This Day in 1979: The Cars in Central Park

Thursday, August 24, 2017
This Day in Music

38 years ago today, The Cars proved that they were Peppers, too, performing a concert in New York's Central Park as part of a now-defunct event known as the Dr. Pepper Festival.

Although the Dr. Pepper Festival hasn't gone down in history as one of the all-time great music festivals, that's because it wasn't like, say, the Monterey Pop Festival or Woodstock or something like that. These concerts took place over the course of the summer during the late '70s and early '80s. That said, they did feature a ton of great musicians during their run, including Ian Hunter, Bonnie Raitt, Laura Nyro, Talking Heads, the B-52's, Todd Rundgren and Utopia, Orleans, Joe Cocker, Firefall, Kenny Loggins, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Hall & Oates, Johnny Winter, Blondie, and ZZ Top.

When The Cars took the stage, the New York Times sent chief pop music critic John Rockwell to cover the proceedings, but his review… Well, let's just say that it didn't exactly qualify as a rave, and although he did manage to sneak some mild praise into the piece, for awhile there it was – to borrow a Cars song title – touch and go.

"The Cars consist of five musicians headed by Ric Ocasek, who plays rhythm guitar, sings some of the lead vocals and writes the songs. The band espouses a style that synthesizes variety of popular strands of late‐70's music. There's the tunefulness of an Electric Light Orchestra, the busy synthesizer and electronic keyboard tex tures of the other British progressive bands, and a pounding, popsy energy that recalls new‐wave rock and 'power Pop.'

"Up until just recently, such eclecticism would have resulted in a busy progressivism of the Queen sort, and indeed Roy Thomas Baker, who has produced that band, has also produced the Cars. But Mr. Ocasek's quintet has been clever enough to simpliify all the fussiness just a bit, falling back on the melodies and the rhythmic energy. The result hardly breaks new ground in rock, or counts as really significant popular entertainment. But even in damp and intermittently rainy outdoor setting, it made a packed Wollman Rink and surrounding hillocks happy enough."

Isn't he sweet?

Thankfully, The Cars managed to rise above this review, but it was pretty easy for them to do, since some have said that their show drew half a million people to Central Park. That's one of those figures that's kind of hard to back up, given the scenario we're talking about, but at the very least, they probably weren't shedding any tears over anything that John Rockwell might've written.

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