The Cars – Drive
We have seen many times that the history of an artist or a group in the 80s often depended on a particular song, which at one point managed to break through, and from there on, that career changed. Sure, sometimes international fame was short-lived, one season, maybe a couple of songs, but in many other cases, once you made the big leap, fate consigned you to the history and memory of the 80s forever.
Late July 1984 saw the fateful turning point for a group from Boston, who already had several years of career behind them, and had reached their fifth album, Heartbeat City. That group was already quite known, especially in America, with albums and singles such as Shake It Up, and in March 1984 the release of their new album was accompanied by the great success of the first single, You Might Think. We are obviously talking about The Cars, a group that came from the world of new wave and that under the guidance of their charismatic leader Ric Ocasek traveled on the parallel tracks of rock and pop.
Ric Ocasek, of Polish descent (the real family surname was Otcasek, but for some strange reason a t was lost in the documents) was a guy who did not go unnoticed, not only for his tall and thin appearance, but also for his multifaceted talent. He was the oldest member of the group, and was one of the two founders, along with childhood friend Benjamin Orr. He was the group’s lead guitar, but was also the lead singer, while Orr sang on the songs where Ocasek didn’t sing. Ocasek was the author of almost all the lyrics, and was a kind of co-producer within the group.
Drive came out a couple of months after another single, Magic, which didn’t have much success, so as always it was one of those songs that can’t be wrong. Written by Ric Ocasek, it was one of those sung by Ben Orr. The song tells of the dissolution of a couple, seen from the point of view of the lover who tries, as Ocasek himself said, a last attempt to convince his now ex-partner not to go and take the subway that would have sent her away forever. As we know, it’s a beautiful song, very intense, definitely hard to forget.
For such a song, fate also decided to put a super video on it, with a very special story and two unexpected protagonists. The first is a famous actor, Timothy Hutton, who four years earlier had won an Academy Award as a supporting actor for the film Ordinary People when he was very young. Hutton had heard the song, which didn’t yet have a video, and happened to be talking about it with the manager of The Cars, who happened to be his next door neighbour. The manager spoke to Ric Ocasek about it, and the two decided to give Hutton a chance, and asked him if he wanted to be the director of the video, a proposal that Hutton accepted with enthusiasm.
The video alternates between two settings: the first sees Ben Orr in black and white singing in a now empty night club, probably at closing time, alone, sad and with the company of some mannequins (which then take on the appearance of The Cars). These scenes alternate with a second setting in which the protagonist of the video, who obviously plays the ex-girlfriend of the song, alternates scenes of sadness with hysterical laughter and moments of discussion with Ocasek.
And here we obviously have to talk about the second unexpected protagonist. A beautiful girl showed up at the casting for the protagonist of the video for Drive, a nineteen-year-old model with no particular experience as an actress, originally from Czechoslovakia (today we would say from the Czech Republic). The girl met Ric Ocasek for the first time, and he chose her for the video. Shortly thereafter, the girl’s career took off vertically, and Paulina Porizkova became one of the great supermodels of the 80s, along with Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and others.
But fate intertwined other threads, because Ric and Paulina fell in love, even though she was twenty-one years younger than him. Within a few years Ric divorced his second wife and married Paulina, and they remained together until 2017, just two years before Ocasek’s death.
I must say that in the 80s it often happened that the leader of the group fell in love with the protagonist of the video: for example it would have happened in 1985 to Marillion’s Fish, who would later marry the protagonist of the video of Kayleigh, the German model Tamara Nowy, and in a broader sense also to Bill Wyman, already mature bassist of the Rolling Stones, who at an audition was struck by the very precocious Mandy Smith, who later became famous with I just can’t wait.
In short, Drive was really the song that changed not only the career of The Cars, but also the life of their leader Ric Ocasek, and therefore we can say that this song really drove The Cars to success and fame!
The Cars on Wikipedia