Cars (song)

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Single by Gary Numan
from the album The Pleasure Principle
Released21 August 1979
Studio Marcus Music AB, London
Label Beggars Banquet
Songwriter(s) Gary Numan
Producer(s) Gary Numan
Gary Numan singles chronology
"Are "Friends" Electric?"
Audio sample
Music video
"Cars" on YouTube

"Cars" is a song by English musician Gary Numan. His debut single, it was released as the lead single from his debut studio album, The Pleasure Principle (1979), on 21 August 1979. It reached the top of the charts in several countries, and today is considered a new wave staple.

Gary Numan English guitarist, singer, and songwriter

Gary Anthony James Webb, better known as Gary Numan, is an English singer, musician, songwriter, composer, and record producer. He first entered the music industry as the frontman of the new wave band Tubeway Army. After releasing two albums with the band, he released his debut solo album The Pleasure Principle in 1979, topping the UK Albums Chart. His commercial popularity peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the No. 1 singles "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and "Cars", but he maintains a strong cult following.

<i>The Pleasure Principle</i> (Gary Numan album) 1979 studio album by Gary Numan

The Pleasure Principle is the debut solo studio album by English musician Gary Numan. Released about six months after Replicas (1979), the second album with his band Tubeway Army, The Pleasure Principle peaked at number 1 in the United Kingdom.

New wave is a genre encompassing numerous pop-oriented music styles popular in the late 1970s and the 1980s with ties to mid-1970s punk rock. New wave moved away from traditional blues and rock and roll sounds to create pop and rock music that incorporated disco, mod, and electronic music. Initially new wave was similar to punk rock, before becoming a distinct genre. It engendered subgenres and fusions, including synth-pop.


The song was the first release credited solely to Gary Numan after he dropped the band name Tubeway Army, under which name he had released four singles and two LPs, including the number one UK hit "Are 'Friends' Electric?", and its parent album, Replicas . Musically, the new song was somewhat lighter and more pop-oriented than its predecessors, Numan later conceding that he had chart success in mind: "This was the first time I had written a song with the intention of 'maybe it could be a hit single'; I was writing this before 'Are "Friends" Electric?' happened." [2] He has since described "Cars" as "a pretty average song". [3]

Tubeway Army British band

Tubeway Army were a London-based new wave and electronic band led by lead singer Gary Numan. They were the first band of the electronic era to have a synthesiser-based number-one hit, with their single "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and its parent album Replicas both topping the UK charts in mid-1979. After its release, Numan opted to drop the Tubeway Army name and release music under his own name as he was the sole songwriter, producer and public face of the band, but he retained the musicians from Tubeway Army as his backing band.

<i>Replicas</i> (album) 1979 studio album by Tubeway Army

Replicas is the second and final studio album by English new wave band Tubeway Army, released in April 1979 by Beggars Banquet Records. It followed their self-titled debut from the previous year. After this, Tubeway Army frontman Gary Numan would continue to release records under his own name, though the musicians in Tubeway Army would continue to work with him for some time. Replicas was the first album of what Numan later termed the "machine" phase of his career, preceding The Pleasure Principle and Telekon, a collection linked by common themes of a dystopian science fiction future and transmutation of man/machine, coupled with an androgynous image and a synthetic rock sound.

In the UK charts, it reached number 1 in 1979, and in 1980 hit number 1 in Canada two weeks running on the RPM national singles chart [4] [5] and rose to number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Though Numan had a string of hits in the UK, "Cars" was his only song in the US Hot 100. It debuted on the American Top 40 on 29 March 1980 and spent a total of 17 weeks in the AT40, peaking at #9.

<i>RPM</i> (magazine) Canadian music industry publication

RPM was a Canadian music industry publication that featured song and album charts for Canada. The publication was founded by Walt Grealis in February 1964, supported through its existence by record label owner Stan Klees. RPM ceased publication in November 2000.

<i>Billboard</i> Hot 100 Song chart in U.S

The Billboard Hot 100 is the music industry standard record chart in the United States for songs, published weekly by Billboard magazine. Chart rankings are based on sales, radio play, and online streaming in the United States.


"Cars" is based on two musical sections: a verse/instrumental break and a bridge. The recording features a conventional rock rhythm section of bass guitar and drums, although the rest of the instruments used are analogue synthesisers, principally the Minimoog (augmenting the song's recognisable bass riff) and the Polymoog keyboard, providing austere synthetic string lines over the bass riff. The bridge section also includes a tambourine part. Numan's vocal part is sung in an almost expressionless, robotic style. There is no "chorus" as such. The song is also instrumental from the 1:30 point until its end.

