Heartbeat City

A lot of blogs I follow have noted that, even if it’s not official, it is now undeniably summer.

And as Paloma recently noted as the song Moving In Stereo played, The Cars are a perfect summer band. That song reinforces the band’s warm weather credentials because, thanks to its famous use in the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High, I can’t help but picture Phoebe Cates climbing out of a pool.

If I think about it, though, it is a bit odd to associate The Cars with the most carefree of seasons. Sure, they did have some playful moments and songs with a shimmering sheen, but The Cars were also cold, somewhat robotic, and prone to dark, melancholic subject matter.

Phoebe Cates in a bikini aside, it was really 1984 that hardwired my brain to think summer when I hear a song by The Cars. Three albums dominated the airwaves and MTV that summer – Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA, Prince’s Purple Rain, and The Cars’ Heartbeat City.

Heartbeat City actually was released on the cusp of spring and by the time school was out that year Magic was the second hit accompanied by a video that screamed summer

(how could it not with lead singer Ric Ocasek walking on the water of a swimming pool?)

It was the first summer that my friends and I had our drivers’ licenses, but that freedom was tempered by the fact that it was my first summer with the responsibility of a job.

The upside of the gig was that it was as a scorekeeper for a women’s softball league – a mere two nights a week, hanging with some classmates who were players, and done by ten.

The rest of the weeknights and the weekends were mine. Some nights, a carload of us would head into The City, but, remaining local had its merits. The kids from the neighboring towns – even smaller than ours – made our hometown their destination.

There was a lot of pizza, plenty of time brilliantly wasted doing nothing, far too few girls who gave us their attention and Heartbeat City as one of the constant soundtracks to much of it.

The Cars – Magic
from Heartbeat City

Yeah, Magic got played into the ground. If it wasn’t on the radio, the video was on MTV.

But it still charms me.

The Cars – Stranger Eyes
from Heartbeat City (vinyl)

I recounted a recent encounter with the film Top Gun, a mind-numbingly sorry excuse for a movie. I had also been underwhelmed seeing it in the theater.

It was the trailer that had snookered me. I blame Stranger Eyes which sounded so cool blasted at stadium decibel levels in that trailer.

The Cars – Heartbeat City
from Heartbeat City

I confess that I never really understood what the title track was all about or who Jackie was. I think that I got sidetracked by a couple reviews I had read that purported the song to be about drug use. Who knows.

Anyhow, as good as The Cars were at injecting power pop with an ’80s twist, the band also had a way with more dreamy and subdued songs, too.

The Cars – Drive
from Heartbeat City

As obvious a pick as it is, I’d have to go with Drive as my favorite Cars’ song. I still vividly remember the first time I heard it on the radio. It was a typical summer night except that a friend and I ended up hanging with two girls from out of town. My friend went off with one and she flipped me the keys to her Chevette.

I ended up with the other girl in the middle of nowhere (which wasn’t far from the middle of town), parked out at an airfield belonging to a local corporation. We were sitting there, talking, on a cloudless night, and Drive was playing on the radio.

Of course, as pretty as Drive is, it has a desperate, dark undercurrent to it which was reinforced by the video – scenes of lead singer Ocasek arguing with supermodel (and his future wife) Paulina Porizkova and others in which she seems to be a patient in a psychiatric hospital.

2 Responses to Heartbeat City

  1. […] of their era. But, if you were listening to radio in the late ’70s/early ’80s – especially during the summer of ‘84 – you knew their […]

  2. […] The Cars seem like such a summer band to me because during the summer of 1984, Heartbeat City was – with Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA and Prince’s Purple … […]

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