The Cars’ first two albums — the eponymous debut and its follow up Candy-O — were both terrific releases on multiple levels including production and songwriting. Those recordings were arguably one of the first of that era of “new wave” bands to appeal to a wide audience, blending 1960’s pop-rock, bubblegum song-craft hooks with mid-70s edgy-yelping art-punk sensibilities and — what eventually became known in current times as — “classic rock” credibilty. The band’s founder, Ric Ocasek, passed away last weekend (RIP) and many are still mourning the loss of this important rock artist.
To celebrate his life, we thought it would be handy and useful to call attention to some of Ocasek’s finer moments with his band and a couple of his post-Cars productions. There are of course many others, these are just some which resonated in my universe. You can click on the “Qobuz” or “Tidal” links at the head of each of these mini review-ettes to jump to the albums being discussed in streaming form. Where possible we have posted links to the highest resolution versions available on each platform.
These Cars streams generally sound excellent!
This fine debut album was the perfect antidote to naysayers claiming that punk and new wave music was disposable garbage. Here we get a near perfect album of instant hits and memorable deep album tracks that warranted much play and replay and stood high and proud along side radio mixes with by-the-classic rock by The Beatles, The Who, The Rollings Stones and The Kinks. For me personally, this first Cars collection was part of the soundtrack to high school and the first couple years of College so it holds a special place in my heart. On Tidal, you can find The Cars streaming in 192 kHz, 24-bit MQA format (requires special DAC to decode). Qobuz has the album streaming at 96 KHz, 24-bit. Even in standard CD-quality, Roy Thomas Baker’s stunning production shines is a joy which rode the pop charts for 139 weeks!
With its sexy Vargas cover art, Candy-O was a near perfect sequel to the self titled debut. Any remaining naysayers couldn’t deny the appeal of the opening track (and Top 20 hit!) “Let’s Go” and “It’s All I Can Do.” The title track and “Night Spots” were also killer cuts. Some of us preferred Candy-O over the debut because it was a little edgier in some ways. Like many sophomore albums, Candy-O didn’t quite achieve what that debut did as an end-to-end album listen. It was, however, a huge commercial success and continued to build The Cars’ buzz as more than a one trick pony. The album reached number three on the Billboard 200 chart (!), setting the stage for for future successes in the 1980s.
Weezer (aka The Blue Album)
I am almost embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even realize that Ric Ocasek produced Weezer’s brilliant eponymous debut album. I should have known because in retrospect that makes total sense. With its buzzsaw metal-pop guitar attack, this album sounds — in some ways — like the return of the son of the first Cars album… on steroids! “Buddy Holly” and “Sweater” were instantly likable and memorable hits. Alas, Weezer didn’t have the solid follow up album like The Cars did so some of us lost interest in them along the way. Truth be told, I really hated that second album, Pinkerton, when it came out, but admit I am overdue for revisiting it and the rest of Weezer’s catalog which I admittedly haven’t paid much attention to since. Fortunately, it seems that most of their albums are streaming on Tidal, many of the more recent ones in MQA format (The Blue album is standard CD quality) to I have no excuses any more for not checking them out a bit more. That said, this first album was an instant classic that endures.
Many Guided By Voices (GBV) fans dislike Ric Ocasek’s production on their 11th studio album. I am not one of them. I think Ric’s efforts only falter in one respect : some of the songs do sound like they could be alternate universe The Cars or even Weezer productions. But I get what he was doing and it was probably the right thing at the time. Ultimately, Do The Collapse is simply another flavor of GBV. There are some tremendous songs here including the pulsing opening track “Teenage FBI” which rocks madly. Yet it is on the poignant “Hold On Hope” where Ocasek’s work shines brightest for me, successfully bringing in orchestral strings to enrich an already brilliant song and showing the universe that songwriter Robert Pollard was a masterful composer of more than “just” basement-brewed LoFi indie rock. That song in particular is one of GBV’s grandest moments of their entire career and, in fact, this remains my favorite GBV song. Its appeal is arguably heightened by Ocasek’s production work. You can find this album streaming in CD quality on Tidal and Qobuz.
Rest In Peace, Mr. Ocasek. Thank you for the music, thank you for the sound. Your legacy will be moving in stereo for the ages.