Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Songs of '78: "Just What I Needed"

Forty years ago today, "Just What I Needed," the first single off of the Cars's first album (also titled The Cars), hit the airwaves. What were the Cars? Punk? The pounding, minimalist guitar work might make you think so, but no. New wave? Greg Hawkes's spacey keyboards sometimes sound like a preview of the synth-pop of the 1980s, but also no. Power pop? Rick Ocasek's songs didn't waste any time getting us into the music, but there was usually a coolness and reserve to them that prevent them from sounding like a proper post-Beatles rock and roll band. Ultimately, you just have to say that they were a great garage band, a bunch of musicians who knocked around, touring with different bands and one another, until the time came when they all fell together and started recording Ocasek's songs with all the aforementioned (and other) influences bouncing around inside their head. With all that, plus two great vocalists (bassist Benjamin Orr along with Ocasek), maybe it was inevitable they'd hit it big.

Or maybe not. Who knows? In any case, the Cars were part of that wonderful 1978 cohort, and they had a solid radio run for the next ten years, breaking up (and, unlike so many other bands, never really, truly re-uniting, despite a couple of half-hearted efforts) in 1988. They're not the greatest band ever, but they were solid and made great music; it's nice to be able to file them away as part of an era, one whose sound I can remember from the start.

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