Ric Ocasek was The Cars' primary songwriter and Benjamin Orr provided some solid vocals for the group. But Greg Hawkes, the band's keyboardist, might've been the glue that held them together. His distinctive synthesizer riffs - starting at a time before they were in vogue among rockers - were immediately iconic, and you've probably hummed more than a few of them when they come on the radio.
READ MORE: June 1979: The Cars Release "Candy-O"
That said, he’s also a songwriter, one who didn’t get nearly as much love for his compositions – generally co-writes with Ric Ocasek – while in the band. So we're celebrating him by spotlighting the songs within The Cars as well as the pair he penned for Ocasek solo albums – and even a rare solo single to boot.
The Cars, “Moving in Stereo” (The Cars, 1978): As much as Hawkes added to the sound of The Cars throughout their run, his songwriting contributions to the band could’ve started and ended with this tune and he’d still be remembered for contributing a truly iconic track to their discography. Best known within the pantheon of popular culture for being the soundtrack to Phoebe Cates’ unforgettable swimming pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it’s a song that holds up even without instantly providing a mental image of that cinematic moment...probably. That’s what we’ve heard, anyway.
The Cars, “Don’t Go to Pieces” (Panorama B-side, 1980): An Ocasek/Hawkes track which can now be found on the expanded edition of the band’s third album, it originally found a home doing double duty as a B-side, first for “Don’t Tell Me No,” then for “Gimme Some Slack.”
The Cars, “This Could Be Love” (Shake It Up, 1981): From the band’s fourth album, this Ocasek/Hawkes co-write is one of those songs that just about anyone can find relatable, sung from the perspective of someone who’s realizing that there just might be more to their relationship than they’d originally thought (emphasis on “might”). An Amazon reviewer wrote this about the track, and it’s too funny not to share: “This song could inspire one to take your relationship out of the friend zone and right into more intimate sexy time. Or not in my case...the whole thing backfired and now I am not even in the friend zone anymore...so not 100% effective, but good tune anyway.”
Ric Ocasek, “Out of Control” (Beatitude, 1982): This track from the Cars frontman’s first solo album shows that his songwriting collaborations with Hawkes weren’t just limited to their work within the band. Indeed, Hawkes popped up in the credits of Ocasek’s next solo album, too, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Greg Hawkes, “Jet Lag” (Niagara Falls, 1983): It’s kind of a bummer that Hawkes never really had a solid shot as a solo career, but whereas Ocasek scored a deal with Geffen and both Benjamin Orr and Elliot Easton had their individual efforts released via Elektra, Hawkes found himself signed to the indie Passport Records. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but insofar as scoring a huge amount of sales figures, he never really had a chance, and that’s too bad, as you can hear from this single from his lone Passport album.
The Cars, “It’s Not the Night” (Heartbeat City, 1984): In Tim Hendra’s retrospective review of the album on AllMusic, he described this track as “pure AOR balladry that sounds like it could have been on Foreigner's 4,” and he’s not wrong. Nor was Metro Weekly, which described the song as “creepily atmospheric,” adding that “it surely would have fit nicely onto the soundtrack of any mid-80s thriller.”
Ric Ocasek, “Hello Darkness” (This Side of Paradise, 1986): As referenced earlier, Hawkes contributes a co-write to another Ocasek solo album, and – you guessed it – this is it. While not released as a single, it’s definitely a highlight of the album, sounding as unsurprisingly Cars-esque as you’d expect from a song co-written by two of the band's members.
The Cars, “Go Away” (Door to Door, 1987): Although the final Cars album to feature the original lineup of the band may not have been their biggest commercial success, it definitely has some songs that stand tall within their catalog, and this is one of them. In a review on the website Ultimate-Guitar.com, it’s described as “almost ahead of its time,” with the critic closing by saying that the song “whisps along on a heavenly breeze of heavily reverbed tubular bells and signature Cars clickety 8th notes.” Sounds like a classic to us.