Between late 1979 and the end of 1989, there were nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 just one time, a list that includes Soft Cell, Timbuk 3, The Church, Bronski Beat, Nik Kershaw, The Buggles, The Waitresses, Ultravox and two different bands named The Silencers. Once a week, I’ll highlight a (real) one-hit wonder for you.
At the start of 1980, I heard this real interesting song on the radio called “Cars,” by a recording artist I had never heard of named Gary Numan. “Cars” was nothing like any of the Top 40 music I had heard before. That’s because New Wave hadn’t yet made an imprint in America. And, while New Wave wouldn’t really take off until The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” spent 3 weeks at No. 1 in 1982, Gary Numan’s “Cars” certainly put New Wave on the U.S. music map.
Gary Numan, the West Londoner, got quite comfy on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, with “Cars” debuting on the February 16th, 1980 chart, the same week as Blondie’s “Call Me,” The Romantics’ “What I Like About You,” The Pretenders’ “Brass In Pocket,” “Ride Like The Wind” by Christopher Cross, and “Off The Wall” by Michael Jackson.
“Cars” was a surprise hit (though not to me) that took 3 months to reach the Top 10, spent 3 weeks at No. 9 in June 1980 and nearly half a year on the BILLBOARD Hot 100. Despite peaking at No. 9, it ranked at No. 12 here in the U.S. for all of 1980, beating out every one of the debuts listed above, with the exception of “Call Me,” which was No. 1 for 1980.
Although Gary Numan sadly didn’t chart again here in America, he placed 22 Top 40 solo hits in his U.K. homeland, including 3 different mixes for “Cars” (the original hit No. 1 in 1979), as well as his first U.K. No. 1 in 1979 with “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” (as part of Tubeway Army).
And when Gary isn’t piloting anything, he continues to tour and make music, most recently with his 20th studio album, 2013’s SPLINTER (SONGS FROM A BROKEN MIND).
It’s funny – the first time I saw Gary Numan, whether it was a photo or the “Cars” video, I thought he had this menacing way about him, giving off a bit of a creepy vibe. But, then again, in 1980 I was 13 years old, and hadn’t been introduced to anyone like Gary Numan before. And, regardless of his different and unusual presence (save for the time he plays the tambourine in this song and in the video), I couldn’t not love this song; I was hooked at the first notes of the mesmerizing Moog synthesizers.
I’m grateful to Gary Numan for introducing me to a genre of music I grew to love in my teeens and still adore to this day; to borrow from the song’s lyrics, I think New Wave is the genre where “I feel safest of all.” I can’t imagine what my music world – 80s or otherwise – would be without “Cars.”