Heartbeat City

Heartbeat City

The Cars were already part of the pop-cultural fabric when they released this album in 1984. But this one boosted their status from ratty new wave rockers to cosmopolitan rock stars; their songwriting, playing, and arranging had evolved to a place that was as near-perfect as you could get for pop music then. The record contained no less than five American Top 40 singles (two went Top 10), videos directed by Timothy Hutton (“Drive”) and Andy Warhol (“Hello Again,” a tune that made techno-pop radio-friendly), and production by innovative man of the hour Robert “Mutt” Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard, Shania Twain). The centerpiece here is “Drive,” a thing of absolute beauty featuring a lulling gentle drone, gorgeous melancholy chords, and a breathy vocal by bassist Benjamin Orr (who also sang the band’s early signature hit “Just What I Needed”). It’s an open-ended, non-gender-specific song of denial and regret. Both “Magic” and “You Might Think” make power chords dancefloor-ready, and the closing title song has a hypnotic, even danceable, sadness all its own. The whole album grooves effortlessly from bottom to top.

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