2019 continues to be a year of celebrations as anniversary after anniversary proceeds – 1979 being a launching pad for the definitive tracks in the goth subculture. From the unassailable Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division on 15th June, through the colossal Bela Lugosi’s Dead from Bauhaus on 6th August, to today’s (thirtieth) birthday of the impeccable Lovesong by The Cure, we’ve enjoyed four decades of some of the finest goth music going.
However nobody emerges fully formed and goth educated from the crypt, and before I even knew who Marilyn Manson was, let alone Peter Murphy, I caught a snippet of music that was originally released on 21st August 1979, but now it was on an unlikely advert playing when I was just eleven…
Something about this electro-rock ditty tugged at my impressionable mind. That was the plan of course. Ex-Tubeway Army singer and now solo artist Gary Numan specifically wrote “Cars” to be a catchy pop song and it performed, topping the charts here and scoring the highest for Numan in the US as well.
It charted again when it sound-tracked the above beer advert, and inadvertently steered me in the direction of new wave which is a gateway sound to a whole world of alternative music. The dark tide of goth music was poised to fall on me, but I’d first spend my teens drifting around new wave, futurism and light Eighties electronica…
I should give thanks here to my Mum, who has an excellent and eclectic taste in music and helped introduce me to the wider Gary Numan sound. She helped me get his cassettes (why not ask your parents what they are) and CDs, and I devoured his production.
I also became entranced by his look. He was pale and slightly built with dark hair, very similar to myself – but he was successful and accomplished. He also wore exotic makeup and elegant suits, symbols of transgression and power that enchanted and overawed me.
And he was aloof, even arrogant – robotic and superior. The mingled sci-fi desires and burgeoning self-esteem issues that would come to define my adolescence didn’t touch the synthetic singer with his perfectly programmed machine mind. It turns out that was very much an act by Numan and for much the same reasons, but it was a blueprint for me at a crucial and formative age.
Returning to the music, I nowadays feel envious of US markets – the B-side to Cars was the equally impressive Metal, an opinion shared by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails who covered it in 2000 and did a superb job. My passions for Numan’s output surged for firm favourites like Are ‘Friends’ Electric and I actually maintain my strongest love for the Tubeway Army non-starter of this auspicious year, Down In The Park.
But whenever I hear that hypnotic drum attack intro, I’m transported back many years to being perched in front of a TV in the mid-Nineties when I first heard it, and felt like a switch had flipped in my biotech brain. The year before last, I was lucky enough to be right down the front at Gary Numan’s gig in Kingston-upon-Hull (with my still cool Mum!) and after performing his epic single My Name Is Ruin with his unbelievably talented daughter Persia, he played Cars, just feet from where I was stood.
I count myself very lucky – like many musicians cursed with an early hit, he’s had a tumultuous relationship with this track. It’s a testament to his good nature, and to the enduring strength of this odd little Eighties cyber-pop tune, that it remains in his set where it thrills me again, so many years after its initial, immense impact.