With the passing of founder, singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter Ric Ocasek and the previous death of bassist and singer Benjamin Orr (d. 2000), The Cars will sadly never be heard from on the live stage again.
Formed in Boston in 1976, The Cars carved out their own niche in Rock Music, combining pure pop rock with a “new wave” sensibility. Their first five studio albums, released from 1978 – 1984, cemented their place in rock and roll history, producing numerous rock, pop and alternative singles, and propelling the band’s album sales to over 25 million. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 and also won the very first MTV “Video of the Year” award in 1984 for their single “You Might Think.”
Here are the ten best Cars songs to play in your car.
10 “Good Times Roll”(1978)
“Good Times Roll” was the first track on The Cars’ debut album. The album was so chock-full of hits that this was the 3rd single, not getting radio airplay until 1979.
Ocasek has commented that the song was a “parody of good times,” and not really about good times at all.
Let them leave you up in the air
Let them brush your rock and roll hair
Let the good times roll
Won’t you let the good times roll-oll
Let the good times roll
09 “Candy-O” (1979)
This was the title track to the band’s second studio album, released in 1979. Once again produced by Roy Thomas Baker (Queen), “Candy-O” is an enigmatic song featuring Ben Orr on lead vocals. With a sparse chorus (“Candy-O, I need you so”) repeated twice, the song features an almost creepy pulse, lasting only two and half minutes.
08 “Shake It Up” (1981)
Taken from The Cars’ fourth studio album, here’s another title track that features the band at their glossiest, poppiest best. That return to simplicity yielded them their first Billboard Hot 100 Top 10, peaking at #4. Ocasek later said, “I’m not proud of the lyrics” and drummer David Robinson initially did not even want to record the song, as they’d been working on it for years and he was tired of it. Good thing they persevered!
07 “Moving in Stereo” (1978)
One of the few songs co-written by keyboard player Greg Hawkes and main songwriter Ric Ocasek, the song was originally played on rock radio as a “double-header” as it segues into “All Mixed Up” on the album. One of The Cars’ more experimental pieces, the song gained iconic status when it was featured in the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High when Judge Reinhold’s character, Brad, fantasizes about Linda (Phoebe Cates) who drops her bikini top while climbing out of the pool.
06 “Let’s Go” (1979)
“Let’s Go” was the first single from The Cars’ second album Candy-O. Sung once again by Ben Orr, critics hailed the song as the best track on the album. The “clap” hook is from The Reuters’ 1962 hit of the same name, and besides “Let’s Go,” “I Like The Nightlife Baby” is a secondary hook.
I don’t want to hold her down
Don’t want to break her crown
When she says “let’s go
I like the nightlife baby”
She says, “I like the nightlife baby”
She says, “let’s go”
05 “You Might Think” (1984)
From the first album produced by Mutt Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard) this is the first single from The Cars’ 1984 LP, Heartbeat City. As mentioned above, the song won the very first Video of the Year award at the 1984 VMAs, where unbelievably, it beat out Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” It also was their first #1 song at rock radio.
04 “My Best Friend’s Girl” (1978)
Single #2 from The Cars’ debut album was this gem, originally a demo that helped get the band signed. Ocasek admitted he’d never had a girlfriend stolen from him, but figured numerous guys had experienced that situation. Interestingly, Nirvana covered the song at their last concert ever in Munich in 1994.
03 “Drive” (1984)
“Drive” was the first big ballad from The Cars and became their most popular song internationally. Produced by hitmaker Mutt Lange, “Drive” was also responsible for bringing together model Paulina Porizkova and her future husband Ric Ocasek, when she was cast in the video by director Timothy Hutton. It was also used during the Live Aid concert and helped raise several hundred thousand dollars for the Band Aid Trust.
02 “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” (1978)
The sixth track on The Cars’ debut album, “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” became a concert staple with Ocasek explaining, “I like that song. It’s just about ending up with somebody you don’t necessarily care to be ending up with, but something’s better than nothing.” The band had been performing the song for years in their early incarnation as Cap’n Swing in the Boston area. Although a concert staple of the band for years, the song was never released as a single…except as a B-side in the Netherlands.
01 “Just What I Needed” (1978)
Prior to The Cars’ debut album release, this Ocasek-composed Orr-sung song was getting airplay in Boston from a raw demo version. Why? Because it might just be the personification of the perfect pop song. With it’s icy synth line and Elliot Easton’s fierce guitar riffs, the song stuck out on the radio because it was unique. Was it rock? Was it punk? Was it new wave? No one knew and no one cared, because it was just greatness captured in 3 minutes and 43 seconds.