Ric Ocasek was a legend. As a songwriter, his pop melodies were among the best. The way he blended alternative ideas with timeless power pop sensibilities marked him out as not only a great songwriter, but a master arranger. The very fact that tunes like ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and ‘It’s Candy-O’ became fixtures on oldies radio stations despite carrying the kind of vocal that was…quirky, to say the least, speaks volumes about his talent.
A wiry figure often hidden behind black sunglasses, Ric was the very pinnacle of geek chic. He had a presence so distinctive that he stood out instantly. And considering he co-fronted a band that included a peroxide pin up in Benjamin Orr and a real character in Greg Hawkes – a man whom originally sported a bowl haircut and toothbrush moustache combo – that’s no mean feat.
Although creating fashion with an almost anti-fashion, it’s for the dozens of great songs we’ll remember him the best: ‘Let’s Go’, ‘It’s All I Can Do’, ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’, ‘Bye Bye Love’, ‘Heartbeat City’, ‘Drive’, ‘Since You’re Gone’ (now more poignant than ever). Classics all; sometimes vocalised by Ben Orr, but all written by Ric – and all songs we’ve enjoyed countless times.
Away from The Cars, Ric continued to shine into the 90s as both performer and producer. Albums like ‘This Side of Paradise’ and ‘Fireball Zone’ continued along more of the AOR path The Cars had trodden on ‘Heartbeat City’ but were no less enjoyable. Check out ‘Touchdown Easy’ from ‘Fireball Zone’ – it’s one of his greatest. It more than deserves a revisit. As an in demand producer, he worked with various alternative bands in the 90s, but most of all, it’s unmistakably his hand at work on Weezer’s ‘Blue Album’ debut. It’s still the best thing Weezer ever put their name to – and by a huge distance. It’s surely no coincidence that Weezer’s only good albums were the two Ocasek produced… This adoration from a new wave of artists actually coloured his own ‘Troublizing’ album in 1997. On this album, he delivered some of his most Cars-like sounds in over a decade, but collaborated with members of Hole, Nada Surf and Billy Corgan. Corgan, a huge fan, co-produced the record and can be heard all over it. In terms of the coming together of two generations of musicians, it’s perfect. An album due a reappraisal by so many and one that deserves more love.
Even the unexpected Cars reunion album – minus Ben Orr – was a classic. In 2011, Ric showed how he could return to the past without anything sounding forced or in any way a cash-in. ‘Move Like This’ could’ve gone horribly wrong, but Ric turned in a couple of his best ever songs.
Wherever you drop into Ric’s career, you’ll find some gold. He left us one of the best musical legacies.
So, goodbye Ric – Roy Orbison may have been “The Big O”, but you were our Big O. Your best songs have endured the decades and the passing fashions – good and bad. The Cars’ best work has been the soundtrack to moments that became memories and will become the soundtrack to more, even though you’re gone. The Cars first two albums and ‘Heartbeat City’ will continue to be spun on a regular basis and we’ll continue to champion your vastly undervalued ‘Troublizing’.
In the absence of any more platitudes – Ocasek’s best music often speaks for itself – here are two great live shows. Neither has been given a deserved DVD release. The Rock Goes To College set still sits in the BBC Archive, destined to never get a home media release of any kind. The best we can hope for is an occasional outing on BBC4 in a Friday night graveyard slot.
Ladies and Gentlemen… The Cars:
Ric Ocasek: 1944-2019