The Everlasting Echo On Pop: Ric Ocasek
by Whitney Monize
You might think he’s simply another face in the zany 1980s repertoire of MTV, but The Cars’ Ric Ocasek made his mark in the music industry from the decade of disco, all the way into the 2010s with pop hits specifically curated to catch the ear of the listener. With hits from the Boston-based band, like Just What I Needed and Shake It Up, Ocasek became a powerhouse name in the world of pop music, as well as a household icon in the era of the music video. Weezer bassist Matt Sharp spoke of Ric: “He was one of the most significant icons of our childhood- I can’t think of videos without thinking of him.” The Cars even won the very first MTV Video of the Year award in 1984- coming out on top and leaving Michael Jackson’s legendary masterpiece “Thriller” in it’s dust. As the focal songwriter of the soon to be coined New Wave group, Ric took the turn of the decade by the hand and soared, delivering songs with alluring, ironic lyrics and captivating melodies with the help of the incredibly talented friends and fellow musicians by his side.
The Cars were notable in the late ‘70s and into the late ‘80s for their distinct, original sound- complete with tactfully curated guitar solos, catchy synthesizer hooks, and of course the vocals of both bassist Benjamin Orr and Ocasek. Ric’s voice put a stamp on the face of New Wave, while also creating a style that was entirely unique to the band, who would later become an influence on some of the bigger names modern pop music- it was surprising to find out that some of the artists who I listened to on my iPod Nano in my junior high adolescence were admirers of the group, and even had the chance to work with the front man himself.
Brandon Flowers of The Killers has made his admiration for Ocasek and The Cars known through the years, even having the opportunity to contribute to the group’s induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. During his speech, Flowers spoke of the band’s legacy: “Over the years, the Cars have achieved what every kid who ever sweat it out in a garage dreamed of—including a young Kurt Cobain who chose ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ as one of his first tunes to learn,”
Even Kesha, now famous for her 2010 pop hit “TiK ToK”, was sixteen years old when she had the opportunity to work with Ocasek and had a positive, encouraging experience. As a teenager, she had an increasing “affinity for pop music” and spoke about the influence he had on her appreciation for the genre:
> “Ric Ocasek, along with the Beach Boys, had a huge influence on me accepting that pop music is fucking cool. I’m obsessed with The Cars, and the fact he worked with a band like Suicide, and had such amazing pop instincts, especially melodically- it’s like, see? Pop music is cool!”
Primarily in his post-Cars career, the songwriter also spent his time with bands who were up-and-coming in the industry and took on the role as producer alongside his solo work, the groups ranging from Bad Religion to No Doubt. Within the production of the repertoire of the more modern artists, like Motion City Soundtrack and The Pink Spiders, hints of his own musical identity leak into their material- primarily with the melodic hooks and signature synthesizer, the foot prints on the songs “This Is For Real” and “Little Razorblade” are unmistakably Ocasek.
With the first anniversary of his death coming up on the 15th of this month, fans of music around the world will remember the legacy of Ric Ocasek as one of the most clever gems in music history- from the quirky music videos of The Cars and his solo career alike, to the secondhand life that reverberates through his influence on the modern world of Pop, he’s got a hold on you, the viewer and listener.
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