Chart Week: April 26, 1980
Song: “Cars” – Gary Numan
Chart Position: #22, 11th week on the chart. Peaked at #9 for three weeks in June.
It has always bothered me that Gary Numan never seemed impressed with the biggest song of his career, 1980’s “Cars.” I’ve read several stories in which he speaks of it dismissively. On the song’s Wikipedia page, he is quoted as calling it “a pretty average song.”
Pretty average song?!?!
Numan is one of the giants of electronic music, an artist who helped to create and popularize a sound that, when applied to pop music, dominated the early MTV era. He is still active and has always been focused on pushing the art form forward.
So, I guess based on that, maybe it makes sense that his only song that was ever a true pop hit might grate on him.
Although that is odd, because his stated goal when he began writing “Cars” was to craft a song that had could be a hit.
He set out to write a hit and did exactly that. Yet he gives it no love.
Artists are strange.
The song has its roots in a road rage incident. Numan once had an altercation with motorists in another car. When they jumped out and attempted to attack him, he locked his doors, pulled onto the sidewalk, and fled the scene. Afterward he realized that our mentalities shift when we get inside a car. The protection of the enclosed space and the power of the vehicle emboldens us to do things we would not otherwise attempt.
I could have, and maybe should have, written more about that, and how Numan’s music – which was often cold, brittle, and impersonal – was a metaphor for the adverse effects of technology on our lives. Spiritually, his music was a blueprint for Radiohead’s OK Computer, among other music that would drop decades later.
But I can’t get past the fact that he doesn’t think the track is any big deal. It was mind-blowing to eight-year-old me, sounding like it was from distant planet that was far more advanced than ours. While I think he meant the song’s layers of synthesizers and staccato drums to sound bleak and industrial, they combine to fill the room in a way that gives the song a sense of warmth. Even after listening to it for about 42 years now, it still sounds groundbreaking and unique.
A much younger me wasn’t the only person who loved it. “Cars” is a Mt. Rushmore song of electronic music, a foundational track of New Wave, and a cross-genre classic that remains vital today. 10/10