R.I.P. Ric Ocasek
It’s the end of an automotive era, not to mention a musical one: Ric Ocasek, singer, songwriter, and musically-multifaceted member of The Cars, has died.
Born Richard Theodore Otcasek in Baltimore, Maryland on March 23, 1944, Ocasek dropped the “T” from his name at some point along the way, but he more than made up for its absence with the amount of musical talent that he brought to the table, starting his career in the wake of his family’s move to Cleveland, Ohio when he was 16. He and future bandmate Benjamin Orr met for the first time in 1965, when Orr’s band, The Grasshoppers, performed on a local TV program, The Big 5 Show. Three years later, by which point both gentlemen had relocated to Columbus, they formed a band together, but before you ask, no, it wasn’t The Cars. They were called ID Nirvana, and they were a relatively short-lived entity. In fact, before the twosome got around to getting The Cars started, they bounced from Columbus to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then from Ann Arbor to Boston, and at that point...
No, they still didn’t start The Cars. But they did start a folk-rock band called Milkwood. And then after that Ocasek formed another band called Richard and The Rabbits, one which – in addition to Orr – also included keyboardist Greg Hawkes. And then after that Ocasek and Orr joined forces with guitarist Elliot Easton in a band called Cap’n Swing. In fact, it wasn’t until 1976 that finally – FINALLY! – Ocasek, Orr, Hawkes, Easton, and former Modern Lovers drummer David Robinson officially formed The Cars.
From there, of course, you know the story: The Cars’ self-titled debut is a smash hit and they’re off and running, scoring hit after hit after hit, including – but not limited to – “Just What I Needed,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Good Times Roll,” “Let’s Go, “ “Shake It Up,” “Since You’re Gone,” “You Might Think,” “Magic,” “Drive,” “Hello Again,” “Tonight She Comes,” and “You Are the Girl.”
Between The Cars’ fourth album (SHAKE IT UP) and their fifth album (HEARTBEAT CITY), Ocasek took the opportunity to release his first solo effort, 1982’s BEATITUDE, and in the wake of HEARTBEAT CITY’s phenomenal video-driven success, he released his second solo effort, THIS SIDE OF PARADISE, which provided him with his lone top-20 hit, “Emotion in Motion.” Ocasek continued to sporadically release solo LPs over the years, with 1997’s TROUBLIZING scoring the most media attention because of the participation of Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, a longtime Ocasek fan.
Beyond his career as a recording artist, however, Ocasek was also a prolific producer, one who had a gift for working with artists both within and outside the mainstream, resulting in a number of critically-acclaimed and/or commercially-successful albums and singles, among them:
Suicide (“Dream Baby Dream,” a song which scored new appreciation when Bruce Springsteen covered it live)
Bad Brains (ROCK FOR LIGHT)
Bad Religion (THE GRAY RACE, featuring “A Walk”)
Guided by Voices (DO THE COLLAPSE, featuring “Teenage FBI”)
Weezer (their self-titled, blue-colored debut album, among other efforts by the band)
Romeo Void (“Never Say Never”)
Nada Surf (“Popular”)
Hole (their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman”)
Black 47 (“Funky Ceili”)
And even though Ocasek ostensibly left The Cars behind after the band formally split in 1988, doing so to such a degree that he gave his bandmates his blessing to move forward with The New Cars, featuring Todd Rundgren on vocals, he soon thereafter had a change of heart, resulting in an actual new Cars album in 2011 entitled MOVE LIKE THIS.
Ric Ocasek was a new wave icon, make no mistake about that, but he was so much more than that. He was a singer, songwriter, musician, poet, occasional actor, and – at least in our experience here at Rhino – a truly nice guy.He took influences as diverse as Buddy Holly and the Crickets,
Roxy Music and Beat Poetry to craft some of the catchiest and most immortal pop songs in rock history. The appeal of those Cars hits we cited above is undeniable and rightly earned The Cars a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. When we partnered with Ric on our Cars reissue campaign, he was incredibly humble and gracious with his time and great talent. He felt honored that people still love his songs today as much as they did when they came out.
Yes, we’ve still got his music, but we’ve got to accept a sad fact: it’s all we’ve got tonight. Once we’ve dealt with our grief, however, the music will still be here, and it’ll be one of the greatest musical legacies that any musician could leave behind.
Thanks, Ric. Hope you enjoyed the ride as much as we did.