How Gary Numan's "Cars" changed pop music

Originally published at: How Gary Numan's "Cars" changed pop music | Boing Boing


It’s changing me, Right Now.


Video links for the BBS



Granted Numan is a great musician, but what about other synth influences that were shaking up the scene at around the same time, like Vince Clarke, Brian Eno, The Human League (before Catherall and Sulley joined), and from across the pond…bands like Devo? That’s a lot of responsibility to hang on one single person.


Huh, I seem to remember some skinny guy named Ocasek was leader of the Cars. :thinking:



These movements aren’t spearheaded by a single artist and no idea exists in a void, but there is always that one who breaks through and exposes the world to the sound that’s been growing underground.

Nirvana wasn’t the only band making loudQUIETloud music, but they sure blew it open for the rest of the world in the 90’s.

Fwiw, David Bowie was really dismissive of Newman so maybe this producers perspective is just slanted due to personal experience.


It’s a click-bait world. Innit?
I suppose old people always feel like this, but he makes his point by exaggerating the impact and ignoring the predecessors. Except he credits Kraftwerk at the end as almost having been presciently influenced by Numan. I remember “Cars” as mostly an annoyance and derivative. It’s fine tuned for younger ears, though, and this guy had those at the time and remembers it as important. Fair enough.
But I am noticing a thing right now where people seek to want to make their point by hyperventilating about it instead of calmly laying out the facts. It’s a bit tiresome. Hard not to se it as a pathology and a big part of what’s wrong with everything right now. Don’t contribute! It’s leading us to ruin! (Oh fuck. I’m doing it too.)


Numan captured lightning in a bottle the way the others didn’t. I remember being totally blown away the first time I heard it in the radio at age 10.

My husband was 20 when Cars hit the airwaves and he says that all of his peers were blown away too.

The synths plus the video plus the above contains the answer.


And I wonder how much is attributed to competition? Bowie and Iggy were collaborating with Human League at this time. Bowie was enamored of them, and they were opening for acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Iggy. Of course John Lydon hated them, the MAGAt.

Still, Numan was a big influence. Just not the only one.


Look, Cars is one of my favorite songs of all time, and I generally like Produce Like A Pro’s youtube channel, but I swear by all that’s holy and good, if I see another video or article about the tectonic transformations that electronics brought to pop music in the late 1970s – and about the genesis of the New Wave in general – that doesn’t give Kraftwerk their due as one of the true foundations of the movement, if not the foundation, then I’m going to have a conniption fit and die on this hill.


So underrated. Erasure’s eponymous album is an overlooked masterpiece of electronica…

Gary Numan, also a big influence on Vince Noir…


There’s a BBC documentary (Synth Britannia) about this time period in electronic music that’s really interesting, and puts Cars into context much better than this short video.

It’s got great interviews with loads of other electronic artists of the period, like Chris & Cosey from Throbbing Gristle, Philip Oakey from Human League, etc. The person who posted the latest iteration has edited out the tracks that prevent it from being officially released stateside. At least it tells you what song was cut out, so you can look it up if you don’t already have/know it. Previously on YouTube someone had uploaded it as a series of something like 10-12 shorter videos. It’s a really worthwhile watch if you are at all interested in electronic music.


I’ll second Synth Britannia as a fantastic documentary to check out.

And Numan is still on the go, his last couple of albums have been fantastic (though really, after about a decade in the creative and commercial doldrums he started to turn things around in the late 90s when he embraced industrial and was being bigged up by Trent Reznor et al as an influence)

For example, this is one of the singles off his most recent album, Intruder


It was played on commercial radio…a lot of New Wave stuff was considered too weird for mainstream radio but they love playing songs about cars and driving…very self-referential stuff because most FM listeners were in their cars with the radio on.


Numan is a great musician and still active today. He is a real pioneer in new wave and electronic. He was really shit on by “real” musicians back in the late 1970s and early 1980s and seems to have been largely forgotten when compared with those that followed in his lead and that’s a shame.

Thankfully Mark Ronson highlighted his contributions in Watch the Sound’s synthesizer episode. (And if you haven’t seen Watch the Sound With Mark Ronson, you really should!)


Interesting take from Numan on that NIN appearance and it’s impact on his reticence to embrace Cars… Gary Numan interview with Darren Paltrowitz - YouTube

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I want to speak with the manager.

@Mindysan33 I like to imagine that, when Vince Clarke finally met Andy Bell, that there was a little ringing sound, as Clarke finally found what he’d been looking for for years. I enjoyed Yazoo; but it seemed that Clarke finally achieved his true form in Erasure. Great stuff.

I enjoy Cars; however, my favourite electronic automotive track is…


Saw a quote from NME that called Kraftwerk’s Autobahn “Dimly fumbling for approachability”.

People that “changed x” are often preceded by work that gets labels like “foundational”. But what they are building and contributing is a familiarity with the sounds and ideas that will eventually lead to a break through that feels fresh and new while still being a bit recognizable. Heck… I believe even the popularity of Star Wars, robots and the “future”, could have contributed to Numan’s success.


I suspect that that’s more from maturing musically than any failing on the part of Yaz, tho.

The original is great, but honestly, this is the best version…