This week saw the passing of two ’70s/80’s rock legends, Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek. Money was probably the bigger name nationally, but we would be remiss not to reflect on the passing of the local (to the Boston area) legend, Ocasek, who fronted the band The Cars from 1978-1988. He actually came of age in Cleveland and I believe moved to New York once he became famous, but to the city of Boston, he is music royalty, arguably second only to Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.
Back in the early ’80s, a good friend of mine introduced me to The Cars. He played me their first four cassettes, extolling the virtuosity of guitarist Elliot Easton and pointing out how to tell which songs were sung by bassist Ben Orr and which were by Ocasek. Their voices were so similar, one could mistake them for the same person, but Ocasek was definitely the creative force behind the Cars, writing nearly all the songs, including those sung by Orr. With the massive success of 1984’s Heartbeat City and its accompanying videos like the groundbreaking “You Might Think”, Ocasek became the public face of the band and undeniable frontman. His marriage to supermodel Paulina Porizkova only raised his public profile and even became fodder for the tabloids, especially since he was nearly 40 and she was just clearing 20. For the most part, though, Ocasek seemed to run from the spotlight, and he had this mysterious, aloof artist persona that could be both cool and cold. He had said that he hated touring, and there was a buzz of strife within the band after the mega-success of Heartbeat City. The Cars disbanded in 1988 and Ocasek repeatedly swore the band would never unite, saying in 1997 “I’m saying never and you can count on that”. The chances of a true reunion ended in 2000 with the death of Ben Orr, but the remaining members did make one last studio album in 2011, Move Like This, along with a small tour to support it.
I remember Ocasek releasing some solo albums after the 1988 break-up, but even around here they didn’t get much attention. I know he went on to do a lot of producing over the years, but he seemed to disappear from the limelight. He was one of those well-known artists that you just didn’t know well. He didn’t care to do many interviews and I don’t recall him doing many appearances in the Boston area for charity events or the such. Yesterday on Sirius XM they were playing a 2016 interview he did with them, and I think that maybe the first time I ever heard his non-singing voice. He seemed pretty down-to-earth though, answering fan questions and seeming to enjoy the interaction. At 75, one can’t really say he was “gone too soon”, but it was still a bit of a shock to hear of his passing. Ocasek leaves a legacy of artistic pop/rock music with an authentic quality that makes The Cars catalog still hold up today 30-40 years later. Here are some highlights:
- The Cars (1978) – One of the best debut albums of its time, perhaps all time. So many hits – I think there are only two songs not released as singles.
- “Dangerous Type” (1979) – A lesser-known track, but a great example of Ocasek’s eclectic, poetic lyrics (he published a book of poetry later in his career called Negative Theater).
- “Magic” (1984) – One of The Cars biggest hits, this song always evokes summer hangouts and parties. It’s the rare Cars song where Ocasek seems happy in a relationship.
DJ: All good picks. I remember seeing Ocasek play on Landsdowns Street in Boston for WFNX’s 10th anniversary and he was very good. He played Cars songs unlike David Byrne who was there and didn’t play any Talking Heads songs. My favorite songs are probably “Bye Bye Love” a badass kiss off song and “It’s All I Can Do”. Also would like to point out 2012’s “Blue Tip” which is a pretty good reunion tune. But I will leave you with his 1986 solo effort “Emotion in Motion” which is pretty decent.