In music, especially western popular music, a bridge is a contrasting section that prepares for the return of the original material section. In a piece in which the original material or melody is referred to as the "A" section, the bridge may be the third eight-bar phrase in a thirty-two-bar form, or may be used more loosely in verse-chorus form, or, in a compound AABA form, used as a contrast to a full AABA section.

Rhythm section group of musicians within a music ensemble or band who provide the underlying rhythm, harmony and beat for the rest of the band

A rhythm section is a group of musicians within a music ensemble or band who provide the underlying rhythm, harmony and pulse of the accompaniment, providing a rhythmic and harmonic reference and "beat" for the rest of the band. The rhythm section is often contrasted with the roles of other musicians in the band, such as the lead guitarist or lead vocals whose primary job is to carry the main melody of the song.

Analog synthesizer synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog computer techniques to generate sound electronically

An analogsynthesizer is a synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog signals to generate sound electronically.

According to Numan, the song's lyrics were inspired by an incident of road rage:

Music video

The music video featured Numan's then-current backing band, including Billy Currie from the band Ultravox, though he had not actually played on the recording of "Cars". Toward the end of the video, a multitude of Gary Numans are depicted "driving" (in a standing position, holding an imaginary steering wheel) along a Polymoog keyboard.[ citation needed ]

Billy Currie British musician

William Lee "Billy" Currie is an English violist, violinist, pianist, keyboardist, and songwriter. He is best known for his work with new wave band Ultravox, who achieved their greatest commercial success in the 1980s.

Ultravox British new wave band

Ultravox were a British new wave band, formed in London in 1973 as Tiger Lily. Between 1980–86, they scored seven Top Ten albums and seventeen Top 40 singles in the UK, the most successful of which was their 1981 hit "Vienna".

Steering wheel type of steering control in vehicles and vessels (ships and boats)

A steering wheel is a type of steering control in vehicles.


The original UK single was released in August 1979, backed with a non-album instrumental track called "Asylum". The US B-side was "Metal", from The Pleasure Principle album. The track has been a UK Top 20 hit for Numan in 3 successive decades: on its original release in 1979 (making number 1); in 1987 as the 'E Reg Model' remix (making number 16); and again in 1996 following its use in an advertisement for Carling Premier beer (number 17). Numan has regularly performed the song on stage since its original release and it appears on all but one of his official live albums to date.

Track listing

  1. "Cars" (Numan) – 3:44
  2. "Asylum" (Numan) – 2:30

US Version

  1. "Cars" – 3:57
  2. "Metal" (Numan) – 3:31


Chart performance

Live versions and remixes

A selected list of Numan's official live recordings and remixes.

Numan performed "Cars" using a set of two dozen automobiles and their horns in an innovative 2010 commercial for DieHard. All of the cars were powered from one single battery. James Frost of Zoo Films directed the video, and Synn Labs, which had previously worked with the band OK Go, engineered the cars. [18]

Fear Factory cover

Single by Fear Factory featuring Gary Numan
from the album Obsolete (Expanded)
Released31 August 1999
RecordedEarly 1998 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Genre Industrial metal, industrial rock
Label Roadrunner
Songwriter(s) Gary Numan
Producer(s) Fear Factory, Rhys Fulber
Fear Factory singles chronology

Fear Factory, an American heavy metal band, recorded a version of "Cars" and released it as the second single from their third studio album, Obsolete . The song was only included as a bonus track on the limited edition digipak re-release of Obsolete and would be instrumental in breaking Fear Factory into the mainstream. In their rendition, Gary Numan performs a duet with frontman Burton C. Bell.

Background and recording

According to Bell, around 1996, the band started performing "Cars" as an encore at European concerts. Word spread that Fear Factory was performing the song and as a result Gary Numan's manager contacted them. Upon request, Numan's management flew him out to the Vancouver studio for a three-day span to record vocals on "Cars." The band also asked Numan to record a spoken word piece for the introduction of Obsolete. [19]

Numan had a long-standing dislike for being associated with what he perceived as dated music, and this initially made him apprehensive of working with Fear Factory until realizing "there was a chance that it could introduce me to a new generation of people who didn't know my history. And that can be useful, because my music's got a lot heavier and darker anyway." The result would be satisfactory for both parties, and Numan praised the band as "brilliant, really easy to work with. They didn't have a bad word to say about anyone." [20]

