"Cars" is a 1979 song by UK artist Gary Numan, and was released as a single from the album The Pleasure Principle. It reached the top of the charts in several countries, and today is considered a new wave staple. In the UK charts, it reached number 1 in 1979, and in 1980 hit number 1 in Canada two weeks running on the RPM national singles chart[2][3] and rose to number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Though Numan had a string of hits in the UK, "Cars" was his only US Top 40. It debuted on the American Top 40 on 29 March 1980, and spent a total of 17 weeks in the AT40. "Cars" was released under the 'Atco' label, with the catalog number of 7211.

The song was the first release credited solely to Gary Numan after he dropped the band name Tubeway Army, with which he had released four singles and two LPs, including the number one UK hit "Are 'Friends' Electric?", and its parent album, Replicas. Musically, the new song was somewhat lighter and more pop-oriented than its predecessors, Numan later conceding that he had chart success in mind: "This was the first time I had written a song with the intention of 'maybe it could be a hit single'; I was writing this before 'Are "Friends" Electric?' happened."[4]


 [hide*1 Composition


"Cars" is based on two musical sections: a verse/instrumental break and a bridge. The recording features a conventional rock rhythm section of bass guitar and drums, although the rest of the instruments used are analog synthesizers, principally the Minimoog (augmenting the song's recognisable bass riff) and the Polymoog keyboard, providing austere synthetic string lines over the bass riff. The bridge section also includes a tambourine part. Numan's vocal part is sung in an almost expressionless, robotic style. There is no "chorus" as such.

According to Numan, the song's lyrics were inspired by an incident of road rage:

I was in traffic in London once and had a problem with some people in front. They tried to beat me up and get me out of the car. I locked the doors and eventually drove up on the pavement and got away from them. It's kind of to do with that. It explains how you can feel safe inside a car in the modern world... When you're in it, your whole mentality is different... It's like your own little personal empire with four wheels on it.[5]


The music video featured Numan's then-current backing band, including Billy Currie from the band Ultravox, though he had not actually played on the recording of "Cars". Towards the end of the video, a multitude of Gary Numans are depicted "driving" (in a standing position, holding an imaginary steering wheel) along a Polymoog keyboard.


The original UK single was released in August 1979, backed with a non-album instrumental track called "Asylum". The US B-side was "Metal", from The Pleasure Principle album. The track has been a UK Top 20 hit for Numan in 3 successive decades: on its original release in 1979 (making number 1); in 1987 as the 'E Reg Model' remix (making number 16); and again in 1996 following its use in an advertisement for Carling Premier beer (number 17). Numan has regularly performed the song on stage since its original release and it appears on all but one of his official live albums to date.

Chart performance[edit]Edit

Chart (1979-1980) Peak


Australia (Kent Music Report)[6] 9
Belgium (VRT Top 30 Flanders)[7] 28
Canada (RPM 100 Singles)[2] 1
Germany (Media Control AG)[8] 45
Ireland (IRMA)[9] 5
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[10] 18
UK (Official Charts Company)[11] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[12] 9
US BillboardHot Dance Club Play[12] 56
Chart (1987)1 Peak


Ireland (IRMA)[9] 23
UK (Official Charts Company)[11] 16
Chart (1993)2 Peak


UK (Official Charts Company)[11] 53
Chart (1996)2 Peak


UK (Official Charts Company)[11] 17
  • 1Cars (E Reg Model) / Are 'Friends' Electric ? (Re-mix)
  • 2Cars (2nd remix)

Year-end charts[edit]Edit

Chart (1980) Position
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 12

Track listing[edit]Edit

  1. "Cars" (Numan) — 3:44
  2. "Asylum" (Numan) — 2:30

Production credits[edit]Edit

Live versions and remixes[edit]Edit

A selected list of Numan's official live recordings and remixes.

  • Living Ornaments '79 (1981) – live recording
  • White Noise (1985) – live recording also released on "The Live EP"
  • "Cars (E Reg Model)" (1987) – remix released as 7"/12" single (including two other 1987 mixes) and on compilation album Exhibition
  • Ghost (1987) – live recording
  • The Peel Sessions Volume 2 (1987) – 1979 live-in-studio recording for John Peel's BBC Radio 1 show released as EP
  • The Skin Mechanic (1989) – live recording
  • "Cars ('93 Sprint)" (1993) – remix released as EP (including two 1987 mixes and three other 1993 mixes) and on compilation album The Best of Gary Numan 1978–1983
  • Dream Corrosion (1994) – live recording
  • "Cars (Premier Mix)" (1996) – reissued/rebadged 1987 remix released as single and on compilation album The Premier Hits
  • Living Ornaments '81 (1998) – live recording
  • The Mix (1998) – three remixes ("Spahn Ranch mix", "Talla 2xlc mix" and "JLAB mix")
  • Scarred (2002) – live recording
  • Hybrid (2003) – remix
  • Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire (2004) – live recording
  • Living Ornaments '80 (2005) – reissued/expanded live recording originally released minus "Cars" in 1981
  • "Hiding All The Stars (Michael Woods Remix) - Chicane (2009)

Numan performed "Cars" using a set of two dozen automobiles and their horns in an innovative 2010 commercial for DieHard. All of the cars were powered from one single battery. James Frost of Zoo Films directed the video, and Synn Labs, which had previously worked with the band OK Go, engineered the cars.[13]

Fear Factory cover[edit]Edit

Single by Fear Factory featuring Gary Numan
from the album Obsolete (Expanded)
Released 31 August 1999
Format CD
Recorded Early 1998 in VancouverBritish ColumbiaCanada
Genre Nu metalindustrial rock
Length 3:37
Label Roadrunner
Producer(s) Fear Factory, Rhys Fulber
Fear Factory singles chronology






Fear Factory, an American industrial metal band, recorded a version of "Cars" and released it as the second single from their third studio albumObsolete. The song was only included as abonus track on the limited edition digipak re-release of Obsolete and would be instrumental in breaking Fear Factory into the mainstream. In their rendition, Gary Numan performs a duet withfrontman Burton C. Bell.

