Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and The Strokes are amongst the acts that have covered Rik Ocasek's legendary band
“The Cars had it all: the looks, the hooks, Beat-romance lyrics, killer choruses, guitar solos that pissed off your parents, dazzling music videos,” Brandon Flowers said as he introduced The Cars into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame last year. “In the ’70s and ’80s they were able to exist in that highly coveted sweet spot where credibility and acclaim meets huge commercial success.”
It’s no wonder, then, that so many acts wanted a piece of new wave’s slickest band. Ocasek produced records for everyone from The Cribs to Weezer and his songs cropped up in the repertoires of numerous underground devotees. So, to mark his death, here are five of the best Cars covers.
Matt Pond PA, ‘Drive’ (2017)
Ocasek’s soft rock standard has been covered by a vast and diverse array of artists, from Julio Inglesias to the Scorpions and Ziggy Marley. To our ears, though, NYC-based songwriter Matt Pond PA bets captured its lustrous hues on his 2017 cover, the very last song Pond released before retiring his moniker.
“Whenever ‘Drive’ comes on the car radio, I gently crush the accelerator and slow-dance with myself,” Pond wrote of the track. “It’s the libretto of my early teenage life: erotic regret. The older girls in knowing cardigans, gods that could pulverise me with their eyes. Lipstick kisses from outer space. The brilliant brains, the perfect hair, with just a trace of lace at the top of their socks. Whereas I was simply a strange, subterranean humanoid with an asymmetrical haircut… I sat alone in my basement listening to ‘Drive’ years before I ever got the nerve to deferentially inquire, ‘Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?’”
It’s a complicated quest, trying to pin down all the different sides that make up Matt Pond PA, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. They have always defied conventional descriptions; perhaps the
Nirvana, ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ (1994)
Performed as the opening song at the last gig Kurt Cobain ever played, in Munich on March 1 1994, it took several minutes for fans to recognise the track, so thick had Nirvana smothered its intro in monstrous guitar filth. But when Kurt starts singing the irrepressible, sun-kissed melody leaps out like a prom king escaping quicksand.
There’s a visceral thrill to hearing this gleaming new wave nugget get a gurning grunge treatment, but it tackles the sleek tunefulness of the new wave era in a spirit of tracheotomy over tribute.
Smashing Pumpkins, ‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’ (1996)
Anything Kurt can do, Billy can have a bash at too, right? Buried on the maxi-single of ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’, the Pumpkins took a primal, drum-led approach to this stand-out from 1978’s self-titled Cars debut.
Complete with an acid-stretched solo and a fitting grunge update of the original’s wiry guitar scree, it certainly took a brutalist view of Ocasek’s tale of being trapped in an abusive relationship. And the sounds of marching jackboots suggest Corgan felt much the same way about his political leaders.
Red House Painters, ‘All Mixed Up’ (1996)
Before Sun Kil Moon, Mark Kozelek was chief Red House Painter, crafting opaque, solemn folk pop masterpieces that seemed to hover over music like strange lights over a lagoon.
His take on Ocasek’s itchy synth-pop epic – The Cars meet The Doors, essentially – inevitably stripped the tune down to a slowcore shuffle for his unashamedly miserablist ‘Songs For A Blue Guitar’ album, and reworked the melody to the point where it feels like more of a homage to the original than a cover. Gorgeous though.
The Strokes and Jarvis Cocker, ‘Just What I Needed’ (2011)
To say that The Strokes lifted somewhat from new wave is an understatement to rival the suggestion that Jacob Rees-Mogg is a teensy bit of an arrogant wank-stain. But it was a stroke of genius to trace their lineage back through leftfield ‘90s Britpop to The Cars by inviting “The Jarv” onstage at Reading 2011 to sing ‘Just What I Needed’ with them. The whole performance played out like a stand-off between Jarvis and Julian over who owed the song more.