The Cars. What can be said about them that hasn’t already been said. They are one of the greatest new wave bands to ever come along and an inspiration to many. Their brand of power pop ruled the airwaves from the Debut in 1978 all the way to 1984 before they started to fade away from the scene, but never faded away from our hearts.
The band was inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 and the band was all there except for Benjamin Orr who died in 2000. It was really cool to see the band together again and play a few songs. The classic line-up consisted of the following members:
- Ric Ocasek – Vocals, rhythm guitar
- Elliot Easton – lead guitar
- Greg Hawkes – keyboards
- Benjamin Orr – bass, lead vocals
- David Robinson – drums
We most recently we lost Ric Ocasek in 2019. As I did when Orr died, upon Ric’s death I pulled out The Cars catalog and went through it over and over again. It reminded me of how great these guys were and what a catalog of music they left behind. As a result, I decided to do an album ranking to see what was the worst album all the way up to the best. Let’s see where they stack up.
WORST – PANORAMA (1980):
The band changed up their sound a little with this one. It was less poppy and a little more aggressive with some experimentation. I think it was that change that put me off from this one. Even going back after all these years and listening, it didn’t hold up. It was missing a very important feature…songs. Yes, it has songs, there are 10 of them, but they aren’t “SONGS”…you know, Good Songs!
There were a few good ones, “Touch And Go” maybe being the best as well as “Gimme Some Slack”. I even liked the Orr lead song “Don’t Tell Me No”. Outside of that, I really struggled to get in to the album.
#6 – DOOR TO DOOR (1987):
What would become the last studio album by the band for 24 years and the last album featuring Benjamin Orr, the album was a big letdown after the massive success of their album ‘Heartbeat City’. They got away from all the little tricks they had been using and tried to go back to their early days and recapture that sound. The problem was I think that the music world had moved on.
There were three singles, “You are the Girl”, “Strap Me In” and “Coming Up You” and none came close to capturing the success of prior songs. The first single went to #17 and the others barely broke the Top 100. I think “Double Trouble” would have been a better single (especially with Elliot’s guitar work). And I have to admit, I could switch this one and Panorama at any time for this worst. The good news though is after these two, the rest are all worth grabbing and adding to your collection.
#5 – SHAKE IT UP (1981):
The band went back to a more pop sound after the changes made on ‘Panorama’ and as a result found more radio success garnering their first Top 10 hit with “Shake it Up” which is pure dance-pop song and quite enjoyable. It was the opening song “Since Your Gone’ with that tap dancing shoe sound that immediately grabs you on this one and then to go in to “Shake It Up” it is a pretty lethal 1-2 combination.
“I’m Not the One” is an amazing ballad and should have been a single. But the other singles were good if not a little interesting choices with “Think It Over” and “Victim of Love” which were not the usual The Cars flair. Benjamin’s song on this one is “Cruiser” and another one I enjoyed (and I always seem to enjoy his).
#4 – MORE LIKE THIS (2011):
In 2011, The Cars reunited less Benjamin Orr due to his untimely passing and delivered a Classic Cars sound. I have spent the least amount of time with this album, but damn it is totally awesome. They delivered on every front. It is truly The Classic Cars sound and a return to their early magical years and yet it sounds great today. The band seemed to pick up where they left off and really seemed to click.
The opening track “Blue Tip” has the Cars keyboard sound, the Easton guitar licks and Ocasek’s recognizable voice all make for a blast from the past. “Sad Song” opens with the guitar lick and hand clap reminiscent of their 70’s work ala “My Best Friend’s Girl”. “Keep on Knocking” is a modern rocker and you can’t forget “Too Late” and “Free” and even the balledesque “Soon”. This album worked on so many levels.
#3 – CANDY-O (1979):
Candy-O picks up where “The Cars” left off. They continued the pop, new wave sound with the thought, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Now, I have seen this at #2 on a lot of list and deservedly so. I could switch with my #2 easily, but at this time this one fell only slightly short, but nothing slightly short about this one at all. The opening track “Let’s Go” was one of their best opening tracks on any album.
Benjamin Orr had a ton of songs on this one with the opening track, “It All I Can Do”, “Candy-O” and “You Can’t Hold On Too Long” and all are amazing. Funny enough 3 of them are starred on Apple Music as the most listened to songs. Ocasek has the rest of the songs so he isn’t left off here. I think Orr got the best songs though. This was an enjoyable listen from top to bottom and is one of the few I don’t skip anything.
#2 – HEARTBEAT CITY (1984):
This album is like none they had ever done before. It has mega-producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange at the boards and that opening verse of “Hello Again” is the classic Mutt sound that was heard on the Def Leppard albums for sure. This album blew up MTV and the video for “You Might Think” was so groundbreaking that it won Video of the Year at the MTV Video Awards.
The songs, yes it had them. “Magic”, “Why Can’t I Have You” and “Heartbeat City” are all huge standouts. The ballad “Drive” sung by Benjamin Orr might be my favorite Cars song as it is probably the best song they ever wrote. The album put The Cars completely in the stratosphere of stardom and it was a success they would never see again. Mutt has a way of doing that to bands.
#1 THE CARS (1978):
The debut album and is still their best. Not many bands have a debut album as amazing as this one. Can you name many? I don’t think so. Van Halen was breaking on the scene and rock was starting to move to the forefront, but The Cars New Wave sound was able to capture the audience as easily as the Hard Rock bands. Their sound was rock, but took it in a different direction and one many would follow.
How can you go wrong with songs like “Good Times Roll”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Just What I Needed” and “Moving in Stereo”…you can’t. I love the quirky “I’m in Touch With Your World” and the fast-paced “Don’t Cha Stop” oh and don’t forget “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”. Okay, there is no bad song and I loved this one so much I let it start over and listened to it again. That says something right there.
And there you have it, The Cars studio albums in order of how I rank them from the worst to the best. Let me know what you think. Where did we differ and where did we agree. What is fun about these list is how differently each album impacts people. What I like, you might not, but we like the same artist and that is all that matters really. And if as a result, you find something new, then my job is done!!!