Acoustic Sounds

The Cars

The Cars



Rhino High Fidelity "The Cars"

Label: Rhino

Produced By: Roy Thomas Baker

Engineered By: Geoff Workman

Mixed By: Roy Thomas Baker

Mastered By: Kevin Gray

Lacquers Cut By: Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio

By: Michael Fremer

June 3rd, 2023



Rhino High Fidelity's "The Cars" Reissue—A 4 Album Pileup

4 versions of "The Cars" debut album compared

By the time The Cars formed, most people in the Boston music scene knew all of the players from previous bands and live gigs. Cap'n Swing had gotten WBCN airplay from on air personality Maxine Sartori who ruled the weekday afternoon slot. The Cars early recordings—a 1977 demo tape—got extensive airplay on WBCN and soon the group signed to Elektra Records. When word got out that the album would be recorded at George Martin's AIR Studios in London and produced by Roy Thomas Baker who by then was well known for the distinctive studio sound he delivered for Queen, the in town Cars buzz was strong.

In early 1978 Elektra got the Boston excitement going with a special red vinyl single featuring " Just What I Needed"/"I'm in Touch With Your World". The album was released a short time later on June 6th, 1978.

Just What I Needed red vinyl 45The group gigged around New England around this time, playing a Friday afternoon M.I.T. beer blast before the album's release with the opening group being the comedy ensemble Boston Weekend Television, in which I was among the performers. Among the things I did in the group was an impression of Bryan Ferry that Ric Ocasek liked. He came up to me after our appearance and complimented me on it. Of course at the time he had yet to become a star but after the group played the gymnasium show, it was clear they had the songs and the performing chops to go big. At that gig Eliot Easton performed minus his hairpiece!

Boston Weekend TelevisionCut to the chase, as they say. The album was a big hit and for many good reasons. The simmering mix of synth pop, new wave and guitar rock with a helping of irony and self deprecation was just what music fans at the time needed. "Just What I Needed", "Good Times Roll" and "My Best Friend's Girl" were all singles hits and the album overall got a lot of airplay though it peaked on the charts only at #18. Still a great debut and more importantly the album has stood the test of time, which is why Rhino chose it as the first release of this new deluxe, limited to 5000 copies Rhino High Fidelity series, with individual records priced at $39.98 and available only at the Rhino store.

Has there been a more curiously sad exhortation to having fun than "Good Times Roll"? Ric Ocasek seemed to be playing the Peter Cook devil in the original 1967 movie "Bedazzled" in which Dudley Moore gets granted a series of wishes, (all of which are granted simply by saying "Julie Andrews") that turn out to be nightmares. When he wishes to be a pop star singing sensation, Moore becomes a hyperemotional one desperately imploring the "birds" to love him, which they do until Cook arrives as a disdainful super cool, low energy alternative (Drimble Wedge and the Vegetation) tossing off lines like "I don't care. I don't want you." The "birds" go wild. Ocasek has a bit of Drimble Wedge in him as he sings "Good Times Roll" and "Just What I Needed". it's as effective today as it was then. He never lets you in.

For $39.98 you are entitled to deluxe packaging, the finest mastering and the best pressing quality. Rhino succeeds completely here. First the OBI gatefold jacket is high gloss paper on cardboard (not sure if it's Stoughton, but it's Stoughton quality). The cover art reproduction is the best of any version I've seen and I compared four. The inside gatefold is the artwork and info contained on the original's paper inner sleeve. A folded full-sized insert gives you the Air Recording Studio tape box front and back. In side A&R Producer Patrick Milligan interviews Elliot Easton. It's all about the production and the instruments used and of course how Baker got those amazing vocal choruses he perfected on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody, which you can hear here. The entire album was recorded in nine days!

The opposing side of the folded insert features the track sheet for "Good Times Roll", which curiously in the "speed" field has written "24/96K" but whatever that refers to, no matter, this was cut from that original analog tape!

I compared four different pressings: the original Elektra (6E-135) LP mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound and pressed at Specialty in Olyphant, PA, a Japanese pressing (Warner-Pioneer P-10552E), Mobile Fidelity's 2009 1/2 speed mastered by Shawn R. Britton edition (MFSL 1-274) in a gatefold package pressed at RTI and the new Rhino High Fidelity edition mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, pressed at Optimal in Germany.

"The Cars"First, all of these are well-pressed and quiet. George Marino's original cut is bass shy and a bit bright and etched on top. The Japanese pressing is super quiet (of course) and surprisingly, though Japanese pressings have a well-deserved reputation for being bass-shy and kicked up on top, this cut has excellent bottom end and a sweet, yet well-detailed top end with excellent transients, which you immediately hear on Ocasek's sharp, jangly Jazzmaster twangs that open "Best Friend's Girl" and the sharp snare drum attack that drives the tune.

Now, I realize that anything I write about a Mobile Fidelity record will be taken by some as "politically motivated" but this one cut 1/2 speed with no DSD interface has an excellent tom sound—as if Britton hangs his mastering hat entirely on that sound and it wouldn't be a bad choice, but the top end on this Mo-Fi has badly smooshed and soft transients most immediately noticeable on the "Best Friend's Girl" opening twangs that need to be sharply defined but are soft and limp. On another note, the artwork reproduction on the Mo-Fi is substandard. There's no excuse for that given how much it costs.

