"Cars" is the debut solo single by English musician Gary Numan. It was released on 21 August 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.

Single by Gary Numan
from the album The Pleasure Principle
Released21 August 1979 (UK)
4 February 1980 (US)
StudioMarcus Music AB, London
LabelBeggars Banquet
Songwriter(s)Gary Numan
Producer(s)Gary Numan
Gary Numan singles chronology
Audio sample
Music video
"Cars" on YouTube

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 said 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."[3] He has since described "Cars" as "a pretty average song".[4]

In the UK charts, it reached number 1 in 1979, and in 1980, it hit number 1 in Canada two weeks running on the RPM national singles chart[5][6] (29 weeks in the top 100). It was his only single to chart there. It rose to #4 on the U.S. Cash Box Top 100 and #9 on the US Billboard Hot 100 on June 7, 1980, remaining at that position for three weeks.[7] Although Numan had a string of hits in the UK, "Cars" was his only song in the American pop charts.

Composition edit

"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, but the rest of the instruments used are analogue synthesisers, principally the Minimoog (augmenting the song's recognisable 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:

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.[8]

Music video edit

The music video featured Numan's then-current backing band, including Billy Currie from the band Ultravox, but he had not played on the recording of "Cars". It is perhaps notable that the video for "Cars" depicts no images of actual cars. At 2:43 in the video, five Gary Numans appear to be "driving" (in a standing position, holding an imaginary steering wheel) along a Polymoog keyboard.

Release edit

The original UK single was released in August 1979, backed with a non-album instrumental track called "Asylum". The US B-side was "Metal", from The Pleasure Principle The track has been a UK Top 20 hit for Numan in three successive decades: on its original release in 1979 (reaching number 1), in 1987 as the 'E Reg Model' remix (reaching number 16), and in 1996 following its use in an advertisement for Carling Premier beer (reaching number 17). Numan has performed the song onstage since its original release, and it appears on all but one of his official live albums to date.

Track listing edit

  1. "Cars" (Numan) – 3:44
  2. "Asylum" (Numan) – 2:30

US version edit

  1. "Cars" – 3:57
  2. "Metal" (Numan) – 3:31

Personnel edit

Chart performance edit

Live versions and remixes edit

A selected list of Numan's official live recordings and remixes.

  • Living Ornaments '79 (1981) – live recording
  • White Noise (1985) – live recording also released on The Live EP
  • "Cars (E Reg Model)" (1987) – remix released as a 7"/12" single (including two other 1987 mixes) and on compilation album Exhibition
  • Ghost (1987) – live recording
  • The Peel Sessions Volume 2 (1987) – an EP containing a 1979 live in-studio recording for John Peel's BBC Radio 1 show
  • The Skin Mechanic (1989) – live recording
  • "Cars ('93 Sprint)" (1993) – remix released on an EP including two 1987 mixes and three other 1993 mixes, and on compilation album The Best of Gary Numan 1978–1983
  • Dream Corrosion (1994) – live recording
  • "Cars (Premier Mix)" (1996) – reissued/rebadged 1987 remix released as a single and on compilation album The Premier Hits
  • Living Ornaments '81 (1998) – live recording
  • The Mix (1998) – three remixes ("Spahn Ranch mix", "Talla 2xlc mix" and "JLAB mix")
  • Scarred (2002) – live recording
  • Hybrid (2003) – remix
  • Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire (2004) – live recording
  • Living Ornaments '80 (2005) – reissued/expanded live recording originally released minus "Cars" in 1981

Numan performed "Cars" using a set of two dozen automobiles and their horns in an innovative 2010 commercial for DieHard. All of the cars were powered from one single battery. James Frost of Zoo Films directed the video, and Synn Labs, which had previously worked with the band OK Go, engineered the cars.[21]

Fear Factory version edit

Single by Fear Factory featuring Gary Numan
from the album Obsolete (Expanded)
Released31 August 1999
RecordedEarly 1998 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
GenreNu metal[22]
Songwriter(s)Gary Numan
Producer(s)Fear Factory, Rhys Fulber
Fear Factory singles chronology
Gary Numan singles chronology
"Dominion Day"
Music video
"Cars" on YouTube

Fear Factory, an American heavy metal band, recorded a version of "Cars" and released it as the second single from their album Obsolete. The song was only included as a bonus track on the limited edition digipak re-release of Obsolete and would be instrumental in breaking Fear Factory into the mainstream. In their rendition, Gary Numan performs a duet with frontman Burton C. Bell.

