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Ric Ocasek’s artful pop songs drove the Cars, the new-wave band with the fastest, most consistent success. Their debut and second albums sold more than 6 million copies worldwide, and each album since (except their final group effort, Door to Door) has sold over a million copies. Although the group initially got the critics’ nod for Ocasek’s coolly detached stance and the smoothly burnished keyboard- and guitar-laced hooks, in retrospect the Cars were essentially the new-wave model of a Top 40 hit machine. That their off-center pop sensibility found expression in a series of original and frequently aired music videos (especially “You Might Think”) made them, for a time, one of America’s top bands.

Ocasek and Ben Orr had been partners for nearly a decade before starting the Cars. Ocasek took up the guitar at 10 and immediately began to write songs; he started working as a musician after he’d dropped out of Antioch College and Bowling Green State University. He met Orr —who as a teenager had fronted the house band on a TV rock show, Upbeat —in Cleveland, where Orr worked in a studio as a producer and session musician. After working together in various bands in Cleveland, New York City, Woodstock, and Ann Arbor, they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the late ’70s.