The uncharacteristically bouncy and bright rendition somewhat contrasts with Fear Factory's reputation for intense, grinding metal, while the heavy use of synthesizer and other electronic elements corresponds with the band's industrial style. Drummer Raymond Herrera described the cover as "basically like a blueprint of a futuristic car." He added that, while other songs were considered, the band chose "Cars" because all the band members knew and appreciated it and because the keyboards suited Fear Factory's sound. Herrera later noted that the group initially wanted to record U2's "New Year's Day" but chose "Cars" because they were fortunate enough to have Numan participate. Fear Factory would later cover a different U2 song, "I Will Follow," in 2005. [21]


"Cars" played a significant part in Obsolete's status as Fear Factory's highest-selling album. By 2001, it had sold over 750,000 copies. [22] According to Herrera, the cover received greater enthusiasm in the UK than in the band's native US, which was validated by its chart status. During the song's promotion, Gary Numan joined the band for a concert performance in Brixton, London to much enthusiasm. [23]

After the radio trade publication R&R listed "Cars" as the most added track on both active rock and mainstream rock in May 1999, the song earned "Breaker" status and continued to surge up the chart. "Cars" debuted and peaked at number 57 in the UK Singles Chart on 9 October. [24]

It peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and No. 38 on Modern Rock Tracks. [25]

Music video

Numan also appears in the sci-fi music video, directed by John S. Bartley and filmed in Vancouver, which debuted in June 1999. Bell enthusiastically described the ambitious video as having a "Stanley Kubrick-type of vibe to it":

[Bartley] put Gary and me into harnesses and we had to simulate floating in space. We were floating around this junked out '79 Trans Am that he had as this car in space, and we're coming up to it. They had another '70 Trans Am that was turned into a spaceship, and that's what we're driving in. It was just wicked. It was unbelievable. It was like a dream come true. [26]

Track listing

  1. "Cars" (remix) – 3:39
  2. "Descent" (Falling Deeper Mix) – 4:38
  3. "Edgecrusher" (Urban Assault Mix) – 4:33


Chart (1998)Peak positions
U.S. Mainstream Rock Chart 16
U.S. Modern Rock Chart 38

Other covers, live performances and samples

In 1980, Frank Zappa played "Cars" during some live shows, but sang the lyrics to his song "In France" instead of the original ones. When "In France" was released on his 1984 album Them or Us , it got its own blues background instead. [27] Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo released their own hip hop version of "Cars" on their debut Road to the Riches album in 1989. SF Bay Area band Lifeunderwater covered the song on guitars during their live performances in the late 1980s. "Cars" was covered by the Judybats on the 1991 single "Daylight" and by Shampoo on the "Girl Power" single in 1995. Dave Clarke performed the song on the Random tribute album in 1997. Nine Inch Nails performed "Cars" several times during their Wave Goodbye Tour in 2009, featuring Numan on vocals.

On December 21, 1999, during a performance of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno , the group Luscious Jackson segued into a variation on "Cars" entitled "Sleds", using the same music but changing the lyrics to describe winter activities. [28]

The song "New Car" by Cledus T. Judd used the instrumental portion of "Cars" after each chorus, partially performed with car horns. The song was remixed with "Technologic" by Daft Punk and with "Here Comes My DJ" by Grandmaster Flash which is featured as a playable track in DJ Hero . Toronto-based alternative rock quartet Sloan performed a version of the song in June 2011 for The A.V. Club 's A.V. Undercover series. [29] .


The song appeared on compilations such as the Freddy Got Fingered soundtrack, GT2: Music at the Speed of Sound , Kerrang! Vol. 2: The Album, and Monsters of Rock and in the video game Test Drive 6 in October 1999. A version known as "Cars (MPH Mix)" appeared on NASCAR: Crank It Up in 2002. From late 1999 to early 2000, the Fear Factory version was used in a commercial for "Blue" by credit card company American Express.

The song appears in the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the fictional in-game radio station "Wave 103".

The track was included on The Best of Fear Factory in 2006. "Cars (Numanoid Mix)," a version containing only Numan's vocals, appeared on the Hatefiles rarities compilation in April 2003. Stewie sings a parody of this song at the end of the Family Guy episode Whistle While Your Wife Works as a way of mocking Brian about how dumb his girlfriend is.

Numan's version appears in a 2018 TV commercial for Walmart, and on the 1995 film Dangerous Minds.

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