How The Cars Got Their Name

In the late 1970s, as punk rock's prevalence began to wane, a new genre of music emerged from what was left over from the scene: New Wave (via Britannica). With its use of synthesizers to create electronic music, New Wave heralded the coming of the new decade that would become the '80s. Embracing the new visual format of music videos, groups like Talking Heads, Devo, and Blondie created the "synth pop" aesthetic that would epitomize the early '80s. Among the groups creating the new sound was a little band out of Boston known as the Cars (via Music Museum of New England).

Members of rival bands in the late '60s, Cars founders Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr met in Cleveland, Ohio, reports The Columbus Dispatch. After milling about the Midwest for several years, Ocasek and Orr made the move to Boston, Massachusetts. The boys didn't find much luck there initially, despite forming all sorts of groups with local musicians. Their trajectory changed, though, when they crossed paths with guitarist Elliot Easton, according to Music Museum of New England. A one-time student at Berklee School of Music, Easton brought with him a jazz vibe that helped solidify the sound for Ocasek and Orr's new band, Cap'n Swing.

What, exactly, is in a name?

With Benjamin Orr on vocals, Ric Ocasek on rhythm guitar, and Easton playing lead, Cap'n Swing began making their mark on Boston in early '76 (via Sweet Purple June). It wouldn't be long before the band would catch the ear of popular local DJ, Maxanne. Her association with the band would become so influential that after an unsuccessful performance in Manhattan, the Boston Globe reports that Ric Ocasek reached out to her for advice. Her suggestions? Replace the drummer. Get rid of the bass player. Orr should then switch to bass, giving more time for Ric to sing. Oh, and the band needed to change its name.

After being rejected by several record labels throughout 1976 and 1977, Ocasek and Orr knew they had to make those changes. They released their bass player and drummer. Orr ended up switching over to bass and David Robinson was hired to play drums. Ric meanwhile took on more singing duties now that Orr had to focus on the bass. The only thing that was left was the name of the band. Ric wanted to keep it simple. Robinson suggested "Cars," he explained to The Wall Street Journal, because "It was easy to remember and it wasn't pegged to a specific decade or sound. The name was meaningless and conjured up nothing, which was perfect." The band agreed. And a little over a year later, in 1978, the Cars would hit No. 27 on the Billboard 100 with the single "Just What I Needed" off their self-titled debut album, marking the beginning of their chart dominance.