This is the fifth in a series of Rock & Roll features I'm writing for this site. I'm a rock and roller, so this column is a way for me to feature a different album that I like, from different genres every month.
Certain albums just seem to bring about tremendous change in music, only to be designated more as cultural time capsules, dated and cliché after a while, than as groundbreaking as originally thought. For this month's Rock 'n' Roll feature, I believe the album I have chosen is just such an album.
In the late 1970s there was a change taking place in pop music. Some of the bands to emerge were labeled New Wave, while other just defied classification. The Cars were difficult to classify at their depute, but the album, called simply The Cars, is a unique mix of new wave, punk, pop, rock 'n' roll and progressive rock all rolled into one. This album definitely contains somethings that could be called '80s clichés (despite being released in '78), but remains one of the few mainstream albums of the time that straddles the line between rock and punk/new wave. The Cars overall is a catchy and interesting album to listen to and an album that has had tremendous influence on all the music that came after it.
Although I grew up partially during the '80s, I was too young to be caught up in the Cars music when it was released, and instead came to it through a variety of different covers (mainly a cover of “You're All I've Got Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins). On a whim I picked up their first album and for the first week or so after getting it I listened to it non-stop. It has just a certain something that makes it catchy, while still being intellectual and deep enough to merit multiple listens.
The album begins simply enough with “Good Times Roll.” It has a little bit of blues (buried very deep) but is far more mechanical, minimal and dark. With huge harmonized choruses, a catchy riff, and of course the trademark “'80s style” synthesizers, it fits in with the new wave movement but still contains enough rock and roll to hearken back to greats. The second track, “My Best Friend's Girl,” sounds both like a classic pop number, right down to the hand claps, but has a slight tongue and cheek or ironic quality to it, like they aren't really serious. This ironic feel is carried through much of this album's lyrics. “Just What I Needed” is a classic radio friendly song that is incredibly catchy, but also has slightly dark lyrics that make the song walk the line between a sweet love song and its darker undertones.
As the album progresses it gets increasingly strange and pushes more towards both new wave and progressive rock. “I'm in Touch With Your World” is a splintered song full of strange sounds and massive trippy choruses while “Don't Cha Stop” is more of a new wave tune; upbeat and catchy, but still hinting at its proto punk roots. “You're All I've Got Tonight” remains my favorite song off this album, although not by much. It has a great, simple, and guttural guitar riff that builds in anticipation till the chorus comes, all synth driven and bordering on arena rock. Along with “Just What I Needed,” “You're All I've Got Tonight” is probably the most recognizable song from this album.
The final three songs on this album seem to knit together slightly like a progressive rock work, and I think is the best music on the album when listened as a whole. Each song has its strengths and is good, but they don't rival songs like “Just What I Needed” and “You're All I've Got Tonight.” Together though, they flow perfectly and create a great range of music with changing moods.