Gary Numan – Cars (1979)

Gary Numan – Cars (1979)

“Cars” is the debut solo single by English musician Gary Numan. It was released on August 21, 1979 and is from his debut studio album, The Pleasure Principle. The song reached the top of the charts in several countries, and today is considered a new wave staple.

The song was the first release credited solely to Gary Numan after he dropped the band name Tubeway Army, under which he had released four singles and two LPs, including the number one UK hit “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”, and its parent album, Replicas. Musically, the new song was somewhat lighter and more pop-oriented than its predecessors, Numan later conceding that he had chart success in mind: “This was the first time I had written a song with the intention of ‘maybe it could be a hit single’; I was writing this before ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ happened.” He has since described “Cars” as “a pretty average song”.

In the UK charts, it reached number 1 in 1979, and in 1980 hit number 1 in Canada two weeks running on the RPM national singles chart (29 weeks in the top 100). It was his only single to chart there. It rose to #4 on the US Cash Box Top 100 and #9 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Though Numan had a string of hits in the UK, “Cars” was his only song in the American Pop charts.

“Cars” is based on two musical sections: a verse/instrumental break and a bridge. The recording features a conventional rock rhythm section of bass guitar and drums, although the rest of the instruments used are analogue synthesisers, principally the Minimoog (augmenting the song’s recognizable bass riff) and the Polymoog keyboard, providing austere synthetic string lines over the bass riff. The bridge section also includes a tambourine part. Numan’s vocal part is sung in an almost expressionless, synthesized style. There is no “chorus” as such. The song becomes instrumental from the 1:30-point until its conclusion.

According to Numan, the song’s lyrics were inspired by an incident of road rage. Numan said, “I was in traffic in London once and had a problem with some people in front. They tried to beat me up and get me out of the car. I locked the doors and eventually drove up on the pavement and got away from them. It’s kind of to do with that. It explains how you can feel safe inside a car in the modern world… When you’re in it, your whole mentality is different… It’s like your own little personal empire with four wheels on it.”

The music video featured Numan’s then-current backing band, including Billy Currie from the band Ultravox, though he had not actually played on the recording of “Cars”.

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