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Ranked: The Cars’ Singles from Worst to Best

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In honor of the first new Cars album in 24 years, we get nostalgic.

On May 10, The Cars will release Move Like This, their first album since 1987's Door to Door. In honor of a band with a boatload of ubiquitous songs and no one definitive album, we're ranking all of their Top 40 singles from worst to best.

 

12. "I'm Not the One" (from Shake It Up, 1981)

"I'm Not the One" sounds like Mark Mothersbaugh's Casio score for The Life Aquatic, and I don't really mean that in a good way. Ric Ocasek's voice expresses vague neurosis better than heartfelt emotion, and the result is that his lead here is consistently out-emoted by the backing vocals. Oh, and the synth solo at 1:55 sounds like John Paul Jones' on Led Zeppelin's "Rain Song" two years prior, if he played it with one finger and half an ear.

 

11."You Are the Girl" (from Door to Door, 1987)

A rare lead-vocal collaboration between Ocasek and the band's secret weapon, bassist Benjamin Orr (who died in 2000), "You Are the Girl" represented the Cars' last Top 40 hit. The result is a tightly crafted pop song that, unfortunately, wouldn't sound particularly out of place on an episode of Charles in Charge. (Though, to be honest, you could say that about many Cars songs.)

 

10."Hello Again" (from Heartbeat City, 1984)

"Hello Again"'s main hook is a recycling of the band's own "Let's Go," and the whole track feels slightly stolen from somewhere, as if Bernie Worrell snuck in from a Talking Heads session and tossed this off as a favor to Ocasek for getting him that eight-ball that one time. There's not much to it except the typical Cars formula: stuttering riff, California harmonies on the chorus, and a kind of asexual, teddy-bear charm, much like anyone below the age of thirty wearing a bow-tie.

 

9. "Drive" (from Heartbeat City, 1984)

Though 1984's "Drive" was actually the band's biggest hit, it hasn't aged well. Layers of synth coat the track like Vaseline, glossing over Benjamin Orr's surprisingly tender vocals, and the whole thing sounds like what you'd use to ironically score your student film's "heartfelt" moment, if you were being a dick.

 

8. "Magic" (from Heartbeat City, 1984)

"Magic" is an undeniably crushing song from what's generally remembered as one of the lightest rock bands of the '80s. The mock-AC/DC guitar riff, percolating bass line, and syrupy harmonies wrap Ocasek's tense singing with just the right amount of heft. The rinky-dinky keyboards push the band over the Spinal Tap line from stupid to clever.

 

7. "Cruiser" (from Shake It Up, 1981)

"Cruiser" is a lesser-known single, but it's an efficient rocker featuring the best elements of the Cars' sound: sparse synth lines, drums that sound like they're coming from the trunk of your car, and, all things considered, some pretty bitchin' guitar licks. The song's chorus ("You comb the night 'cause you're a cruiser and you never get enough") is a little dark coming from the future dad-rock band that the Cars were, but then again, Ric Ocasek has always looked like he's hiding something.

 

6. "My Best Friend's Girl" (from The Cars, 1978)

On one of the band's most visible singles, the incredibly catchy hook masks some of the more subtle elements of the song, like Easton's nimble guitar work (which marries rockabilly chicken-pickin' to stun-gun distortion) and the detached cool of Ocasek's vocals. These elements aside, though, "My Best Friend's Girl" perfectly encapsulates a situation all of us have been in and then makes us feel infinitely better about it. And oh man, those handclaps.

5. "Tonight She Comes" (from Greatest Hits, 1985)


Between the faux-orchestral opening and the main riff that screamingly announces "This is the '80's!", "Tonight She Comes" could easily sound like a tomb instead of a time capsule. But the band bounces along on such a relentless beat, and Easton's solo overflows with such joy, that it's difficult to call this song anything but… rad. The band knew what they were doing too — this song took four weeks in the studio to build from scratch.

 

4. "Let's Go" (from Candy-O, 1979)

The song's synthesizer riff is instantly recognizable, and its bubbling hook is all over classic-rock radio for a reason. Stupid trivia alert: the handclap pattern and "Let's Go!" shout are lifted from the 1962 instrumental of the same name by The Routers. But seriously, when you've put together a song from nothing but hooks, who cares where you're stealing from?

 

3. "You Might Think" (from Heartbeat City, 1984)

The video for this song was one of the first to use computer graphics, and the cheap-looking (though actually at the time quite expensive) image of Ocasek buzzing around as a fly has become indelibly stamped on the song. That's kind of unfortunate, because musically, every element of this song just works. The guitar arpeggios cascade, the synths ring out through layer after layer, and Orr turns in a surprisingly bumpin' bass line. All this merges with one of Ocasek's most defining vocal performances; he's by turns goofy, aloof, and witty, the nerd who walks away with the hot chick by the end of math class.

 

2. "Shake It Up" (from Shake It Up, 1981)

The electronic drums and awkward vocal mix do nothing to diminish the awesome power of this song. Despite fairly reeking of teased hair and leggings, this song has the same weirdly awkward charm to it as the band itself. (Watching these videos again, I would be hard pressed to find another band that looks more like a collection of future serial killers.) The video for "Shake It Up" is so surreal that it could qualify as a long-lost Buñuel clip, and it belongs to that wonderful dawn of the music-video age, when nearly any batshit idea qualified as a "concept."

 

1. "Just What I Needed" (from The Cars, 1978)

With the sheer ubiquity of their songs, it's hard to recognize what once sounded avant-garde about The Cars, but this song's remote cool easily recalls Talking Heads' contemporaneous work. Benjamin Orr's vocals are just detached enough to make lines like "You're just what I needed/I needed someone to bleed" seem a little less creepy than they actually are, and despite the cheery synth tone (recycled so effectively by The Strokes on "12:51"), there's an edge to the guitar and a hint of desperation in the vocal build-up at the end of the song. There's a reason this 1978 song is played at nearly every '80s Night: it anticipated everything that was great about pop music during that decade, and nothing that sucked.