It’s been forty-ish years since their first record but it’s not difficult to remember how important the Cars were to American music. Punk really broke with the Cars and maybe also with Devo, because until these bands hit the radio, and they did so in a big way in 1978-79, punk music and its influence was just a news story for those of us not living on America’s coasts. The Cars weren’t a punk band really at all but they brought a toughness to their pop music that defined American new wave, even as they were being played, say, between the Doobies and AC/DC on the radio (as they still are today). They represented a slew of less commercially fortunate American underground bands: Big Star, NRBQ, Flamin’ Groovies, the kind of groups who extended 60s garage rock post Beatles. That is, they saw the art in what they did. They opened ears. Ric Ocasek’s and Benjamin Orr’s lyrics were smart, un-fussy, their singing had the odd effect of creating emotional distance even while containing heartbreak, and Elliott Easton’s guitar kept the band on course — they were never not a rock band. Here on “Candy-O,” the title track of their second album, the Cars throw down a power pop gauntlet elevated by this raw live peformance. Bookended by a monster debut album and outsized 1980s success, “Candy-O” is nonetheless the band’s peak as new wave game changer.
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