "Just What I Needed" and "My Best Friend's Girl" were often played on Boston radio by DJ Maxanne Sartori, giving the band frequent airplay.
Both Arista and Elektra attempted to sign the band, but in the end, Elektra was chosen, due to its lack of new wave acts, allowing the band to stand out more than they would have had they signed with the new wave-heavy Arista. David Robinson said of the choice, "Here they had the Eagles and Jackson Browne, and along comes this crazy Boston band who wanted a black-and-white photo collage on their cover."
The Cars featured a large amount of technology on many of its tracks, due to the band's appreciation for new equipment. David Robinson said, "We'd always get the latest stuff from music stores even if it would be obsolete in two months. It reached the point where I'd have 10 or 12 foot switches to hit during a short set." The album also is notable for front-man Ric Ocasek's use of irony and sarcasm. Keyboardist Greg Hawkes said, "There was definitely a little self-conscious irony in there. We started out wanting to be electric and straight-ahead rock, and it kind of turned into an artier kind of thing."
David Robinson said in an interview that he "had designed a very different album cover [for The Cars] that cost $80.00 to design." He continued, "I remember the price exactly. It was completely finished and everything, but it was a little more bizarre than the cover that they had in mind, so they changed some of it because of copyright problems and put it in as the inner sleeve. But I think that was way more how we envisioned who we were then."
Unlike many of The Cars' album covers, the cover for The Cars was designed by the record company, rather than drummer David Robinson. The cover was not well liked by the members of the band, however. Robinson said, "I thought that when the Elektra came out it was way too slick. The pictures of us I didn't like." Guitarist Elliot Easton expressed dislike for "that big grinning face," saying, "Man, I got tired of that cover."
The cover model is Natalya Medvedeva, a Russian-born model, singer, writer and journalist.
The Cars sold one million copies by the end of the year and steadily climbed the charts. It peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 chart in March 1979. The album remained on the album chart for 139 weeks. The record was also ranked number 4 on Billboard's "Top Albums of the Year" chart for 1979.
Three singles were released from the album: "Just What I Needed" in (#27 in America, #17 in Britain), "My Best Friend's Girl" (#35 in America, #3 in Britain), and "Good Times Roll" (#41 in America) all of which enjoyed heavy airplay on AOR radio stations. Aside from the singles, album tracks "You're All I've Got Tonight", "Bye Bye Love", and "Moving in Stereo" all became radio favorites.
Critically, the album was well received. AllMusic reviewer Greg Prato described it as "a genuine rock masterpiece", and that "all nine tracks are new wave/rock classics" in their retrospective review. Prato continued, saying "With flawless performances, songwriting, and production (courtesy of Queen alumnus Roy Thomas Baker), The Cars' debut remains one of rock's all-time classics." Rolling Stone magazine critic Kit Rachlis said "The pop songs are wonderful," continuing that "Easy and eccentric at the same time, all are potential hits." Rachlis, however, said that "The album comes apart only when it becomes arty and falls prey to producer Roy Thomas Baker's lacquered sound and the group's own penchant for electronic effects." Rolling Stone also ranked the album No. 284 in its "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list. Robert Christgau said, "Ric Ocasek writes catchy, hardheaded-to-coldhearted songs eased by wryly rhapsodic touches, the playing is tight and tough, and it all sounds wonderful on the radio. But though on a cut-by-cut basis Roy Thomas Baker's production adds as much as it distracts, here's hoping the records get rawer."
Elliot Easton said of the album, "We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars Greatest Hits. We knew that a lot of great bands fall through the cracks. But we were getting enough feedback from people we respected to know that we were on the right track."
All tracks written by Ric Ocasek, except where noted.
The CarsRic Ocasek – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Elliot Easton – lead guitar, backing vocals
Greg Hawkes – keyboards, percussion, saxophone, backing vocals
Benjamin Orr – lead vocals, bass
David Robinson – drums, percussion, Syndrums, backing vocals
ProductionThe Cars – arrangement
Roy Thomas Baker – production
Geoff Workman – recording, engineering
Nigel Walker – engineering
George Marino – mastering
Notes(–) denotes it did not chart.
Empty box denotes it was not released.