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A brief history of the Cars

The Cars, from left: Ben Orr, David Robinson, Ric Ocasek, Elliot Easton, and Greg Hawkes.E.J. Camp/file photo

It’s a long way from The Rat to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the Cars have made the trip.

The Boston band, early purveyors of what would become known as New Wave, are among a handful of acts that’ll be inducted into the hall of fame in April, joining singer Nina Simone, New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi, Dire Straits, the Moody Blues, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. This was the third time the Cars had been nominated. (Meanwhile, Boston’s J. Geils Band, who many observers believe deserved to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame long ago, was again denied.)


Reached Wednesday, Cars drummer David Robinson said he’s grateful for the recognition, but he won’t be spilling any champagne.

“I think I’ll get back to painting the ceilings at a condo I’m remodeling,” said Robinson, who lives on the North Shore.

Formed in 1976, the Cars, whose members include singer Ric Ocasek, the late Benjamin Orr, who played bass, guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboardist Greg Hawkes, and Robinson, released their self-titled debut album in 1978 and, thanks to tracks like “Good Times Roll” and “My Best Friend’s Girl,” it sold several million copies.

They followed that in quick succession with “Candy-O” and “Panorama,” albums that included “Let’s Go,” “It’s All I Can Do,” and “Touch and Go.” Like some other acts of the era — Tom Petty is one example — the Cars produced elaborate videos for their songs, which MTV then played day and night, expanding the band’s popularity exponentially.

“I wish that I’d had more time to invest in the videos,” said Robinson, who designed the band’s album covers. “The best two, I think, are ‘You Might Think,’ which was crazy because no one had seen anything like that before, and ‘Drive,’ where Ben is such a star. He’s incredible in that video.”


The Cars released their sixth LP, “Door to Door,” in 1987, and then took a break that looked like it might be forever. But the surviving members — Orr died of cancer in 2000 — ultimately reunited and released “Move Like This” in 2011, which is also the last time the band performed live together.

But the members have stayed busy over the years. Ocasek has released several solo records and enjoyed a successful career as a producer, twiddling the knobs on Weezer’s “Blue Album” and “Green Album,” and on LPs by No Doubt and Hole. Easton’s latest endeavour is the Empty Hearts, a supergroup that includes Chesterfield Kings bassist Andy Babiuk, Blondie’s ace drummer Clem Burke, and Romantics guitarist Wally Palmar. Hawkes regularly plays with Todd Rundgren — they performed at the Cabot in Beverly just last week — and he occasionally lends a hand — or a ukulele — to local bands such as Eddie Japan.

Robinson, who owns a gallery on the North Shore, has been overseeing Rhino’s re-release of the Cars’s discography, with new gatefold sleeves, unreleased recordings, and photos, among other doodads. The new and improved versions of “Shake It Up” and “Heartbeat City” are due out in February, just ahead of the band’s Hall of Fame induction.

Robinson said there’s a satisfying symmetry to the band being inducted on the 40th anniversary of their first record. And, yes, he expects the Cars will perform a few tunes at the ceremony in April, which is customary for the new inductees.


“I never imagined this would happen, but it’s great,” said Robinson, who started his rock ’n’ roll career as a member of the Modern Lovers. “Really, everything that’s happened with the Cars is great, and this just tops it off.”

Typically, between five and seven acts get into the Hall each year, voted by 1,000 people, including performers, music historians, and industry insiders. Fans also can vote on the Hall’s website. Acts become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first recording.

The 33rd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be held at Public Auditorium in Cleveland. Tickets will go on sale in January and the event will later air on HBO and be heard on SiriusXM Radio.