Ric Ocasek, Frontman For New Wave Pioneers The Cars, Dead At 75
The singer of hits like Just What I Needed and My Best Friend's Girl died in New York on Sunday.
The tragic passing of Ric Ocasek – the singer, songwriter and producer of U.S. new wave outfit The Cars – has been widely mourned by the rock world.
As well as his work with his own band, Ric's influence as a producer was also widely acknowledged by those whose careers he helped steer.
Weezer, whose 1994 self-titled, multi-platinum debut album (aka The Blue Album) he helmed, were one of the first acts to pay tribute to Ocasek following the news of his death on September 15 at his home in New York.
In a collective statement issued on Twitter, the four-piece described Ocasek as their “friend and mentor” – acknowledging the band’s longstanding relationship which also included Ocasek’s work on their third LP, Green Album, in 2001.
Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea – posting on his Instagram account - paid tribute to Ric by referencing Weezer’s Top 10 1994 hit Say It Ain’t So, and describing The Cars leader as “an interesting, smart, kind, funny man who made incredible records.”
Bad Religion guitarist (and Epitaph Records founder) Brett Gurewitz also paid his respects to Ocasek, describing him as “a giant of rock’n’roll” before deferring to The Killers’ Brandon Flowers’ comments on social media to underline the man’s very personal impact on his fans’ lives.
Guitarist Tom Morello also returned to his childhood to reminisce about the first time he heard The Cars, concluding: “DAMN that band is special.”
Canadian rocker Danko Jones echoed those personal sentiments, recalling the first time he heard hardcore outfit Bad Brains’ second album, 1983’s Rock For Light, which was also produced by Ocasek.
Bad Brains’ bassist Darryl Jenifer acknowledged Ocasek’s guiding presence on his band by posting a shot of Ric in the studio on his personal Instagram page, alongside a simple heartfelt message.
Ocasek formed The Cars in Boston in 1976 with bass player and fellow vocalist Benjamin Orr, the pair having played in countless bands from the mid-‘60s onwards.
With guitarist Elliott Easton, drummer David Robinson and Greg Hawkes on keys, the five-piece helped define the sound of the US new wave with their 1978 debut – overseen by Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker – which matched irresistible melodies with heavy pop guitar playing and synthesisers. Their trademarked image – the beyond-punk chic of suits, skinny ties, and, at times, leather – also served to influence a generation of musicians who would liberally borrow their style.
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Spearheaded by the singles Just What I Needed, My Best Friend’s Girl and Good Times Roll, the band’s debut sold a million copies in the US alone within the space of six months.
The original band’s career would span another five studio albums as they rose to become an arena rock act in the States, rarely touring outside of the country despite their worldwide popularity.
The release of their most successful album – ‘84’s Heartbeat City (co-produced by the band and Mutt Lange of Def Leppard and AC/DC fame) preceded the staging of Live Aid – the star-studded Ethiopian famine telethon which took place on July 13, 1985. Key to the event’s fund-raising success was the use of the track Drive – written by Ocasek and sung by Orr - which soundtracked a poignant film highlighting the plight of those affected by the humanitarian disaster, and was introduced on the day by David Bowie.
The Cars split in 1988 with Orr passing away from pancreatic cancer two years later. Ocasek would enjoy a solo career releasing a string of albums, including 1997’s Troublizing (co-produced by Billy Corgan) and producing artists including No Doubt, Le Tigre and Hole.
Billy has posted on Instagram about some of his favourite memories of hanging out with Ric, including a heartwarming story about nerding out over the guitar used to record The Cars' Best Friend's Girlfriend.
In 2011, Ocasek reformed The Cars and recorded a new album, Move Like This, before conducting a brief 12-date US tour.
Seven years later, the band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame by Brandon Flowers, and - augmented by Weezer bassist Scott Shriner who stepped in for Orr – played a crowd-pleasing four-song set for what would be their final performance.
Ocasek – a flamboyant, yet shy individual who was not prone to verbose pronouncements – reflected that the band’s induction was “king of a big thing for me and the band.”
The outpouring that met Ocasek’s sudden passing has served to confirm his considerable influence, talent and legacy. Kerrang! would like to send our condolences to his family, friends and fellow Cars band mates.