The Cars vs. Dire Straits – Ultimate Classic Rock Hall of Fame, Round One
One group is a band of high-octane New Wave heroes; the other ruled rock stadiums as the Sultans of Swing. Only one of them can make it through this round of voting for the 100 percent reader-decided Ultimate Classic Rock Hall of Fame. That’s right, UCR faithful: In this round, we’re pitting the Cars against Dire Straits.
Both bands were members of rock’s class of 1978, with the Cars releasing their self-titled debut in June and Dire Straits following with theirs the next month — and both offered decidedly minimalistic, occasionally somewhat chilly new takes on frontman behavior, as neither Cars singer Ric Ocasek nor Straits leader Mark Knopfler gave audiences much in the way of fancy moves or flash. But each band delivered sharp hooks and classic tracks where it counted, and record buyers responded in droves.
The Cars got their start in the early ’70s, when Ocasek and bassist Benjamin Orr established a creative partnership that carried them from Ohio to Boston — and lasted through an assortment of short-lived projects before eventually drawing in guitarist Elliot Easton, keyboard player Greg Hawkes, and drummer David Robinson. Gigging around New England during the mid-to-late ’70s while woodshedding material, the group attracted the attention of Boston DJ Maxanne Sartori, whose early support of the Cars demo ‘Just What I Needed‘ helped secure the attention of Elektra Records.
Thus armed with a record deal, the band set out to conquer the airwaves — and they succeeded pretty much immediately, scoring a huge hit with the six-times-platinum ‘The Cars.’ Their sound remained in step with current trends throughout much of the remainder of the ensuing decade: 1979’s ‘Candy-O,’ 1980’s ‘Panorama,’ 1981’s ‘Shake It Up,’ and 1984’s ‘Heartbeat City‘ all made the Top 10 and sold more than a million copies each. ‘Door to Door,’ released in the summer of 1987, represented a relative creative and commercial low point, and they disbanded shortly thereafter.
Dire Straits came together in England, forming around Mark Knopfler and his brother David, who teamed up with bassist John Illsley and drummer Pick Withers to cut a five-song demo in 1977. Like the Cars, they benefited immensely from early radio support; BBC DJ Charlie Gillett introduced audiences to the future smash ‘Sultans of Swing,’ and the rest was history.
As with the Cars, Dire Straits found their niche almost immediately, scoring a major hit out of the box with ‘Dire Straits’ and establishing a pattern for five subsequent full-length studio efforts, culminating in the massive worldwide success they enjoyed with 1985’s ‘Brothers in Arms’ LP. MTV fame and arena tours never really jibed with the group’s resolutely low-key music, and by the early ’90s, Mark Knopfler was done with the Dire Straits portion of his career, disbanding the group to focus on a continuing series of quieter, simpler solo efforts.
For years, neither Ocasek nor Knopfler showed any interest in reuniting their respective groups, and in 2005, Easton and Hawkes teamed up with Todd Rundgren to form the New Cars; that project was short-lived, but it did presage a surprising reunion of the surviving Cars (minus Orr, who passed away in 2000) for 2010’s ‘Move Like This’ LP. Dire Straits remain inactive, but former members Alan Clark and Chris White have teamed up with an assortment of other musicians to form the Straits, a tribute act of sorts currently touring behind the band’s classic catalog.
Now it’s your turn to decide which band makes it through to the next round — and you can vote once an hour between now and Sunday, July 13 at 11:59PM ET. The next inductee into the Ultimate Classic Rock Hall of Fame will be announced on Aug. 1. Be sure to read our official rules.