The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee updated classic sounds for a broader pop audience, making polished songs with sonic depth.
Ric Ocasek, the songwriter and lead singer for the Cars, was found dead on Sunday afternoon at his townhouse in Manhattan, according to the New York Police Department. No cause of death was available on Sunday night.
It is unclear how old Mr. Ocasek (pronounced oh-CASS-ek) was; according to some public records and previous articles, he was 70, but according to other reporting, he may have been 75.
In a string of multimillion-selling albums from 1978 to 1988, Ocasek and the Cars merged a vision of dangerous and romantic night life and the concision of new wave with the sonic depth and ingenuity of radio-friendly rock. The Cars managed to please both punk-rock fans and a far broader pop audience, reaching into rock history while devising new, lush extensions of it.
The Cars grew out of a friendship forged in the late 1960s in Ohio between Mr. Ocasek — born Richard Theodore Otcasek — and Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000. They worked together in multiple bands before moving to Boston and forming the Cars in the late 1970s with Elliot Easton on guitar, Greg Hawkes on keyboards and David Robinson on drums. It was the beginning of the punk era, but the Cars made their first albums with Queen’s producer, Roy Thomas Baker, creating songs that were terse and moody but impeccably polished.
In the Cars, Mr. Ocasek’s lead vocals mixed a gawky, yelping deadpan with hints of suppressed emotion, while his songs drew hooks from basic three-chord rockabilly and punk, from surf-rock, from emerging synth-pop, from echoes of the Beatles and glam-rock and from hints of the 1970s art-rock avant-garde. The five albums the Cars released from 1978 to 1984 each sold more than a million copies in the United States alone, with ubiquitous radio singles like “Just What I Needed” in 1978, “Shake It Up” in 1981, “You Might Think” in 1984 and “Drive” in 1984; “Just What I Needed” and “Drive” had lead vocals by Mr. Orr.
After the Cars broke up in the late 1980s, Mr. Ocasek released solo albums and worked as a record executive and as a producer for bands that he admired — like the punk-era pioneers Suicide and Bad Brains — and that were admirers of the Cars, including Weezer, Bad Religion and No Doubt. The surviving Cars released a final album, “Move Like This,” in 2011.
The Cars were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, with a brief reunion of its surviving members joined by Scott Shriner of Weezer on bass. Inducting them into the hall, Brandon Flowers of the Killers described the band as “a slick machine with a 340 V8 under the hood that ran on synergy, experimentation and a redefined cool.”
In 1987, Mr. Ocasek told The New York Times, “I’m happy that the pop songs have a bit of a twist. When I’m writing, I never know how it’s going to come out. I don’t think, well, I’ve done a catchy one, now I can do a weird one. I read a lot of poetry, and that gives me a wide range of permission to say anything in a song — they’re more twisted than I’ll ever be.”