Background and recording edit

According to Bell, around 1996, the band started performing "Cars" as an encore at European concerts. Word spread that Fear Factory was performing the song, and as a result, Gary Numan's manager contacted them. Upon request, Numan's management flew him out to the Vancouver studio for a three-day span to record vocals on "Cars." The band also asked Numan to record a spoken word piece for the introduction of the song Obsolete.[23]

Numan had a long-standing dislike for being associated with what he perceived as dated music, and this initially made him apprehensive of working with Fear Factory until realizing "there was a chance that it could introduce me to a new generation of people who didn't know my history. And that can be useful, because my music's got a lot heavier and darker anyway." The result would be satisfactory for both parties, and Numan praised the band as "brilliant, really easy to work with. They didn't have a bad word to say about anyone."[24]

The uncharacteristically bouncy and bright rendition somewhat contrasts with Fear Factory's reputation for intense, grinding metal, while the heavy use of synthesizer and other electronic elements corresponds with the band's industrial style. Drummer Raymond Herrera described the cover as "basically like a blueprint of a futuristic car." He added that, while other songs were considered, the band chose "Cars" because all the band members knew and appreciated it and because the keyboards suited Fear Factory's sound. Herrera later noted that the group initially wanted to record U2's "New Year's Day" but chose "Cars" because they were fortunate enough to have Numan participate. Fear Factory later covered the U2 song "I Will Follow," in 2005.[25]

Reception edit

"Cars" played a significant part in Obsolete's status as Fear Factory's highest-selling album. By 2001, it had sold over 750,000 copies.[26] According to Herrera, the cover received greater enthusiasm in the UK than in the band's native US, which was validated by its chart status. During the song's promotion, Gary Numan joined the band for a concert performance in Brixton, London to much enthusiasm.[27]

After the radio trade publication R&R listed "Cars" as the most added track on both active rock and mainstream rock in May 1999, the song earned "Breaker" status and continued to surge up the chart. "Cars" debuted and peaked at number 57 in the UK Singles Chart on 9 October.[28]

It peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and No. 38 on Modern Rock Tracks.[29]

The song was featured as the main theme for Test Drive 6, a video game released in 1999 for the PlayStation and Dreamcast consoles.[30]

Music video edit

Numan also appears in the sci-fi music video, directed by John S. Bartley and filmed in Vancouver, which debuted in June 1999. Bell enthusiastically described the ambitious video as having a "Stanley Kubrick-type of vibe to it":

[Bartley] put Gary and me into harnesses and we had to simulate floating in space. We were floating around this junked out '79 Trans Am that he had as this car in space, and we're coming up to it. They had another '70 Trans Am that was turned into a spaceship, and that's what we're driving in. It was just wicked. It was unbelievable. It was like a dream come true.[31]

Track listing edit

  1. "Cars" (remix) – 3:39
  2. "Descent" (Falling Deeper Mix) – 4:38
  3. "Edgecrusher" (Urban Assault Mix) – 4:33

Charts edit

Chart (1998) Peak positions
U.S. Mainstream Rock Chart 16
U.S. Alternative Songs 38

Chart (1999) Peak
Australia (ARIA Charts)[32] 89
Canada (RPM Rock Report)[33] 13

Other covers, live performances and samples edit

In 1980, Frank Zappa played "Cars" during some live shows, but sang the lyrics to his song "In France" instead of the original ones. When "In France" was released on his 1984 album Them or Us, it got its own blues background instead.[citation needed] The Barron Knights used the melody and background music to "Cars" in "We Know Who Done It", their 1980 parody and spoof of "Who shot J.R.?".

Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo released their own hip hop version of "Cars" on their debut Road to the Riches album in 1989. "Cars" was covered by the Judybats on the 1991 single "Daylight" and by Shampoo on the "Girl Power" single in 1995. Dave Clarke performed the song on the Random tribute album in 1997. Nine Inch Nails performed "Cars" several times during their Wave Goodbye Tour in 2009, featuring Numan on vocals.

On 21 December 1999, during a performance of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the group Luscious Jackson segued into a variation on "Cars" titled "Sleds", using the same music but changing the lyrics to describe winter activities.[34]

In 2009, Chicane sampled "Cars" in "Hiding All the Stars", which reached No. 42 in the UK and No. 23 in Belgium.

The song "New Car" by Cledus T. Judd used the instrumental portion of "Cars" after each chorus, partially performed with car horns. The song was remixed with "Technologic" by Daft Punk and with "Here Comes My DJ" by Grandmaster Flash to be featured as a playable track in DJ Hero. Toronto-based alternative rock quartet Sloan performed a version of the song in June 2011 for The A.V. Club's A.V. Undercover series.[35]

The 2000 song "Koochy" by Armand van Helden relies heavily on the melody in "Cars".

