The Production Legacy of The Cars' Ric Ocasek

Photo by Michael Ochs/Getty Images.

The world at large knows the late, great Ric Ocasek as the brains behind The Cars, the man who wrote the band's songs, defined their vision, and shared lead vocal duties with bassist Ben Orr. When we lost Ocasek at the age of 75 yesterday, September 15, a hole even bigger than the singer-guitarist's 6'4" frame was punched into the fabric of our cultural consciousness.

In the late '70s, The Cars helped lead the charge that brought New Wave sensibilities to the pop charts and mainstream rock radio for the first time—but during and long after his Cars career, Ocasek maintained a sideline that contributed no small amount to rock history on its own.

From about 1978 all the way through the 2010s, he produced records by a boatload of cutting-edge artists, from cult heroes to the hottest acts of their era. Since there's no shortage of evidence of Ocasek's luminous legacy with The Cars, let's honor his memory instead by taking a look at just a handful of the many outside projects he produced.

Suicide - "Dream Baby Dream" (1979)

Pioneering synth-punk duo Suicide were an important influence on The Cars, and Ocasek was determined to pay them back. Not only did he produce this heady-but-propulsive single, which would become one of their best-known tunes (eventually sung by everyone from Neneh Cherry to Bruce Springsteen), he demanded they be allowed to perform it on TV when The Cars hosted The Midnight Special in 1979.

Romeo Void - Never Say Never (1981)

Between Debora Iyall's post-Patti Smith street-poet lyrics and Benjamin Bossi's simultaneously moody and visceral sax lines, Romeo Void were among New Wave's most distinctive denizens of the underground. At least until Ocasek helped shove them into the spotlight by co-producing the EP that definitively put them on the map.

Bad Brains - Rock for Light (1983)

Capable of both gut-churning hardcore and deep-grooving reggae, Bad Brains were one of the most unique and influential punk bands of the '80s. But since their milestone debut album was initially released only on cassette, it was the Ocasek-produced follow-up, revisiting a number of that album's songs, that helped introduce the band to a bigger audience beyond the hardcore cabal.

Black 47 - Fire of Freedom (1993)

Combining rock with traditional Irish music and hip-hop may have sounded like a crazy idea in the early '90s, but Ocasek was no stranger to new sounds. And when it was time for New York's Black 47 to make their big-label debut, he was on hand to help bandleader Larry Kirwan put those ostensibly disparate elements together with punch and panache.

Weezer - Weezer (1994)

Yes, kids, long ago there was a brief-but-golden moment in time when Weezer seemed cool. And not only did their Ocasek-overseen debut album help inject a dash of power-pop pizzazz into a gloomy, post-grunge alt-rock landscape, it also brought us one of the coolest videos of the era. Now that you know Ocasek was involved, just try to hear it without detecting a Cars influence.

Jonathan Richman - I'm So Confused (1998)

Cars drummer David Robinson started out as a member of Jonathan Richman's seminal '70s band The Modern Lovers. And decades later, when Richman's unlikely moment in the spotlight came about via the film There's Something About Mary, it was Ocasek who stepped in to help him make the most of the moment with 1998's Im So Confused. In the bargain, he facilitated a rather historic combination of talents by bringing along Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jenifer.

No Doubt - Rock Steady (2001)

By the 2000s, Ocasek had achieved elder-statesman status, with mega-platinum bands like No Doubt channeling New Wave influences into a sound for a new era. For Rock Steady, Ocasek brought things full-circle by producing a couple of tracks, including the overtly Cars-like "Don't Let Me Down." If he couldn't bring his old band back (yet), he could still ensure that trace elements of The Cars' signature sound slipped into the ears of a new generation.

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