Background and recording[edit]Edit

According to Bell, around 1996, the band started performing "Cars" as an encore at European concerts. Word spread that Fear Factory was performing the song and as a result Gary Numan's manager contacted them. Upon request, Numan's management flew him out to the Vancouver studio for a three-day span to record vocals on "Cars." The band also asked Numan to record aspoken word piece for the introduction of Obsolete.[14]

Numan had a long-standing dislike for being associated with what he perceived as dated music, and this initially made him apprehensive of working with Fear Factory until realizing "there was a chance that it could introduce me to a new generation of people who didn’t know my history. And that can be useful, because my music’s got a lot heavier and darker anyway." The result would be satisfactory for both parties, and Numan praised the band as "brilliant, really easy to work with. They didn’t have a bad word to say about anyone."[15]

The uncharacteristically bouncy and bright rendition somewhat contrasts with Fear Factory's reputation for intense, grinding metal, while the heavy use of synthesizer and other electronic elements corresponds with the band's industrial style. Drummer Raymond Herrera described the cover as "basically like a blueprint of a futuristic car." He added that, while other songs were considered, the band chose "Cars" because all the band members knew and appreciated it and because the keyboards suited Fear Factory's sound. Herrera later noted that the group initially wanted to record U2's "New Year's Day" but chose "Cars" because they were fortunate enough to have Numan participate. Fear Factory would later cover a different U2 song, "I Will Follow," in 2005.[16]


"Cars" played a significant part in Obsolete's status as Fear Factory's highest-selling album. By 2001, it had sold over 750,000 copies.[17] According to Herrera, the cover received greater enthusiasm in the UK than in the band's native US, which was validated by its chart status. During the song's promotion, Gary Numan joined the band for a concert performance in Brixton,London to much enthusiasm.[18]

After the radio trade publication R&R listed "Cars" as the most added track on both active rock and mainstream rock in May 1999, the song earned "Breaker" status and continued to surge up the chart. "Cars" debuted and peaked at number 57 in the UK Singles Chart on 9 October.[19]

Music video[edit]Edit

Numan also appears in the sci-fi music video, directed by John S. Bartley and filmed in Vancouver, which debuted in June 1999. Bell enthusiastically described the ambitious video as having a "Stanley Kubrick-type of vibe to it":

[Bartley] put Gary and I into harnesses and we had to simulate floating in space. We were floating around this junked out '79 Trans Am that he had as this car in space, and we're coming up to it. They had another '70 Trans Am that was turned into a spaceship, and that's what we're driving in. It was just wicked. It was unbelievable. It was like a dream come true.[20]


The song appeared on compilations such as the Freddy Got Fingered soundtrack, GT2: Music at the Speed of SoundKerrang! Vol. 2: The Album, and Monsters of Rock and in the video game Test Drive 6 in October 1999. A version known as "Cars (MPH Mix)" appeared on NASCAR: Crank It Up in 2002.

The track was included on The Best of Fear Factory in 2006. "Cars (Numanoid Mix)," a version containing only Numan's vocals, appeared on the Hatefiles rarities compilation in April 2003.

Track listing[edit]Edit

  1. "Cars" (remix) — 3:39
  2. "Descent" (Falling Deeper Mix) — 4:38
  3. "Edgecrusher" (Urban Assault Mix) — 4:33

Other covers, live performances and samples[edit]Edit

In 1980, Frank Zappa played "Cars" during some live shows, but sang the lyrics to his song "In France" instead of the original ones. When "In France" was released on his 1984 album Them or Us, it got its own blues background instead.[21] Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo released their own hip hop version of "Cars" on their debut Road to the Riches album in 1989. "Cars" was covered by the Judybats on the 1991 single "Daylight" and by Shampoo on the "Girl Power" single in 1995. Dave Clarke performed the song on the Random tribute album in 1997. Nine Inch Nails performed "Cars" several times during their Wave Goodbye Tour in 2009, featuring Numan on vocals.

The song was also heavily sampled in the 2000 song "Koochy" by Armand Van Helden,[22] reaching #4 in the UK Singles Chart. The beat was later used for the song "Hot Wheels" by the hip hop group Jim Crow. The 2009 songs "Hiding All the Stars" by Chicane and "Trucks" by J Dilla both sample "Cars."[23][24] The song "New Car" by Cledus T. Judd used the instrumental portion of "Cars" after each chorus, partially performed with car horns. The song was remixed with "Technologic" by Daft Punk and with "Here Comes My DJ" by Grandmaster Flash which is featured as a playable track in DJ HeroToronto-based alternative rock quartet Sloan performed a version of the song in June 2011 for The A.V. Club's A.V. Undercover series.[25]

In popular culture[edit]Edit

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