Can We Still Be Friends? Revisiting the Most Acclaimed Pop Albums of the 1970s

[Blogger’s note: In this series, I’m taking the Wayback Machine to a bygone musical era that began with the public break-up of the Beatles and ended with the first Top 40 singles by Prince. My source is Rolling Stone’s best 100 albums of the 1970s, culled from the magazine’s 500 all-time greats by an obliging Reddit user. I’ll focus on selected albums from the list and, if I may be so bold, award Test of Time Points based on how well they’ve held up over the decades, from 1 (stale as old toast) to 10 (still poppin’ fresh) in each case. Enjoy, and rock on!]

#96: The Cars – The Cars (1978)

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Can I get through this review without resorting to automobile-related adjectives, metaphors, and/or puns? For you, dear reader, I shall attempt to steer clear abstain.

Unlike the band at #100 on the RS list, which launched its career full of quirky promise then grew artistically over several successive albums, the Cars peaked with this high octane dynamic and catchy first outing. At a time when rock was going through a bumpy transition from the bombast of superstar acts like Queen and the Who to the terse, punk-tinged sounds of the new wave era, one dweeby-looking Boston quintet managed to cruise in both lanes appeal to fans across the board. Classic rock aficionados heard echoes of Queen in the layered backing vocals on the hits “Good Times Roll” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” – no surprise, since producer Roy Thomas Baker worked wonders with both bands. And the robotic singing, succinct synthesizer melodies, and coolly detached personas of the group members, particularly gangly bandleader Ric Ocasek, appealed to new wavers, suggesting Gary Numan with meatier guitar hooks. (The punchy intro to “Just What I Needed” remains one of the great attention-grabbing riffs of all time.) The strong follow-up album, 1979’s Candy-O, nearly equalled its predecessor, lacking only the original’s showroom floor shine element of surprise. But then the lustre began to fade. (I’ll give that one a pass.) Ocasek and company would continue to have Top 40 hits throughout the 1980s, including “Shake It Up” and “Magic,” but the albums themselves never again matched the consistency and – I give up – drive of this still spry debut.

Test of Time Points (out of 10): 8
Blogger’s Success in Avoiding Car-Centric Clichés: Licence Revoked

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