In celebration of The Cars’ elongated main man’s 70th birthday this weekend (at least we think it may be his 70th - according to various sources he was born on March 23, 1949, but other sources suggest he is already 74 - the mystery continues. We'll save confirming once we've seen a birth certificate), let's looks at Ric Ocasek’s classic Cars hits as well as his earlier bands and some of his influential work as a producer.
We've also just celebrated 35yrs since the release of The Cars seminal album, Heartbeat City. More on that one, here.
Born Richard Theodore Otcasek in Baltimore, Maryland, The Cars’ Ric Ocasek was, like so many “New Wave” artists of the late 70s, not exactly new when he caught a barrel into the Top 20 with The Cars’ first album in 1978. Indeed Ric was probably more experienced than most of his contemporaries, having been in bands since the mid-60s in Ohio – where he met his future collaborator in The Cars' Benjamin Orr, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, before relocating to Boston in the early 70s. He had his first major label experience in 1973 – again with Orr - recording an album with the country rock/folk-influenced, Milkwood. Remaining in Boston, the pair formed Richard and the Rabbits, which included future Cars keyboard player Greg Hawkes, and then Cap’n Swing, which included guitarist Elliot Easton. Ric, Ben, together with Greg and Elliot, eventually became The Cars with the addition of former Modern Lovers and DMZ drummer David Robinson in 1976.
With their lean and clean modern sound and an abundance of catchy tunes, The Cars became the pick to click on a Boston new wave scene populated generally by rawer rock’n’roll bands like The Real Kids, DMZ, and Willie Alexander & The Boom Boom Band. Signing to Elektra Records, who put them in the studio with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker, their success seemed assured, and their June 1978 album had a long run on the charts. It also spawned three classic hit singles, including Ocasek’s “Best Friend’s Girl” and ”Good Times Roll”.
The Cars lasted until 1988, with Ocasek and Orr sharing the frontman role and clocking up numerous hits over the years. Ric was well placed solo-career wise, having released his first solo album at the height of Cars success in 1982 and having had a Top 20 hit with the single “Emotion in Motion” in 1986.
In 1997, Ocasek released the Billy Corgan co-produced album Troublizing. When the Cars reformed in 2005 as The New Cars - minus Orr, who had died of cancer in 2000 – he chose not to be involved (letting Todd Rundgren take his and Orr’s place up front), but in 2010 a reunion of with Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes and David Robinson produced a final Top 10 Cars album Move Like This.
Almost from the beginning of his high-profile life as a hitmaker with The Cars, Ocasek had broadened his involvement producing other artists, most successfully for Weezer. His other clients ranged from seminal New York African-American punks the Bad Brains to Bad Religion to No Doubt, with other notables including Boston legend (and Cars drummer David Robinson's old boss in the Modern Lovers, Jonathan Richman), and seminal New York electronic duo Suicide, as well as Suicide frontman Alan Vega. Indeed Ric produced Suicide’s classic second album and the iconic single “Dream Baby Dream”, which was covered in recent years by Bruce Springsteen.
In 2018, The Cars were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, which saw another momentary reformation, and Ocasek leading the surviving band members through performances of three of their classic hits.
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