References edit

  1. ^ a b Mason, Stewart. "Cars review at Allmusic". AllMusic. "Perhaps the most iconic intro of the entire synth-pop era...the throbbing, repetitive synths of "Cars" are all most listeners know of Gary Numan, especially in the US, where it was the musician's only Top 40 hit." "That said, it was arguably the first true new wave hit single in the United States."
  2. ^ Kato, Yoshi (2016). "Gary Numan - The Pleasure Principle". In Dimery, Robert (ed.). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. London: Cassell Illustrated. p. 445.
  3. ^ Stephen Webbon & Gary Numan (December 1985). "Complete Gary Numan UK Discography". Record Collector (76): 15.
  4. ^ Green, Thomas H (19 May 2012). "Q&A: Musician Gary Numan". The Arts Desk. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Image : RPM Weekly". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  6. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  7. ^ Tomasovic, Jerry (2 January 2013). "Billboard Hot 100™". Billboard. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  8. ^ Anderson, Philip (2001). "Gary Numan – Numan Drives Music More Than Cars". KAOS2000™. KAOS2000.net. Archived from the original on 1 November 2018. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  9. ^ a b "National Top 100 Singles for 1980". Kent Music Report. 5 January 1981. Retrieved 17 January 2022 – via Imgur.
  10. ^ "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – CHART POSITIONS PRE 1989". ARIA. Australian-charts.com. Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  11. ^ "Cars – GARY NUMAN". VRT (in Dutch). Top30-2.radio2.be. Archived from the original on 9 April 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  12. ^ "Gary Numan – Cars" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  13. ^ a b "The Irish Charts – All there is to know". IRMA. Archived from the original on 2 June 2009. Retrieved 23 July 2013. Two last results when searching "Cars"
  14. ^ "Gary Numan – Cars". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  15. ^ a b c d "Gary Numan". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
  16. ^ a b "The Pleasure Principle awards at Allmusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 June 2013.
  17. ^ Hung, Steffen. "Forum – Top 100 End of Year AMR Charts – 1980s (ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts)". Australian-charts.com. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  18. ^ "Item Display – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Archived from the original on 25 April 2016. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  19. ^ "Chart Archive – 1970s Singles". everyHit.com. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
  20. ^ "Pop Singles" Billboard 20 December 1980: TIA-10
  21. ^ "Gary Numan Plays "Cars" On Two Dozen Cars". Gizmodo. 13 July 2010. Retrieved 14 July 2010.
  22. ^ "Fan Poll: Top 5 Metal Covers of Non-Metal Songs". 16 November 2022.
  23. ^ Lee, David (2000). "Fear Factory (2)". Tinpan.fortunecity.com. Fortune City. Archived from the original on 13 March 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  24. ^ Gourley, Bob (2000). "Gary Numan". Chaos Control Digizine. Chaoscontrol.com. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  25. ^ Rao, Debby (13 October 2006). "Deb Rao's Exclusive Interview With Fear Factory Drummer Raymond Herrera". Boston Contributor. Knac.com. Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  26. ^ Marshall, Clay (2001). Smith, Danyel (ed.). "Roadrunner's Fear Factory Goes Sci-Fi on Digimortal". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  27. ^ "Fear Factory interview". Barcode 2000. Barcodezine.com. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  28. ^ "Fear Factory". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  29. ^ "Fear Factory Billboard singles". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
  30. ^ Devidas, Arun (14 December 1999). "Test Drive 6". IGN. Retrieved 21 February 2023. An interesting selection of tracks have been licensed including the main theme, an excellent Fear Factory cover of the Gary Numan classic 'Cars'.
  31. ^ "Fear Factory Joins Gary Numan in Space For "Cars" Video". MTV. 18 May 1999. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  32. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010 (PDF ed.). Mt Martha, Victoria, Australia: Moonlight Publishing. p. 101.
  33. ^ "RPM Top 30 Rock Report - June 28, 1999" (PDF).
  34. ^ ""Let It Snow" performed by Luscious Jackson". 19 July 1999. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 14 October 2016 – via YouTube.
  35. ^ "Sloan covers "Cars" by Gary Numan". A.V. Club. Onion Inc. Retrieved 23 July 2013.

Bibliography edit

  • Paul Goodwin (2004). Electric Pioneer: An Armchair Guide to Gary Numan