In marking The Cars Heartbeat City anniversary, I’m digging through the crate of old cassette tapes I keep in my cellar.

 

Christmas, 1984. I was seven-going-on-eight: just old enough to start forming my own halfway-decent opinions on popular music. These opinions usually involved asking my parents to put a certain record on or to change the station on the car radio. My mom and dad were the gatekeepers of all things musical and they played that role well. Then Christmas came around and the gates were thrown open.

 

My Uncle Michael, ever the tech-and-gadget-guy, gave me a Sony Walkman that Christmas. And it was the model that had a radio tuner AND a cassette player. Freedom! I could listen to what I wanted to, when I wanted to. It would be bad form, of course, to give a child such a gift and not give them a cassette to play. Uncle Michael chose Heartbeat City by the Cars.

 

Heartbeat City Anniversary: Saluting The Cars at Their Boston Best

I can remember sliding the cassette into the deck, snapping the cover closed, and pressing play. I knew these songs! They’d been on the radio all year (the album was released on March 13, 1984). And there was the song with the video on MTV where the singer turned into a fly and buzzed around. Sure, there was a supermodel in the video, too. But I didn’t know about all that yet. I was in audio heaven, flipping from one side of the tape to the other and back again.

 

And that, I think, is a prime example of the brilliance of this album and The Cars in general. If you’re writing songs that are catchy enough for a seven-year-old to put your tape on a loop and keep coming back as a teen and a young adult and a middle-aged man, then you’re writing damn good songs. There are ten of ’em on Heartbeat City, and SIX were released as singles. So let’s give those another spin.

  • "You Might Think"

    Talk about setting up an album. This single hit radio and MTV about a month before Heartbeat City dropped and it was an instant it. The model is Susan Gallagher. And the video was one of the first to use computer graphics.

  • "Magic"

    So how do you top a music video with cool (at the time) computer graphics and a top model? You have Cars singer Ric Ocasek literally walking on water. The single released in May of ’84 and became an early summer staple.

  • "Drive"

    Heartbeat City is a Ric Ocasek-heavy album, vocally. Benjamin Orr sings with Ric on “It’s Not The Night.” And he sings lead on this one. Good on you, Ben, for picking your spots and ending up with maybe the best song on the album.

  • "Hello Again"

    “Hello Again” is Heartbeat City‘s opening track. Title-wise, it’s a fun and cheeky way to open an album. But musically it is, too. The vocal effects, the synth and guitar riffs…peak Cars.

  • "Why Can't I Have You"

    Ben got his ballad with “Drive.” Ric gets his with “Why Can’t I Have You.” It’s moody, brooding synth-pop. And Ric absolutely nails it.

  • "Heartbeat City"

    Yet another example of the strength of this album. A full year-and-a-half after it released, it was still yielding radio singles. The title track was the final one. It dropped in September of ’85.

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