Ric Ocasek, frontman of The Cars, dies aged 75

(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

Lead singer of The Cars and pioneer of the new wave scene Ric Ocasek has died, aged 75. 

The cars were one of the first bands to pare guitar-driven rock back to its essentials and put its driving beat in partnership with synths and huge pop hooks. 

Ocasek co-founded the band in 1976, in Boston, with Benjamin Orr on bass and vocals, lead guitarist Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes on keyboards, and drummer David Robinson in 1976. They played their first show at a New Year’s Eve party at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. It would not take long for them to find a wider audience. 

The Cars signed with Elektra Records in 1978 and scored a top 40 hit with their first single, Just What I Needed. The following decade saw them rack up another dozen hits. Their propulsive sound was made for FM radio, with just enough punkish energy to keep the rock kids listening and a pop sensibility that made them impossible to resist.

Tracks such as Let’s Go and Shake It Up would be ubiquitous on the airwaves and The Cars were met with similar enthusiasm by MTV. 

At the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards, You Might Think edged out Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun to took home the inaugural Video Of The Year Award.

The Cars’ original lineup recorded six albums together selling 23 million records, before breaking up in 1988. 

Ocasek was The Cars’ lead songwriter and released his first solo album in 1982, with Beatitude. This Side Of Paradise followed in 1986, featuring the hit Emotion In Motion, and after The Cars split he concentrated on his solo work and career as a producer. 

He released seven solo albums and produced albums such as Bad Brains’ classic Rock For Light, Weezer’s Blue and Green albums, and Bad Religion’s The Gray Race. Ocasek also published a book of poetry, Negative Theatre (1993) and had a cameo in John Water’s Hairspray.

Despite always dispelling rumours of a Cars reunion, and the death of Orr in 2000 from pancreatic cancer, Ocasek got back into the studio with the surviving members of the band for 2011’s Move Like This, with Hawkes and Jacknife Lee handling bass. 

Ocasek was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018 as a member of The Cars. 

He was found dead at his New York apartment on Sunday 15 September.

Tributes were paid to Ocasek across social media.

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.

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