One of the first great hits of the new wave era, Gary Numan’s Cars was inspired by an incident of road rage. As Numan explained in an interview
“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.”
From this humble beginning came the song that not only became synonymous with post-punk new wave music but which also inspired an untold number of teenagers to switch from learning how to play the drums to wanting a keyboard for Christmas. Cars may have been about something as modern as road rage but its futuristic sound and video made it a science fiction anthem.
(Sorry, you’re probably going to have to go to YouTube to actually watch this video.)
Cars starts with what I like to call a Doctor Who shot.
Anyone who has ever seen classic Doctor Who or really any science fiction movie from the late 70s knows how important neon was to decorating any villain’s intergalactic lair. When Gary Numan approaches the microphone, he could easily be mistaken for a militaristic alien who had made the mistake of falling under the influence of the Master.
Once Numan starts to perform, it becomes more obvious that he was more inspired by David Bowie than Doctor Who:
The video features several close-ups of Numan’s tambourine. The effect may seem cheesy now but in 1979, it undoubtedly blew a lot of minds.
Of course, no new wave video would be complete without some synthesizer action.
Cars became an unexpected hit and remains popular today. Anyone who has played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City knows the pleasure of fleeing the police while listening to Cars on Wave 103.