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Cars by Gary Numan

Album: The Pleasure PrincipleReleased: 1979Charted:
9
1
  • This song is about how people use technology and material goods to isolate themselves from human contact. Numan has stated that he has Asperger Syndrome, which is a mild form of autism, but until he was diagnosed, he had a lot of trouble relating to other people.
  • Numan told Mojo magazine March 2008 about the original inspiration for this song: "A couple of blokes started peering in the window and for whatever reason took a dislike to me, so I had to take evasive action. I swerved up the pavement, scattering pedestrians everywhere. After that, I began to see the car as the tank of modern society."
  • This was Numan's only hit in the US, but he has had many others in England, where he has a large cult following. Numan specializes in electronic music, and was an influence on artists like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails.

    So does the one hit wonder tag bother him? In our 2010 interview with Gary Numan, he told us: "In a way it does. But you have to be realistic; better to have had one than none. On the other hand, it gives you that drive to keep on going, I suppose. I don't know, I mean, if even that's true. Because I do it because I love it. I think if having hit singles and that level of success is your reason for making music in the first place, then I would find that situation very frustrating if I only had one hit. But the truth is, I do it almost as a hobby. I've just been lucky that I've been able to earn a living from it for such a long time. Because if I didn't earn a living from it, I would still make exactly the same records, and write exactly the same songs.
    If an album goes out and it doesn't sell in large numbers, or in America it doesn't sell at all (laughs), I'm not devastated by that. I'm not sitting back thinking it's all a waste of time, because I just enjoyed making it in the first place. And luckily for me there's been other countries - the UK obviously - where things have gone differently and much better. And it's enabled me to keep on doing it, to keep on earning a living from it. So there is a mix of frustration, because it's an amazing country to be successful in. On the other hand, I don't feel as if my life has been diminished by not having an ongoing success there."
  • While Numan is known for his electronic music innovations, he prefers real instruments. He told us: "I didn't go the technology route wholeheartedly, the way Kraftwerk had done. I considered it to be a layer. I added to what we already had, and I wanted to merge that. There's plenty of things about guitar players, and bass players, and songs I really love that I didn't particularly want to get rid of. The only time I did get rid of guitars was on Pleasure Principle, and that was in fact a reaction to the press. I got a huge amount of hostility from the British press, particularly, when I first became successful. And Pleasure Principle was the first album I made after that success happened. I became successful in the early part of '79 and Pleasure Principle came out in the end of '79, in the UK, anyway. And there was a lot of talk about electronic music being cold and weak and all that sort of stuff. So I made Pleasure Principle to try to prove a point, that you could make a contemporary album that didn't have guitar in it, but still had enough power and would stand up well. That's the only reason that album didn't have guitar in it. But apart from that one album they've all had guitars - that was the blueprint."
  • This song has found new life and given Numan a great deal of exposure to another generation through covers by Fear Factory (with Numan singing on the track and appearing in the video), Nine Inch Nails, Dave Clarke, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, The Judybats, and Tia. Says Numan: "It's been a most amazing thing, really, to keep hearing about the people that are doing cover versions. I was trolling around the other day for something totally unrelated and I came across a Youtube of Courtney Love's band, Hole, doing 'Cars.' I just thought, 'Yeah.' And there's a lot of that. It's very cool, and I don't take it for granted at all. I'm so totally blown away with a big grin on my face every time I hear that someone's done something like that. So it's not as if I'm kind of arrogantly expecting it. Quite the opposite."
  • Even though the message of this song is that cars lead to a mechanical society devoid of personal interaction, it didn't stop automakers from using it in commercials. Both Nissan and Oldsmobile have used it in ads.
    A more clever approach came from Diehard, who created a commercial where Numan played the song on 24 car horns powered by just one of their batteries. Numan has no problem with his song being used in commercials, telling us, "I'm up for that, actually. I think any use of it at all. It would be great if it happened again."
  • In the UK, this was used in an American Express commercial in the '80s, as well as an ad for Carling beer that ran in 1996. The beer commercial gave the song new life in the UK.
  • TV shows that have used this song in some form include The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Two and a Half Men.
  • Numan made a video for this with special effects that look ridiculous now, but were cutting edge in 1979. When MTV went on the air in 1981, it was one of about 200 videos they had, so they played it over and over. This made the song a hit in the US.
  • Numan explained to Rolling Stone how he came up with this song's synthesizer hook: "I have only written two songs on bass guitar and the first one was 'Cars.' I had just been to London to buy a bass and when I got home the first thing I played was that intro riff. I thought, 'Hey, that's not bad!' In 10 minutes, I had the whole song. The quickest one I ever wrote. And the most famous one I'd ever written. More people should learn from that."
  • Numan took his surname from a plumber in the telephone directory called Neumann Kitchen Appliances. He told NME he tried to find a two-syllable name, "because my real name Webb didn't seem very cool."
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Comments: 19

