Todd Rundgren jumpstarted the New Cars’ surprisingly fun It’s Alive

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The Cars. Yeah, you’ve heard of them. If you’re of a certain age, you’re probably even muttering “sure, but they were way overplayed.” I know I’d heard my lifetime quota of “Let’s Go” before 1981. But let’s face it, the Cars were a damned good rock ‘n’ roll band — the one new wave group that non-new wave fans liked.

The Cars had Ric Ocasek’s jittery vocals alternating with Benjamin Orr’s smooth croon, Greg Hawkes’ icy but never overdone synths, the precise guitar solo of one vastly underrated Elliott Easton — and nd that drummer, the guy with the same name as that hall of fame ex-center for the San Antonio Spurs. Better still, the Cars played songs that had more hooks than a pro fisherman’s bass lure and lyrics just this side of quirky with unforgettable lines like: You’ve got your nuclear boots, and your drip dry glove – and when you bite your lip, it’s some reaction to love.

The good times rolled until the Cars’ follow up to the indian summer smash of Heartbreak City tanked, and they knew their time had come and gone. But nostalgia for ’80s music exploded over the following two decades, even as the Cars’ “You’re Just What I Needed” became a staple in television commercials. It occurred to Greg Hawkes and Elliott Easton that a reunion of the Cars might be in order. The problem was Ric Ocasek and David Robinson didn’t agree, and Benjamin Orr is, well, deceased.

Dang, how can you revive a band without your front men? Call in Todd Rundgren — and let Todd bring in his bass player from Utopia (Kasim Sulton) and the drummer from the Tubes (Prairie Prince) and bam, you’re back in business. The New Cars were born.

There were other twists in this saga, though: While most of the time artists tour to promote albums, The New Cars went the opposite route – releasing It’s Alive on June 6, 2006, before they’d played any concert gigs. As the name suggests, It’s Alive consisted of concert recordings that previewed the group’s made-over sound.

For long-time fans, the good news was that the New Cars played the old music straight, just like the originals. Credit went in part to Todd Rundgren’s vocals. He could approximate both Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr without sounding too forced because, luckily, Rundgren’s voice is in the same ballpark as both of them. Most of the Cars’ big hits were covered here, especially from the first two albums.

The New Cars also detoured into a couple of Todd Rundgren’s more familiar tunes: the Carole King-like “I Saw The Light” and the Nazz’s “Open My Eyes” — the latter of which is quite possibly the best power pop song ever made, but that’s for another topic. Ultimately, of course, Rundgren was playing the fill-in guy, even if he’s a very well-known fill-in guy. This may have been the first time in his 40-year career when Todd Rundgren wasn’t the main creative force behind one of his own bands. Surprisingly, Rundgren seemed quite comfortable in that role.

The Cars had one final twist, too: Three fresh studio originals were thrown in at the end of It’s Alive, the best of which was “Not Tonight” — a song that would have fit nicely in the original Cars’ debut album. It had me swearing that Ric Ocasek wrote it and Benjamin Orr sang it. That hinted, of course, at the promise of a full-blown collection of New Cars originals, but that never appeared. Instead, Ocasek returned in 2011 for a different kind of Cars reunion.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron

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