Great Albums: The Cars

The Cars – The Cars (1978)

The Cars – The Cars (1978)

Another great album from my misspent youth. I hope you’ll forgive my detours into autobiography, but most music that resonates with us also connects with what was going on in our lives at the time. This album will forever be associated with a period in my life when I was first discovering beer and girls. Though it came out in the spring of 1978, my memories are probably from the year after that. This was definitely an album that we were playing a year later. It had classic written all over it, even then.

Every weekend of my 14th year, I was at a house party. Usually hosted by my buddy Ken, they were low-key affairs, mostly involving sitting around listening to music, drinking beer, and if some girls showed up, flirting and hopefully, making out. I’m sure this pattern has been the same for decades, if not centuries, and we were happy not to disturb the universe. For me, the song “Just What I Needed” will always be associated with two girls: one I couldn’t have, and one I didn’t want.

Caroline lived in the same apartment building as me, and like me, her parents were Irish. Hers were from Cork, mine from Dublin, though they weren’t really friends. She was pretty, taller than me, and smarter and more sophisticated than any of the other girls I knew. She was also going out with my friend Bill, who was tall, good-looking and athletic. This caused me immense pain, and on at least one occasion, after a few jars, I was found passed out in a darkened bedroom moaning Caroline’s name over and over. Sigh.

Strangely enough, I reconnected with Caroline a few years ago. In high school, we lost touch as I dropped the partying and she seemed to sink deeper into it. Happily, she emerged and has become a sought-after fashion photographer who works in both Toronto and London. She recently had a little boy. I’m not sure if she reads my blog, but if so, hello! (You did know about my crush, didn’t you?)

Beth was a kind girl, but plain and bespectacled when I met her. One night, as I sprawled semi-blotto on the couch at Ken’s place, she sat down next to me and within minutes we were locked in passionate embrace. An hour or so later, I remember walking her down to the lobby where her dad was picking her up, and I sobered up rapid to realize that she now thought we were in a “relationship.” The next weekend, she was due to arrive at the party and I was terrified. Panicking, I locked myself in the bathroom and wrote her a “Dear Beth” letter on the roll of toilet paper. Tearing off the sheets, I left them on the countertop and emerged to face her. “Uh, there’s something for you in the bathroom,” I mumbled. If I broke her heart, at least she could wipe her tears with the evidence.

Justice was swift for my stupidity. Beth got contacts and a new hairstyle within a year or so, and became a model and actress. Later, she went on to have a proper relationship with a bona-fide Canadian rock star (Mark Holmes from Platinum Blonde). I can’t recall her ever speaking to me again.

What about The Cars, you’re now asking? Well, this was simply a great album. “Just What I Needed” still sounds fresh today, but there were no skippable tracks on this record. “My Best Friend’s Girl” was another jab when Caroline and Bill were around, but a good song nonetheless. “Moving In Stereo” was used in a great scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And “Let The Good Times Roll” always felt like a great kickoff to our festivities.

The Cars were certainly more commercial than bands like The Ramones and Talking Heads, which is probably why I knew about them in 1979. I didn’t discover the more “authentic” bands until later. But The Cars were certainly influenced by the same stuff and they had a vaguely European flavour to my young ears. They definitely were indulging in more expensive and exotic drugs than we were (they even name-drop “psilocybin”) and their sense of style promised better hair for everyone in the 1980s. Pity that didn’t work out, though.

Track Listing

  1. Let The Good Times Roll
  2. My Best Friend’s Girl
  3. Just What I Needed
  4. I’m In Touch with Your World
  5. Don’t Cha Stop
  6. You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
  7. Bye Bye Love
  8. Moving In Stereo
  9. All Mixed Up

“Just What I Needed” live on the Midnight Special in 1978 at YouTube

Great Albums is an occasional feature on Consolation Champs where I relate some personal stories about life-changing music in lieu of any proper music criticism. You’ll probably learn more about me than about music, so consider that fair warning. For more, click the Great Albums category tag.