On May 30th 1980, Gary Numan performed "Cars" on the NBC-TV program 'The Midnight Special'...
Three months earlier on February 10th, 1980 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #81; and on June 1st it peaked at #9 (for 3 weeks) and spent almost a half-year on the Top 100 (25 weeks)...(and for 7 of those 23 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
It was his only Top 100 record, but he charted 39 times on the United Kingdom's Singles chart...
Mr. Numan, born Gary Anthony James Webb, celebrated his 56th birthday two months ago on March 8th, 2014.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Although Gary is talented he is trying to be a David Bowie clone. Notice his make up including eye shadow and eye liner. His name has the same amount of syllables as David Bowie and same kind of flow, his clothes and hair are simular to what David Bowie wore at that time .He is playing that soft male or almost female version of the laid back rockstar exactly likeBowie at the time. Great song though.Cliff - Oakdale, Ny
Fantastic song that I cannot get out of my head. Also, Gary Numan singing this song with NIn is AMAZING!Miles - West Linn, Or
Numan was the singer in the UK band Tubeway Army, THey had a hit record in England with "Are 'Friends' Electric?"Dave - Easton, Pa
One of the better songs of the 80s.Jon - Enumclaw , Wa
For one song Numan captured lightning in a bottle and created a catchy song that still sounds good today.One of the few songs of that era that I can stomach.Mark - Byrdstown, Tn
A remixed version of this song returned Gary to the UK Top 20 in May 1996 after the song was used in a popular Carling Premium Lager commercial which continued to be screened in the UK until 1999Dave - Cardiff, Wales
I like this song, but it sounds so much cooler in The Mighty Boosh as Vince's ringtone!Kayley - London
I thought i read a long time ago, and reading the lyrics it seems like it could be true, that this is about actually living in a carJack - Mesa, Az
It's true that "Cars" was a radio hit before MTV. This song seemed like a novelty at the time, but now it seems like the most accurate musical description of the 20th Century. It sounds at once retro and futuristic, and the lyrics have more resonance today than ever.Salamander - Panama Canal Zone, United States
I thought this was called "Here in My Car" and I could not find it on songfacts. Love the synthesizer part in the middle.Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
The heavy metal band Fear Factory do a much better version of this alredy good song.Dylan - Perth, Australia
"Numan made a video for this with special effects that look ridiculous now, but were cutting edge in 1979. When MTV went on the air in 1981, it was one of about 200 videos they had, so they played it over and over. This made the song a hit in the US."

That is a ridiculous statement. The song was a hit in the spring of 1980. Believe me I was there. MTV debuted in Aug 1981. Killer retro-active hit making dudes!
Billy - Albany, Ga
The squeeling lead sound comes from the "Vox Humana" preset on the Moog Polymoog Keyboard synthesizer.Chris - Charleston, Sc
I like how this song seems like it's just another wierd techno song but really carries a meaningful message about car obsession within it.Grace - Fairfax Station, Va
I like the fear factory version of this song. it's better than the original.Johnny - Rockland, Ma
This song use to be one of my favorites back in the day. I never really understood it as a kid, but loved the way it was different sounding then alot of music of that day. It brings back many a memory of playing early arcade games and plopping a quater in the juke box to hear this wonderful tune.Dee - Indianapolis, In
I thought it was funny when numan was talking about the song and said he was being called the "king of techno" or something and he said he didn't even like the music.Peter - Fort Worth, Tx
"Cars" is now on several car commercials due to the line 'I feel safest of all' and also a Little Debbie commercial and the game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The song is supposed to give you the idea of being a human synthesizer and, like some other Numan songs, about being alone or locked away.Harmless - Barrington, Ri