Who was the first New Wave artist? Was it Talking Heads? Blondie? Gary Numan? The Human League? Devo? As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I disagree with all those choices. Yes, I would argue that it was The Cars. The Cars are kind of an odd thing. As I’ve mentioned, I listened to the premiere New Wave radio station east of the Mississippi and they never played The Cars. In fact, the only station playing them in the late 70′s were the rock stations (WPLJ and WNEW, boy am I dating myself). But I never thought of The Cars as a rock band and in fact I have proof to back this statement up. When I was in 6th Grade (that’s when I was 10), we had to do a presentation in front of the class on our favorite hobby. I (duh!) did mine on music. I used a cassette recorder to play various kinds of rock music and label them helpfully for the class. I remember little of it except that I used Baba O’Riley to illustrate rock and that I used The Cars to represent New Wave.
See, all the things I consider hallmarks of the New Wave sound are present in The Cars’ music: cool synth lines, chilly and distant vocals, a certain phrasing. Their 1978 self-titled debut album is what I believe to be one of the greatest first albums in rock history. Arguably, they never topped it. But personally, I loved the second record best for this one song, which, through all the Joy Division and Depeche Mode I adore, is still the quintessential New Wave song to me. When I dug it up this week to listen to for the first time in many years, I still knew every single word. No, it isn’t the one from the Circuit City commercial or the one that will forever remind you of Phoebe Cates taking off her bathing suit top in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, although those are good too. No, it’s this one, the one where the late Benjamin Orr sounds like he’s in a freezer and the synth sounds like a snake flicking its tongue at you.
The Cars – Candy-0
Streaming audio available on the iPod Song of the Week page.