It’s virtually not possible to do now, after a long time of steady radio play that’s rendered the Vehicles’ music as acquainted because the odor of your individual vehicle. However placed on “Just What I Needed” or “Let’s Go” or “Shake It Up” and attempt to think about that you just’re encountering the track for the primary time.
Take heed to the guitars, how they idle for a number of seconds earlier than immediately zooming off from the beginning line. Take heed to the beat, which suggests a machine till it doesn’t. And hearken to these crisp, compact melodies, none with a single be aware misplaced — even (or particularly) the bizarre ones, as when the dissonant “your” in “ribbons in your hair” provides “Just What I Needed” a vivid splash of sexual desperation.
Do all that, then ask your self if anyone from the late 1970s and early 1980s was making tunes extra exactly designed to seize than the Vehicles, whose mastermind, Ric Ocasek, died at his house in New York Metropolis on Sunday, of coronary heart illness. Relying on whom you belief, the eternally gangly Ocasek was both 70, which is stunning to study, or 75, which is completely insane.
The poppiest punk band — or had been they the punkiest pop band? — of their new-wave technology, the Vehicles grabbed lots with their string of instantly interesting hits, greater than a dozen of which made it inside the highest 40 of Billboard’s Sizzling 100. From the group’s flawless self-titled debut album in 1978 to “Heartbeat City” in 1984, they went platinum each trip; their clip for “You Might Think” was named video of the 12 months over “Thriller” on the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards. (Alas, the Vehicles misplaced finest new artist on the Grammys in 1979 to, uh, A Style of Honey.)
But Ocasek and his bandmates — guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes, drummer David Robinson and bassist Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000 — additionally knew preserve their grip. “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Good Times Roll,” “Magic,” “Drive” — every hooky little jam caught round to develop into a everlasting fixture of the period, not not like the much less trendy singles of that different inescapable AOR determine who simply preceded Ocasek in dying: Eddie Cash.
Look underneath the hood and you may perceive why. Beneath the shiny surfaces and the metronomic grooves, the Vehicles’ songs, which Ocasek wrote and which he and Orr alternately sang, sported all types of musical and emotional eccentricities that made them arduous to shake.
Consider that line in regards to the hair ribbons in “Just What I Needed,” which cuts towards the practiced indifference of the priceless opening lyric: “I don’t mind you coming here / And wasting all my time.” Or the surprising second Ocasek chooses to enter “Good Times Roll,” seemingly off beat till you lastly grasp the place he’s within the rhythmic sample.
Or think about how little the plush manufacturing of “Drive” units you up for the sheer hopelessness of the track, the second-most-haunting ballad ever sung by a rock group’s bassist after Timothy B. Schmit and the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why.”
“Who’s gonna pay attention to your dreams?” Orr sings, “And who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream?” It’s a chilling imaginative and prescient made solely extra so by the loveliness of Ocasek’s melody.
The frontman — memorably captured in a late-’70s Rolling Stone profile, bitching in regards to the awful songs on his automotive’s FM radio — labored arduous to create music that might inform each a brief story and an extended one. He and Orr shaped the Vehicles in Boston after attempting out a wide range of different modes, together with post-hippie folk-pop in a bunch known as Milkwood. And the band’s commencement 5 albums in from Queen’s producer (Roy Thomas Baker) to Def Leppard’s (Robert John “Mutt” Lange) demonstrated Ocasek’s willingness to do Huge ’80s bombast whilst his lyrics grew colder and extra suspicious.
The Vehicles’ heavy funding in music movies was one other play for ubiquity by a band whose stiff dwell present by no means impressed a lot in the way in which of hysteria. The place a few of his post-punk friends dismissed the medium, Ocasek went all in with high-concept movies for “Magic” and “Shake It Up” and “You Might Think,” which gained that VMA with computer-generated graphics as garish as they had been novel.
His understanding of the significance of visuals — right here was a man with a sturdy look — prolonged to his licensing the group’s music to motion pictures, as when “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” used “Moving in Stereo” to soundtrack an iconic scene that includes Phoebe Cates.
But Ocasek’s business intuition was all the time accompanied by the dedication of a real artiste. Through the Vehicles’ chart-topping heyday he produced uncompromising albums by acts like Unhealthy Brains and Suicide; later, after the band broke up (however earlier than it reunited briefly in 2011), he labored within the studio with a few of its inheritors, together with Weezer and Guided by Voices.
In 1997, one other admirer, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, convened a portion of Ocasek’s celeb fan membership to again the singer on a solo album clearly meant to draw a younger new viewers. The so-so “Troublizing” didn’t fairly work out that method. However then it didn’t actually must: Final 12 months, when the Killers’ Brandon Flowers inducted the Vehicles into the Rock & Roll Corridor of Fame, he recalled being knocked out by the band’s basic information as a 13-year-old in 1994, effectively into its afterlife.
Ocasek’s prompt hits had held on. They’re nonetheless hanging on.