Ric Ocasek and The Cars Perform Live in Concert After Their Groundbreaking Debut Album: Watch the Complete Show (January 13, 1979)

Leg­endary musi­cian and pro­duc­er Ric Ocasek passed away on Sun­day, and the whole rock world mourns his loss. Great­ly respect­ed not only by fans but by fel­low musi­cians (and Stephen Col­bert), Ocasek achieved a very rare posi­tion in the music business—one almost unheard-of: an inter­na­tion­al super­star in the 80s with his band The Cars, formed in Boston in the late 70s, he thrived in the era of the video star, at the dawn­ing of the music video age along­side 80s jug­ger­nauts like Van Halen, Madon­na, and Michael Jack­son.

Ocasek was also one of the most revered pro­duc­ers in 80s punk and 90s alt-rock, with as much cred­i­bil­i­ty in such cir­cles as pro­duc­ers like Steve Albi­ni and Butch Vig. (His cred­its include Bad Brain’s Rock for Light, Weezer’s Blue Album and Green Album, and records by Sui­cide, Hole, Bad Reli­gion, Jonathan Rich­man, Guid­ed by Voic­es, etc. etc.) He had a daunt­ing work eth­ic, but he also had a great deal of humil­i­ty and an endur­ing sense of what record­ed music does for us.

He may have mas­tered the art of mak­ing hit records and slick videos, but as he told Rolling Stone in 1980, “music’s a pow­er­ful emo­tion­al force” that is, most impor­tant­ly, “a way to com­mu­ni­cate with­out alien­at­ing peo­ple, a way to get beyond lone­li­ness. It’s a pri­vate thing peo­ple can have for them­selves any time they want. Just turn on the radio and there it is: a sense of belong­ing.” That’s what The Cars gave their fans.

They cre­at­ed a sense of famil­iar­i­ty, blend­ing synth pop, punk, and New Wave with clas­sic rock and roll moves; five ordi­nary-look­ing joes who’d paid their bar band dues. They also sus­tained an air of alien­ation and intrigue. Will­ing to be sil­ly, yet unap­proach­ably cool, with the most weird­ly oblique of pop radio hits. “With their debut album in 1978,” writes Rolling Stone’s Mikal Gilmore, “the Cars cre­at­ed one of the rarest phe­nom­e­na of late-Sev­en­ties rock & roll: a pop arti­fact that uni­fied many fac­tions of a plu­ral­is­tic rock scene.”

“Con­ser­v­a­tive radio pro­gram­mers jumped on it because of Ocasek’s con­so­nant pop sym­me­try and Roy Thomas Baker’s pol­ished, eco­nom­i­cal pro­duc­tion; New Wave par­ti­sans favored it for its terse melod­i­cism and ultra­mod­ern stance; and crit­ics applaud­ed it for its syn­the­sis of pre­punk art-rock influ­ences, includ­ing Lou Reed, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Bri­an Eno.” The band’s rep­u­ta­tion with crit­ics would suf­fer with their sopho­more album, Candy‑O. And what Gilmore called the “technopop” of their third record came to define their sound in the 80s.

The Cars in 1978 were raw and edgy, even as their debut album spawned some of their most radio-friend­ly hit songs, includ­ing “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” and “Just What I Need­ed” (the first three tracks on the first record, and some of the biggest songs of their entire sev­en-album run). See them play the ear­ly hits and more  at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sus­sex, Brighton in 1979 in the full con­cert film above, and let the good times roll.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The First 10 Videos Played on MTV: Rewind the Video­tape to August 1, 1981

How Talk­ing Heads and Bri­an Eno Wrote “Once in a Life­time”: Cut­ting Edge, Strange & Utter­ly Bril­liant

Hear John Malkovich Read Plato’s “Alle­go­ry of the Cave,” Set to Music Mixed by Ric Ocasek, Yoko Ono & Sean Lennon, OMD & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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