The Killers' frontman, Brandon Flowers, has never hidden his enthusiasm for the Cars, and he was able to put it on full display Saturday night when he inducted the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Cleveland.
It was a heartfelt speech that reflected on his fandom, something he showed off previously in a 2005 interview with Rolling Stone. Asked at the time which Cars song he most wishes he'd written, he went on at length. "'Since You're Gone' is a pretty good one, but I'll go with 'Heartbeat City,'" he said, in part. Then he sang lyrics from the song, "Oh, I'm glad you made it, I can't complain/Oh, Jackie, what took you so long?" and proclaimed, "I love the Cars! There's a kid who lives down the street from me; he's about 14. That's the age when I started getting into the good stuff, so I bought him ... the Cars' Greatest Hits."
Here's what the lead Killer, who once identified "Just What I Needed" as the song that changed his life, had to say about the Boston hitmakers.
Good evening! How the hell are you? I'm Brandon Flowers and I'm honored to be here with you
New Wave, Post Punk, Power Pop. Tonight, they're all riding together into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On the back of what is now established as one of the greatest debut albums ever made, the Cars were named "Best New Artist" in the 1978 Rolling Stone Readers Poll. Forty years later they still sound like a new band to me.
A lot gets written about rock & roll. People try to describe it. But it was once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. You've just go to hear it to know. And, when I first heard the Cars, like so many others, I knew. It was 1994 and I was a 13-year-old misfit kid living in a small town smack dab in the middle of Utah. We're talkin' no-stop-light small. We’re talkin' "settle our differences at the water tower after school" small. Sometimes it even felt untouched by the previous four or five decades.
Like, everything was still in black and white. Well, my big brother Shane had 12 years on me and the intuition to come and swoop me up on the weekends. I'd stay over at his place in Spanish Fork, another thriving Utah metropolis) about an hour’s drive up the I-15. And on those critical and impressionable rescue missions he’d play me his music. There were a lot of great bands passed on to me by my brother – and there have been many others since – but the Cars were the first band I fell in love with. And you never forget your first.
Ric Ocasek found bassist Benjamin Orr, his "silver and gold," right here in Ohio back in 1968. Fast friends, they stuck together through various incarnations, always confident that they were on the right track. Whether it was Milkwood or Richard and the Rabbits, they had a powerful belief in one another’s talent. Ocasek and Orr’s road eventually led them to Boston where they found drummer David Robinson, guitarist Elliot Easton and, in January 1977, added keyboard player Greg Hawkes. Now they were complete. A slick machine with a 340 V8 that ran on synergy, experimentation and a redefined cool.
"The Cars had it all: the looks, the hooks, Beat-romance lyrics, killer choruses, guitar solos that pissed off your parents, dazzling music videos."
The Cars had it all: the looks, the hooks, Beat-romance lyrics, killer choruses, guitar solos that
pissed off your parents, dazzling music videos. Not to mention the best song in any movie
scene that featured a girl slowly getting out of a pool and taking her top off. That’s right. I’ll
take "Moving In Stereo" over the Star Wars theme any day. In the Seventies and Eighties they were able
to exist in that highly coveted sweet spot where credibility and acclaim meets huge commercial
Now, I was born in '81 but I've seen Boogie Nights. And, as I understand it, while everybody
else was sweating it up on the dance floor in their polyester suits or fighting it out in the punk
clubs, these guys cruised in and made you look like you were working too hard.
First you had Ric, one of the world's most enigmatic frontmen, with his cool, detached vocals – an inscrutable Dylan and Velvets fan with a very stylish jacket pocket full of power choruses. Benjamin, a gifted multi-instrumentalist also packed some serious heat. Armed with a haunting baritone and classic rock chops, his contributions were a crucial part of what made the Cars unique.
Then we have Berklee-trained guitarist Elliot. As understated as he was, Easton was the band's secret weapon with his distinctive and tasteful playing. He played what was right for the song and still managed to have his personality explode without stepping on anybody else's toes. Next is Greg – a multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for synthesizers and sequencing. It was his inventive spirit that felt so refreshing and made the Cars sound so right.
Bands today still try
to emulate the balance he found in marrying keyboards to guitars.
And last, but certainly not least, David Robinson – besides his genius minimal drumming, David
had other talents. It was David who named the band, finding a spark of magic in the mundane.
The former Modern Lover also created the license-plate logo and the iconic album art that
spawned a genre of album art direction all of its own. For decades, bands have been
referencing them in their cover art in the hopes that it would scream from the record bins: "Try
us! You'll love us! Just like you love The Cars!"... I might've even made a couple of those
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. They achieved greatness and left a comet trail behind them, writing and recording songs that have transcended into classics: "Just What I Needed," "My Best Friend's Girl," "Good Times Roll," "You Might Think," "Heartbeat City," "Since You’re Gone," "Touch And Go," "You’re All I’ve Got Tonight."
Now that’s good rock & roll. And good rock & roll is powerful. It can lift us up. It can pull us through. It can even transform little black-and-white steel-trap towns in the middle of nowhere into electrifying color, surging with possibility. So, when in his own masterpiece, "American Pie," Don McLean asks: "Do you believe in rock & roll?" "Can music save your mortal soul?" The answer, tonight and forever, will always be an unequivocal and emphatic yes!
We thank the Cars: Ric, Benjamin, David, Greg and Elliot. We are standing on the shoulders of giants. This band means so much to me and millions of others. I know that Benjamin is here sharing this moment with them.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m over the moon to introduce you to the latest inductees of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: the Cars.