A couple of weeks ago, somebody—and I forget who because I found the whole thing too depressing to finish—wrote a piece focused on the ages of prominent rock figures from the 60s to the 80s, and the likelihood that they’re going to start dying in droves. And then it started happening. Eddie Money died on Friday at the age of 70, and Ric Ocasek of the Cars died yesterday at 75.
(That’s older than you’d expect. “Baby Hold On,” Money’s first hit in the summer of 1978, would have come when he was already pushing 30; when “Just What I Needed” hit that fall, Ocasek was 34.)
Money’s first two hits, “Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets to Paradise” (always choose the 45 mix, people), were simple, no-frills rock, the kind of thing that stood out in 1978, a year filled with lightweight pop tunes. His third album, 1980’s Playing for Keeps, has two of my favorite performances: “Trinidad,” with great jangly guitars and big stomping drums, and “The Wish,” which builds up from a single sizzling riff into a tough rock ‘n’ roll strut that leaves no ass unkicked.
Money ascended to a new level of stardom in the MTV era. In 1982, No Control featured “Shakin'” and “Think I’m in Love,” which are in competition with “Baby Hold On” for the title of Eddie Money’s signature song. Unless that’s “Take Me Home Tonight” from his 1986 album Can’t Hold Back, his highest-charting single of all.
(In 1986, the first show of the tour supporting Can’t Hold Back was in the Illinois college town where I was a Top 40 morning jock. Ann and I went to the soundcheck that afternoon, where we were surprised to see how tough he was on his band. He repeatedly stopped run-throughs and made his guys do them again. He was pretty blunt in telling them he expected more than they were delivering. When we sat down for our interview, that was the first thing I said to him: “You were working the band pretty hard out there.” “I was,” he said. “This is our job, and this tour is important, and we’ve got to get it right.” I had always assumed that rock bands just kind of showed up and started to play. His level of commitment opened my eyes, and it impressed me. I never forgot it.)
Part of Eddie Money’s appeal was his regular-guyness. Part of Ric Ocasek’s appeal, and that of the Cars, was that they were not. There had never been anything that sounded quite like that first album, with its all-world opening threesome of “Good Times Roll,” “Just What I Needed,” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.” The Cars is where the musical decade of the 80s begins: the band’s music and their buttoned-up look have lot more in common with the chilly, danceable pop music of the 80s and the fashion plates who made it than they do with the styles and stars of the looser, scruffier 70s. Candy-O remains my favorite of theirs. And as Alfred Soto wrote at Pitchfork last year, their 80s albums were both experimental and squarely in the pocket for the decade, which is not an easy daily double to hit.
Like Money, the Cars became MTV superstars in the 80s, and like him, they were a sure thing for several years. But the Cars were done as a force by 1987, shortly after Ocasek’s solo career peaked with the single “Emotion in Motion” (although he made five other solo albums between 1991 and 2005, and the surviving Cars reunited for a one-off album in 2011). He was also a prominent producer, and his 28-year marriage to supermodel Paulina Porizkova (pictured above in 1990) gave hope to nerdy-lookin’ dudes everywhere. After the 1991 album Right Here, Money’s longtime label Columbia dropped him, and he settled into a period of recording infrequently on small labels and playing shows featuring his old hits. But thanks to oldies and classic-rock radio, neither act ever disappeared.
At the end, Eddie Money was pretty happy just being Eddie Money, with a respectable set list to entertain the people. And that’s the kind of ending you and I might wish for: to be 70 years old and at peace with how things have turned out for you. We don’t know whether Ric Ocasek’s life turned out as he wished, given that he kept a much lower profile. But from the outside looking in at the lives of both of them, we can guess that it would be a fine thing to have so many people care so much about you when your time comes to leave.