Tributes have been paid from across the industry to Ric Ocasek, frontman of new wave pioneers The Cars and renowned producer, who has died, aged 75.
The Cars were late ‘70s and early ‘80s chart sensations in their native America and, while they never enjoyed quite the same chart impact on this side of the Atlantic, their influence extends to this day.
With hits such as My Best Friend’s Girl (their biggest UK smash, reaching No.3 in 1978) and Just What I Needed (No.17, 1979), The Cars brought a punk energy to classic rock/pop songwriting and formed a blueprint for the New Wave of acts that gatecrashed the charts in the late ‘70s. The band's shades and skinny ties also helped crystalise the genre’s distinctive look in the eyes of many fans, as they opened with two classic albums The Cars (1978) and Candy-O (1979). Their 1984 Heartbeat City album remains their biggest UK success, peaking at No.25 and going Gold.
While their trademark sound was energetic power pop, the band are also always associated with the Live Aid concert, when their ballad Drive, sung by bassist Benjamin Orr, was used to soundtrack images of the Ethiopian famine that inspired the concert. While Ocasek’s lyrics had nothing to do with that awful situation, the line “You can’t go on/Thinking nothing’s wrong” resonated and the song, which had hit No.5 in the UK on initial release in 1984, climbed back up the charts, hitting a new peak of No.4, and being certified silver. Unlike some of the acts to increase sales post-Live Aid, The Cars donated proceeds to the cause, Ocasek presenting Midge Ure with a cheque for £160,000.
The Cars broke up in 1988, by which time Ocasek had already launched a solo career. He was to have more impact as a producer, however, helming classic albums from the likes of Bad Brains (Rock For Light), Guided By Voices (Do The Collapse), The Cribs (For All My Sisters) and parts of No Doubt’s Rock Steady and Motion City Soundtrack’s Even If It Kills Me.
He found a kindred spirit in Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, who took The Cars as a major influence. Ocasek produced three of the band’s greatest records; the self-titled ‘Blue’ and ‘Green’ albums, and 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End.
Weezer paid tribute to Ocasek on Facebook, saying: “The whole Weezer family is devastated by the loss of our friend and mentor Ric Ocasek, who passed away Sunday. Ric meant so much to us. He produced three key Weezer albums, and taught all of us so much about music, recording and songcraft. But more importantly he taught us that one can be in a respected position of great power and yet be absolutely humble and have the biggest sweetest heart in the industry.
“He is the only producer to have worked with all seven current and past Weezer members, and all seven love and loved working with him and hanging out with him. There is a massive hole in Weezer's heart now. We will miss him forever, and will forever cherish the precious times we got to work and hang out with him. Rest in peace and rock on Ric, we love you.”
The Cars would reunite for one final Top 10 US album, Move Like This in 2010, although by then Orr had sadly passed away. The band was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018, with Weezer’s Scott Shriner deputising on bass. It was to be Ocasek’s final show with the band.
According to US reports, Ocasek was found dead in his New York home on Sunday. Others paying tribute include Courtney Love, The Cribs, Billy Idol, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Killers.
Feeling grateful for Ric. Had the opportunity to send him this email a couple years back. My first king. Thank you, thank you, thank you. pic.twitter.com/h4u8CXDhRg— The Killers (@thekillers) September 16, 2019
Ahh man, say it ain’t so. I loved Ric Ocasek. What an interesting, smart, kind, funny man who made incredible records. I loved those Cars albums when I was a teenager. Perfect pop songs with those wicked elliot… https://t.co/SjtRU8OaJO— Flea (@flea333) September 16, 2019
We will remember #RicOcasek for many reasons-his friendship, his artistry, but most of all for his generosity. Here was a bona fide legend, who seemed to care as much about our record as we did. Which was a huge thrill, of course. A star through and through. RIP Ric, love you x pic.twitter.com/EvNjqzHotw— The Cribs (@thecribs) September 16, 2019