The Cars, Candy-O
Bridging the impossible gap between the AOR fans and the art-school kids
When New Wave began, it belonged to the punks in the U.K. underground. It took a band of Top 40-loving dudes from Boston to make it popular. The Cars' 1978 self-titled debut sold more than 6 million copies worldwide, and its 1979 follow-up made them one of the biggest radio acts of the late '70s and early '80s. Listening to Candy-O, it's clear how they conquered the airwaves from Route 128 out through the Heartland. Their studio-slick pop hits celebrated everything red-blooded, corn-fed music fans love, from pep rallies and fast cars to doo-wop harmonies and bubblegum hooks. They were the first group to make New Wave sound totally all-American.
Even when they were programming their synths, the Cars played like a rock 'n' roll band. They honed their chops as Boston bar scene vets long before they swapped their drum kits for a Syndrum beat box. So where other New Wave acts embraced disco's bounce and glam-rock's androgynous glamour, the Cars traded those fey affectations for something ruggedly macho. From the snarling proto-punk attitude of the title track to the robot funk of "Dangerous Type," they always wielded their keyboards like Flying Vs.
And yet, even avant-gardists who hated guitar bands found some love for the Cars — maybe because frontman Ric Ocasek was a bona fide oddball hiding out in the mainstream. Looking like a hipster Boo Radley and singing like he had incurable hiccups, he made alienated freaks sound effortlessly cool. Idiosyncratic as he was, he once claimed to be "shocked" that the Cars ever had hit singles. But it's easy to see how the band inspired everyone from the Pixies to the Strokes: Candy-O bridged that impossible gap between the AOR fans and the art-school kids. And with Ocasek now producing albums for mainstream-courting alt-rock bands like Weezer and No Doubt, neither side's been the same since.