November 1981: The Cars SHAKE IT UP

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

When it was time for the Cars to record a fourth album, the group was in a bit of a quandary. After blasting out of the gate with two runaway hit albums, the band's third--Panorama--had thrown fans and FM radio DJs for a loop. The catchy hooks and classic melodies had been replaced by stark and abstract experimentalism as the Cars explored murkier and more left-of-center territory on songs like the title track and "You Wear Those Eyes."

Shake It Up, released November 6, 1981, was the remedy. With Ric Ocasek being a master at crafting pop songs, he dipped into his bag of older and unrecorded songs to unearth the title track. Released as a single on November 9, 1981, "Shake It Up" was the sound of the Cars shifting back into hit-making overdrive. Packed with hooks and upbeat, party-time lyrics, the tune was just what the band needed, soaring to #4 on the Hot 100.

The single was a bit of an outlier, as Shake It Up the album still found the band incorporating experimental elements between the pop hooks. The album's second single, "Since You're Gone," shimmered with a similar steely minimalism as Panorama, with guitarist Elliot Easton paying homage to icon Robert Fripp during the solo. Still, the standout track nearly hit the Top 40, peaking at #41.

The quirky "Victim of Love" would serve as the album's third single, but by then the album had run out of gas on the Hot 100, and the tune failed to chart. But the album had already served its purpose.

Shake It Up was a transitional album for the Cars, cruising up the charts to peak at #9 for the week of December 19, 1981. The #1 album in America that week: Foreigner, 4.

With the Cars balancing their artistic impulses with an eye on the charts and radio playlists, Ocasek and company now had the blueprint. They would go on to use that ability by following Shake It Up with the band's most commercially successful album since their vaunted debut: 1985 blockbuster LP, Heartbeat City.