The Cars’ 10 best songs

Trying to pick the ten best songs Ric Ocasek wrote with The Cars is like trying to catch ten greased pigs. While another fifty or so greased pigs, that have somehow acquired the ability to speak – this, friends is a place of magic – squeal around your feet, shouting, “I know I’m a greased pig, but I am also a brilliant pop song!” Why are all these pigs greased? It’s a mystery. What isn’t is NME’s opinion on the ten best songs the late, great, already missed Ric Ocasek wrote for The Cars.

My Best Friend’s Girl (1978) 

“Nothing in that song happened to me personally,” once said the songwriter of The Cars second hit single. “I just figured having a girlfriend stolen was probably something that happened to a lot of people.” Being a good ten years older than most of his New Wave peers when The Cars came to prominence, Ric would certainly have been aware that having a girlfriend stolen was a key motif within the 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll he had been raised on. Here’s a curio; Ocasek originally forgot to include the title of the song within the lyrics, inserting it only at the last minute and with 99% of the song already written.


Moving In Stereo (1978)

Co-written with keyboard player Greg Hawkes, ‘Moving In Stereo’ is the only song on The Cars debut album not solely written by Ocasek. It’s one of their most iconic songs, with the tune soundtracking the famous scene in seminal 1982 coming-of-age comedy ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’ where Brad (played by Judge Reinhold) yearns for Linda Barrett (played by Phoebe Cates) exiting a swimming pool. And, in a truly postmodern twist, the song knowingly soundtracks one of ‘Stranger Things’ season three trailers, whereupon Billy Hargrove is letched on as he… yup, that’s right… starts his shift at the swimming pool.

Just What I Needed (1978)

Have you ever heard ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’, a 1968 hit for bubblegum pop quartet the Ohio Express? Ric Ocasek had. The intro to that and The Cars best song are nearly identical. ‘Talent borrows, genius steals’ said Oscar Wilde, and he might well have a point. A huge number of influential artists owe their very career to the template of this song. The Strokes – never ones to mask their thieving of other people’s songs, cough, ahem, Tom Petty – even covered it live. The Cars song (and the lyric “wasting all my time-time”) features a nod to another song, The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’ – also from 1968. 


You’re All I’ve Got Tonight (1978)

Ric Ocasek and Billy Corgan were tight. In 1997 the Smashing Pumpkins kingpin helped produce Ocasek’s solo album, ‘Troublizing’ – even writing the closing tune, ‘Asia Minor’. A few years earlier, the Pumpkins covered ‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’ for a b-side on the ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ single. Corgan was clearly shook by the death of a man he considered a ‘genius’. “Devastated to hear of the passing of this man, Ric Ocasek,” he wrote via an Instagram post yesterday. “It has brightened my spirit to see how many have posted about Ric, praising his originality, flair, and brilliance. I was blessed to have known him.”

Let’s Go (1979)

The Cars followed up their classic self-titled debut quickly with the excellent ‘Candy-O’. Record label Elektra originally wanted to hold it back, fearing it would affect the sales of album number one, which continued to sell well. “We told them there was no way,” said Ocasek, “because if they were going to hold that back, they were going to hold us back, and we can’t just sit around and be held back.” This song, the records opener, again looks to the past for inspiration; the songs key hook references the 1962 song of the same name by surfy-instrumental band, The Routers.

Touch and Go (1980)

The Cars’ third album, ‘Panorama’, was infinitely more experimental than their first two, and as such wasn’t received anywhere near as well. Rolling Stone magazine even described the record as ‘an out-and-out drag’. Still, this song – the album’s one real hit – certainly had its fans. Including John Lennon, who – comparing the song to his release at the time, ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ – gave props to the song in his final interview on December 8; the day of his death. “I think the Cars’ ‘Touch and Go’ is right out of the fifties ‘Oh, oh…’ A lot of it is fifties stuff. But with eighties styling, but, but… and that’s what I think ‘Starting Over’ is; it’s a fifties song made with an eighties approach.” 

Shake It Up (1981)

This song is the title track from The Cars’ fourth album, the last of the band’s records to be produced by sometime Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. The song had been kicking around for years; drummer David Robinson was reluctant to revisit it. “It never sounded good,” he remembers. “We recorded it a couple of times in the studio and dumped it, and we were going to try it one more time. We thought, let’s start all over again, like we’ve never even heard it – completely change every part – and we did. When it was through and all put back together, it was like a brand-new song.” Even so, Ocasek says he’s “not proud” of the song’s lyrics, and yet the song is unquestionably a premium alt.pop banger. 

Magic (1984)

Wanna hear something brilliantly mid-eighties? The video for this single – in which Ocasek, at a Beverly Hills pool party, walks on water – was shot at Paris Hilton’s mum’s house! The song itself, taken from the band’s Mutt Lange-produced fifth album ‘Heartbreak City’, is an absolute rager, all synth stabs and choppy guitars. But how is Ric walking on water? Plexiglass, innit, sat under the surface of the water. On the first take the see-through platform actually collapsed, soaking the singer. But that’s not too bad. If anyone at Elektra has that on tape, we know somewhere they could get £250 for it.

Drive (1984)

MTV was three-years-young when ‘Drive’ was released as a single, and yet the quality of a band’s promo video could already make or break a records chart placing. The video for the third single from ‘Heartbreak City’, directed by actor Timothy Hutton (who if you’re a fan of straight-to-video horror movies, you’ll be aware of), perfectly portrayed the weightless melancholy of the song. “It was the height of MTV,” says the director, “and when you made a record, you were also thinking about the video. I talked to [The Cars manager] Elliott [Roberts, Timothy Hutton’s then next-door neighbour] about how much I liked ‘Drive’. I started describing the different ways I thought they could go with it…” And thereby, said black and white video – as well as the songs subsequent use in the promotion of Live Aid a year later – propelled ‘Drive’ to the status of one of the era’s most iconic songs.

Tonight She Comes (1985)

When The Cars released their first Greatest Hits in 1985, they chose to include one new song, the great ‘Tonight She Comes’. Ocasek originally intended on saving the song for the solo career he was planning in his head. “I was in the middle of recording my solo album [his second, 1986’s ‘This Side Of Paradise’],” said the songwriter, “and it was one of the songs that I didn’t use in the solo album at that point. That was like a one-off single that we just all came together and did.” The song features one of Elliot Easton’s best ever guitar solos. So good in fact, that none other than speed shredder Steve Vai tabbed the song for Guitar Player magazine a year later!