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The Cars are an American rock band that emerged from the New Wave music scene in the late 1970s. The band originated in Boston, Massachusetts, with lead singer and rhythm guitarist Ric Ocasek, lead singer and bassist Benjamin Orr, guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson. They were signed to Elektra Records by George Daly, then A&R head, in 1977.
The Cars were at the forefront in merging 1970s guitar-oriented rock with the new synth-oriented pop that was then becoming popular and which would flower in the early 1980s. The Cars started fresh with their debut album The Cars which went on to go platinum in late 1978. The Cars' debut album was called a "genuine rock masterpiece" by Allmusic. The most successful and well known song from the album, "Just What I Needed", started as a demo in 1977. The song was sent as a mix tape to a local DJ in the Boston area, who played the song in heavy rotation. This soon caught the attention of other DJs, which led to the signing of the band by Elektra Records in 1977.
The band broke up in 1988, and Ocasek had always discouraged talk of a reunion since then, telling one interviewer in 1997 "I'm saying never and you can count on that." Bassist Benjamin Orr died in 2000 from pancreatic cancer. In 2005, Easton and Hawkes joined with Todd Rundgren to form a spin-off band, The New Cars, which performed classic Cars and Rundgren songs alongside new material. The surviving original members reunited in 2010 to record a new album, titled Move Like This, which was released May 10, 2011, and a tour to start on the same day.
Before The Cars, the members of the band began coming together in several early forms. Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr met in Columbus, Ohio, where they began performing as a duo, covering rock and roll classics as well as performing their own material. After deciding that Boston would be a better place to break into the music business, Ocasek and Orr relocated there. It was there that they met Greg Hawkes, who had studied at the Berklee School of Music, and the three, along with lead guitarist Jas Goodkind, formed a folk band called Milkwood. They released an album titled How's the Weather on the Paramount label in 1973 that failed to chart. After Milkwood, Ocasek and Orr formed the group Richard and the Rabbits, whose name was suggested by Jonathan Richman. They were a local club band for a while. Soon after, Hawkes temporarily left Ocasek and Orr and joined up with groups including Orphan, a soft-rock band, and Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture, a musical comedy act in which Mull played a variety of instruments. Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr then performed as an acoustic duo called simply Ocasek and Orr at the Idler coffeehouse in Cambridge. Some of the songs they played became the underlying music in early Cars songs.
Later, Ocasek and Orr teamed up with future Cars guitarist Elliot Easton (who had also studied at Berklee) in the band Cap'n Swing. Cap'n Swing also featured drummer Kevin Robichaud and a jazzy bass player, which clashed with Ocasek's more rock and roll leanings. Benjamin Orr acted as frontman, did not play an instrument, and sang the bulk of Cap'n Swing's demos. Ocasek soon got rid of the bass player, the keyboardist, and the drummer and decided to form a band that better fit his style of writing. Kevin Robichaud was replaced by David Robinson. Robinson said that he should really have a regular job instead, and that the Cars would be his last band. Best known for his career with the Modern Lovers, Robinson had also played in DMZ and the Pop! It was Robinson who came up with the name "The Cars," which led to automobile-related puns. Ocasek said of the name, "It's so easy to spell; it doesn't have a 'z' on the end; it's real authentic. It's pop art, in a sense." Hawkes returned to fill the keyboard slot, and the band was on its way.The band spent the winter of 1976–77 playing throughout New England, developing the songs that would become their debut album. They shortly thereafter caught the attention of Maxanne Sartori, a local DJ on the Boston radio station WBCN, who began playing their demo of "Just What I Needed". By virtue of that airplay, the band was signed to Elektra Records. "Just What I Needed" would turn out to be the first single from the band’s debut album, The Cars, released in 1978 and reaching No. 18 on the Billboard 200. "My Best Friend's Girl" and "Good Times Roll" soon followed, charting on the Billboard Hot 100. The band commissioned famed Playboy artist Alberto Vargas to design the sexy illustration for the cover of their second album, Candy-O, released in 1979. Hits from that album included "Let's Go", "It's All I Can Do" and "Dangerous Type."