This is the music video for Gary Numan’s Cars.
It’s a little surprising to think that this is a 30 year old song – but it still sounds pretty damn good.
“Cars” is a 1979 pop music song by UK artist Gary Numan, and was released as a single from the album The Pleasure Principle. It reached the top of the charts in several countries, and today is considered a New Wave staple. In the UK charts, it reached Number 1 in 1979, and rose to Number 9 on the U.S. Billboard charts, in 1980. This hit single debuted on the American Top 40 on March 29, 1980, and spent a total of 17 weeks in the AT40. “Cars” was released under the ‘Atco’ label, with the catalog number of 7211. You can also hear Kraftwerk’s track Autobahn, with similar “glides” and the fact that they both used Moog synthesizers.
The song was the first release credited solely to Gary Numan after he dropped the band name Tubeway Army, with which he had released four singles and two LPs, including the number one 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 conceding 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”.
“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, although the rest of the instruments used are analog synthesizers, 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, robotic style. There is no ‘chorus’ as such.
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.”
The music video featured Numan’s then-current backing band, including Billy Currie from the band Ultravox, though he had not actually played on the recording of “Cars”. Towards the end of the video, a multitude of Gary Numans are depicted ‘driving’ along a Polymoog keyboard.
The original UK single was released in August 1979, backed with a non-album instrumental track called “Asylum”. The U.S. B-side was “Metal”, from The Pleasure Principle album. The track has been a UK Top Twenty hit for Numan in three successive decades: on its original release in 1979 (making number one); in 1987 as the ‘E Reg Model’ remix (making number 16); and again in 1996 following its use in an advertisement for Carling Premier beer (number 17).
Numan has regularly performed the song on stage since its original release and it appears on all but one of his official live albums to date; many remixed versions have also been released over the years (see Live versions and remixes). 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, while Fear Factory recorded a version of the song (with Numan) and released it as a single in 1999. Numan also appeared in the video. The song was also heavily sampled in the 2000 song “Koochy” by Armand van Helden, reaching number 4 in the UK Singles Chart. The beat was later used for the song “Hot Wheels” by the hip-hop group Jim Crow. Deceased music producer J Dilla recorded an unreleased hip-hop version of “Cars” called “Trucks.” Released in late 2009, “Hiding All The Stars” by Chicane samples “Cars”.