Red and splotchy, out of focus versus....

I don't have to tell you which is which and I'm not "picking on Mo-Fi". They need to do a better job given the premium price they charge.

Kevin Gray's new cut is easily and noticeably the best of the bunch. One of my least favorite tunes on this record is the gimmicky "I'm In Touch With Your World", but the way Gray nails it, the sharply drawn percussive transients fill the track with details that add enough interest to make the track "un-filler". Compare Robinson's double time kick drum hits on "Don't Cha Stop" on Gray's cut to the others and you'll hear a world of detail difference. The new cut exhibits greater three-dimensionality, more accurately drawn transients and especially greater dynamics. This production is not the most complex, so nothing's really buried, yet musical details emerge that after all these years I've never before noticed.

The new mastering and pressing produces the best The Cars I've heard and it's presented in the best packaging yet. Well worth the $39.98.


Music Specifications

Catalog No: RHF-135

Pressing Plant: Optimal


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: original analog master tapes

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-06-04 12:24:16 AM

    Ted Danowski wrote:

    I have the same pressings as Michael and can definitely agree. The new analog mix is very three dimensional. Has fantastic transient response and energy not felt in the other two mixes. Definitely get it while you can. They might be sold out by now. Enjoy.

  • 2023-06-04 11:29:28 AM

    Gary Faulkenberry wrote:

    Michael, this was an enjoyable read and informative review of an album and band I love. In addition to the four versions you compared, I have the Nautilus Superdisc and the version released in 2015. IMO, the Rhino tops them all. The Japanese and Nautilus pressings are dead quiet with the MoFi just a little too polite for my taste. My original, played at least twice a week for the first year I owned it, still sounds great and will still get the occasional play.

  • 2023-06-04 02:42:49 PM

    Mark Ward wrote:

    I was so excited when Rhino announced this series, and ordered both releases (yet to arrive). Given the catalogue Rhino has access to, I am anticipating some terrific titles. It's clear they've thought long and hard about which audiophile reissue route to take, and I am so glad they have kept it simple yet classy: top notch AAA mastering from analog masters, 33 rpm, reasonable price. The gatefold, insert and OBI are nice touches. I just wish it wasn't such a limited edition. I do think classic records like these need to be eternally in print. Can't wait to spin my copies.....

  • 2023-06-04 02:53:25 PM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    Honestly, I don't care how good the sound is, I never need to hear this album again.

    • 2023-06-05 12:42:06 PM

      Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

      I couldn't agree more! Uggh.. just destroyed by commercial radio. It's been 10 years and I still never want to hear it again. lol.. and the way that Ric treated his ex-wife Paulina after their divorce and his subsequent death? Never utter that douche's name again... pffft.

      • 2023-06-05 12:59:19 PM

        Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

        But thank you Michael! Comparisons like this, from you, ROCK. Love this- I want the skinny on various pressings from a trusted source.

  • 2023-06-06 12:59:29 PM

    Matthew Williams wrote:

    Thanks for this review. I was hoping for this. I have the Mofi and I'm not super impressed.

  • 2023-06-07 07:26:39 PM

    JuzDisGuy wrote:

    Got my copy a few days ago and can’t agree more with Michael. Top notch quality throughout, from the packaging to the pressing to the sound quality. Just what this iconic, epic band and album deserve. P.S. If you don’t like this album we really don’t need to hear about it.

    • 2023-06-09 06:58:08 PM

      Silk Dome Mid wrote:

      Did I say I "don't like this album"? No! I enjoyed it very much to begin with, and it was OK for another 500 or so listens. Now that I can replay every single song in my head, I don't need to hear it again. Which is exactly what I said.

    • 2023-06-13 04:19:41 PM

      Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

      Straight up don't care what you think. I'll say anything I like here.

      • 2023-06-13 06:43:30 PM

        Silk Dome Mid wrote:

        Right on, Glotz!

  • 2023-06-10 02:47:01 AM

    Jake wrote:

    Good writeup Michael. More of these comparison shootouts please

  • 2023-06-10 04:25:01 AM

    tim davis wrote:

    Is that John Roarke, looking pensive over Michael's shoulder in that Boston Weekend Television pic. Also, if so isn't that too much impression talent for one ensemble cast?

    • 2024-01-05 09:11:17 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      Sorry! I just saw this. Yes that is John Roarke. We remained friends after he was hired for the ABC show… Fridays?

  • 2023-06-12 01:35:39 PM

    Michael Kuhl wrote:

    I have totally enjoyed this Rhino release and compared it to my 1980 Nautilus Half Speed Master copy and thought that the Rhino was much brighter and clear especially at the beginning of "My Best Friend's Girl" with the opening guitar riff and hand claps. One thing I was a bit disappointed about was the fact that this "180gram" pressing only weighed in at 154 grams. That's a pretty big difference.

  • 2024-01-22 12:34:25 AM

    Jaime wrote:

    Great reference to the all time Classic film Bro! The duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and in that exact time period, are absolutely beautiful! I have the Blu-ray (and previous DVDs) and have seen the film numerous times - One of THE very best of its kind! Oh, and the review was nice too 😁