How The Cars soundtracked the fantasies of an entire generation

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The Cars had an unmatched kinetic energy. Their multitude of hits from the late 1970s and 1980s were like finely tuned engines — smooth, polished, and radiating with modern brilliance. During an era where pop and punk were leading the way, The Cars spearheaded new wave before anybody else.

The roots of The Cars trace back to various musical connections within the New England scene. Drummer David Robinson brought his expertise from The Modern Lovers, while Benjamin Orr and Rick Ocasek, inspired by Jonathan Richman, found early inspiration for their band’s name. This amalgamation of talent laid the groundwork for what would become a revolutionary musical force.

Initially exploring traditional rock and folk, Ocasek and Orr soon discovered a unique sonic identity that became their trademark. They crafted a refined brand of pop rock, characterised by angular guitar riffs interwoven with futuristic synth sounds. This hybridisation of instruments and styles defined their sound, offering a fresh and captivating blend that resonated with audiences craving something novel.

The Cars’ eponymous debut album, released in 1978, was a revelation. Songs like ‘Just What I Needed’ and ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ showcased their knack for crafting infectious melodies, anchored by Ocasek’s distinctive vocals and the band’s seamless instrumentation. Their music was marked by undeniable energy and precision, earning them widespread acclaim and setting the stage for a meteoric rise.

What perhaps nobody at the time would have anticipated, however, was The Cars’ ability to be sexy. Within the debut album, the song ‘Moving in Stereo’ would define an entire generation after featuring in the 1982 comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It is played during a memorable erotic sequence where actress Phoebe Cates emerges from a swimming pool while actor Judge Reinhold lives out his fantasy. Interestingly, this particular song is absent from the film’s official music soundtrack.

This synergy has resulted in many subsequent pop culture references that mention the song only in relation to the film, with some even recreating the exact scene or a variation of it. For instance, it features in one particular Family Guy sequence when Meg fantasises about newscaster Tom Tucker. It’s also played in Stranger Things when a group of women ogle at Billy Hargrove by the pool.

From that one scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, ‘Moving in Stereo’ became a conduit for generations of fantasies. On its own, however, the song reflects the band’s personal evolution, a trajectory that continued to shape their subsequent albums.

Departing from a guitar-centric approach, the band increasingly embraced technological advancements, particularly synthesisers, as a central element of their musical landscape. To this day, the mesmerising allure of ‘Moving in Stereo’ maintains its power to captivate audiences, immersing them in a trance-like state, even without accompanying visual stimuli.

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