The Cars played their first show together in 1976. Two years later, they released their self-titled debut, an album that’s been certified 6x platinum and that’s widely regarded as one of the best debuts in rock history. Almost ten years and a handful of platinum-selling albums later, the Cars disbanded, only to briefly reunite in 2011 for a well-received reunion album. Here, we take a look back at their enduring legacy as we rank all seven the Cars albums from worst to best.
7. Door to Door
As 2loud2oldmusic.com says, what would become the band’s final classic era album was a big letdown, especially coming after the huge success of Heartbreak City. In an attempt to recapture the magic of their earlier albums, the band tried to inject the same energy and the same tricks into their sound. The problem was, the music world had moved on. In the ten years since their debut, tastes had changed and no one wanted to hear a rehash of yesterday’s hits. The first single, You Are the Girl, reached No. 17 on the Billboard 100 but the rest barely registered in the Top 100. The album charted at No. 26 on the Billboard 200 (the lowest chart position of any Cars’ studio album) and within a year, the band had gone its separate ways.
By the time they came around to record their third album, the Cars were chomping at the bit to try something new. The minimalist approach of their debut is still intact on Panorama, but the sound is more aggressive and innovative. Commercially, it was less successful than any album that came either before or after (with the exception of 1987’s Door to Door) but considering its experimental nature, that’s not too surprising. It may have lacked any big hits, but it’s hard to fault the gutsiness. Released on August 15, 1980, it reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and was eventually certified platinum.
5. Move Like This
After the commercial and critical failure of Door to Door, the band broke up. In 2011, they reunited for a seventh album – albeit without bassist Ben Orr, who’d sadly passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2000. Orr’s absence is palpable at times, but Ric Ocasek had clearly lost none of his gift for cracking out a classic pop tune, with highlights like Blue Tip, Hit Me, and Sad Song standing up well against the band’s earlier efforts. Released in May 2011, the album charted in the top ten of the Billboard 200 and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Rock Albums Chart.
4. Heartbeat City
In 1984, the Cars replaced long-term collaborator Roy Thomas Baker with producer Robert “Mutt” Lange. The result, Heartbeat City, is a superbly polished effort replete with the kind of studio sonics that may sound dated to modern ears, but which oozed commercial appeal back in the mid-80s. The glossy approach clearly worked; critics hailed it as a return to form and one of the best pure pop albums in years; its tracklist became a permanent fixture on modern rock and AOR stations; its singles charted in the top ten; and enough people bought the album to send it to number three on the Billboard 200. It was undoubtedly one of the best mainstream rock albums of the 80s – the only problem, as Ultimate Classic Rock notes, is that the Cars were never the same again.
3. Shake It Up
The last album the Cars made with producer Roy Thomas Baker is Shake It Up. After their attempt to get artsy on Panorama met with a lukewarm reception, the band decided to stop experimenting and have some fun instead. It was a wise move. Shake It Up might not be as bold as Panorama, but it’s hugely enjoyable, with a radio-friendly new wave style that proved utterly irresistible to an early ’80’s audience. Its title track became the band’s first top ten hit, the album reached No. 9 on the Billboard 200, Spin Magazine named it one of the “50 Best Albums of 1981” and the tracklist played out every party and club night for the next few years – in other words, it was a very big, and very well deserved, hit.
After the major success of their self-titled debut, expectations were riding high for the Cars’ sophomore outing. Candy-O could have been a major letdown, but the ‘difficult second album’ proved no more challenging for the Cars than their debut. Commercially, it was a mixed bag, peaking fifteen spots higher than their debut at No.3 on the US Billboard 200 but shifting 2 million fewer copies. In terms of the content, however, it’s an outright success. It kicks off with the joyous Let’s Go (the band’s first Top 20 single) and continues in much the same vein from there, with songs like the title cut, It’s All I Can Do, and Dangerous Type proving more than a match for anything on either their previous album or any subsequent one.
1. The Cars
As Louder Sound says, there are few albums in rock history on which every song is a winner, but the Cars’ self-titled debut is certainly one of them. Ric Ocasek always had a knack for crafting a pop tune, and here, he delivers his finest ever batch. Elliot Easton once said of the album, “We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars’ Greatest Hits.” They may have meant it in jest, but it wouldn’t have been wide off the mark. There isn’t a misstep across the entire album, with almost every one of its nine songs going on to become a rock radio staple. It wasn’t a huge success at first, charting at No. 18 on its release in June 1978. But it was a slow burner, and now ranks as their most successful album ever, having sold over 6 million copies and achieved 6x platinum status. It is, without question, the band’s finest album, and one of the best pop albums of all time.