The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee updated classic sounds for a broader pop audience, making polished songs with sonic depth.
Ric Ocasek, the songwriter, rhythm guitarist and lead singer for the Cars, was found dead on Sunday afternoon at his townhouse in Manhattan, according to the New York Police Department. No cause of death was available on Sunday night.
It is unclear what age Mr. Ocasek (pronounced oh-CASS-ek) was. According to some public records and previous articles, he was 70, other reporting suggests that he may have been 75.
From 1978 to 1988, Ocasek and the Cars merged a vision of romance, danger and nocturnal intrigue and the concision of new wave with the sonic depth and ingenuity of radio-friendly rock. The Cars managed to please both punk-rock fans and a far broader pop audience, reaching into rock history while devising fresh, lush extensions of it.
The Cars grew out of a friendship forged in the late 1960s in Ohio between Mr. Ocasek — born Richard Theodore Otcasek — and Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000. They worked together in multiple bands before moving to Boston and forming the Cars in the late 1970s with Elliot Easton on guitar, Greg Hawkes on keyboards and David Robinson on drums. It was the beginning of the punk era, but the Cars made their first albums with Queen’s producer, Roy Thomas Baker, creating songs that were terse and moody but impeccably polished.
In the Cars, Mr. Ocasek’s lead vocals mixed a gawky, yelping deadpan with hints of suppressed emotion, while his songs drew hooks from basic three-chord rockabilly and punk, from surf-rock, from emerging synth-pop, from echoes of the Beatles and glam-rock and from hints of the 1970s art-rock avant-garde. The five albums the Cars released from 1978 to 1984 each sold a million copies in the United States alone, with ubiquitous radio singles like “Just What I Needed” in 1978, “Shake It Up” in 1981, “You Might Think” in 1984 and “Drive” in 1984. Although Mr. Ocasek wrote them, “Just What I Needed” and “Drive” had lead vocals by Mr. Orr…
Mr. Ocasek’s songs were invariably terse and catchy, spiked with Mr. Easton’s twangy guitar lines and Mr. Hawkes’s pithy keyboard hooks. But they were also elaborately filled out by multitracked instruments and vocals. Lyrics that might initially seem like pop love songs were, more often, calmly ambivalent.