Elektra Records is releasing a six CD box set of all six of the band's studio albums for the label on March 11 as The Elektra Years 1978-1987. With remastering overseen by Ric Ocasek and the restoration of original album art coordinated by drummer David Robinson, this new collection won't deliver any rarities, but it will give you a chance to re-buy the band's albums all over again.
Thankfully, the band-curated compilation Moving In Stereo: The Best of The Cars just so happens to throw the die-hard fans a few bones: a single mix of "I'm Not The One" from Shake It Up, a live version of "Everything You Say" (from Door To Door) and a new mix of a song from the recent reunion effort Move like This.
As if we needed an excuse to rate the Cars' Elektra albums best to worst, these March releases are cause enough for revisiting the band's Elektra discography.
6. Door To Door
By 1987, Ric was more enamored by the cheesy drum machines of the era than by David Robinson's rock steady drumming and, while that may have been fine for the Mutt Lange-produced Heartbeat City, the mediocrity of the material assembled here only suffers at the hands of Ocasek's clinical programming and arrangements.
Sadly, songs like "You Are The Girl" and "Leave Or Stay" that could have soared under the tutelage of past producer Roy Thomas Baker merely tread water here and wind up sounding more like '80s era Moody Blues.
5. Heartbeat City
The only Cars album I didn't buy until many, many years later because, quite frankly, I didn't have to, as the songs were everywhere. Once I did, though, I didn't feel I'd missed out on anything all those years by not owning it.
From "Hello Again" to"Magic" to "You Might Think" to "Drive", one gets the feeling this is the work of an ad agency merely trying to create something that they think matches our idea of what a Cars album should sound like circa 1984. Every chorus is a slogan, every melody destined to be selling orange juice or Swatch watches. Total ear candy for the masses, but not an album this Cars fanatic ever reaches for when I need my fix,
You've just got to love a song that begins "You were trying to be cute/And it didn't work out/You were trying to be charming/And it didn't come off" as did "Down Boys", the one should-be hit from the band's oft-overlooked third album. Instead of releasing it as the album's first single, somebody thought it might be a better idea to go with the moody and atmospheric "Touch & Go", which, while a stone cold hooky delight, was never gonna set the world on fire. Still, I like the idea that the band just didn't seem to give a fuck whether they appeased their label by delivering another "Let's Go" or "Just What I Needed" and made an album that was dark, edgy and hard for the Blondie and Benatar fans to swallow.
With ridiculously high expectations awaiting its release after the multi-platinum success of the band's first album, no album could have lived up to the anticipation. That's not to say that The Cars didn't give it the ol' college try as album-opener "Let's Go" is the prototypical Cars song, with all of their key ingredients melted down to a concise 3:33 of melodic crack cocaine.
"It's All I Can Do" is another gem that seemed like a sure-fire smash, but the rest of the album suffers from half-baked arrangements and Ocasek's continual attempts at channeling Suicide on the album's sole clunker ("Shoo Be Doo"). The end result was an album that began promisingly enough, but petered out halfway through, leaving many to wonder if this new wave juggernaut was running out of gas or merely pacing themselves.
2. Shake It Up
Admittedly, the band's fourth effort is not without its flaws. but what truly sets a great Cars album apart from merely a good one is how listenable one finds the throwaway tracks and, let's face it, every album since the debut has had its mediocre plateau, if you will. Take, for example, Side Two of Candy-O, or Panorama's "Gimme Some Slack", "Getting Through" and "You Wear Those Eyes". It's not a question of IF these tracks are mid-level, but if they're listenable enough to not skip over entirely and, on Shake It Up, low-hanging fruit like "Victim of Love", "Cruiser", and "A Dream Away" reveal their sly genius with repeat listens.
As for the album's top-shelf material, the title cut's meteoric chart success was completely deserved and "Since You're Gone" managed to capture that sense of teenage angst and desperation without sacrificing their trademark icy detachment.
1. The Cars
This isn't just the best Cars album, it's one of the best debut albums ever made and the 38 years that have passed since its release have done little to diminish its appeal. For starters, Roy Thomas Baker's production allows the band's technical prowess to shine through while also giving it that futuristic punch that ensured this would be the first new wave act to break into the mainstream and come to define that stereotypical '80s sound before the decade even began.
Taking one glance at the track listing, which includes "Good Times Roll", "My Best Friend's Girl", "Just What I Needed", "You're All I've Got Tonight", "Bye Bye Love", "Doncha Stop", and "Moving In Stereo", Elektra could release this album as-is under the name "Cars Greatest Hits" and receive not a single complaint.