Great B-Sides: Breakaway by The Cars

It’s the year of Our Lord 2019, and we’re rapidly approaching peak-rock-star-death era. The Cars’ mastermind Ric Ocasek passed away earlier this week, and I was surprised to learn that he was 75, older than many of the stars that he replaced as part of the new wave.

The Cars’ speciality was their sleek, synthetic sound, which presaged the 1980s. They took notes from Roxy Music, with the heavy use of synths and Ocasek’s detached demeanour. Their 1978 debut funnelled Roxy’s innovations into succinct, hooky pop songs.

The Cars was packed with great songs, and almost every track sounded like a potential single. The band followed it up with the successful Candy-O in 1979, but their other most iconic album didn’t come until 1984. Heartbeat City featured the mega-hit ‘Drive’, fronted by the smooth voice of bassist Ben Orr, as well the power pop of ‘Magic’ and ‘You Might Think’.

Among all the hits, the non-album track ‘Breakaway’ was buried as the b-side to the album’s fifth single ‘Why Can’t I Have You’. It’s clearly a top-drawer Cars song, but it’s presumably buried as a b-side because of the blatant drug references; Ocasek sings about chasing the dragon and Persian dreams, clear references to heroin.

Musically, ‘Breakaway’ captures the adult sophistication of the 1984 Cars – it’s not quite as majestic as ‘Drive’, but it’s too good for a b-side with Ocasek’s brooding vocal, a great keyboard riff leading into the chorus from Greg Hawkes, and an unusually long solo from guitarist Elliot Easton.

‘Breakaway’ wasn’t completely lost to obscurity – it was deservedly included on 1995’s Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology.

The loud mornin’ in the small town cries
You gotta get away
And someone’s throwin’ in the prize
They don’t want to stay
The streets are quiet like the stars
Moonlight puts on a chill
You gotta get yourself outta here
You always do ha

Oh black rider feels alright
Oh persian dreams china white
Where you gonna go tonight

You gotta breakaway
Well you gotta breakaway

Uh people move between themselves
Without on purpose touching
Always nearly dark and frantic
In the corner people clutching
The dance-o-rama it burns
Hiding screams of passion
The nightwatch city it melts away
Oh keepin’ up with fashion

Oh black rider feels alright
Oh persian dreams china white
Oo, where you gonna stay tonight

You gotta breakaway
You gotta breakaway

Oh black rider feels alright
Come on chase the dragon
Time is tight
Time is tight

You gotta breakaway
Oh time is tight
Time is so tight

You gotta breakaway
You gotta breakaway


  1. I could listen to Ocasek sing all day. RIP. Agree the debut LP and Heartbeat City were peaks, I also have a soft spot for Panorama (1980). Wasn’t aware of the B-side so thanks for that.

  2. This one is new to me… I like it…never would have guessed those references coming from the Cars. Really good song.

    • I kind of wish I’d started categorising why things were b-sides from the start. The main reasons I’ve found so far are:
      – really strong album with not enough room to fit everything on a 40 minute LP – like Fleetwood Mac’s Silver Springs or Talk Talk’s Pictures of Bernadette.
      – a song that doesn’t belong on a studio album – a cover or a fun song like Tom Petty’s ‘Girl on LSD’, or an inappropriate song like this one.
      – need to get a topical song out as soon as possible – like CSNY’s Ohio
      – a what were they thinking?

  3. Great song. It sounded familiar, but, I hadn’t. I realised that familiarity is that it’s unmistakably Ocasek and The Cars.

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