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Best Cars Songs: 10 New Wave Hits To Rev Your Engine
Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best Cars Songs: 10 New Wave Hits To Rev Your Engine

Full of gas-guzzling rock riffs and bracing synth hooks, the best Cars songs demonstrate how the new wave band became power-pop icons.

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Setting off in the late 70s, The Cars wasted no time in accelerating into pole position among the new wave groups of the era, thanks to a slew of FM radio hits that brought the band’s unique fusion of power-pop and driving synth-rock into the charts. Led by songwriter Ric Ocasek, the group’s ignition-starting fusion of guitarist Elliot Easton, bassist Benjamin Orr, keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson successfully merged punk-inspired creativity with galvanising guitar-based rock, ensuring that, from Just What I Needed to You Might Think, the best Cars songs had hooks as well as attitude.

The Cars are best remembered as one of the driving forces behind the new wave movement, their evolution from prickly art-rock to quirky 80s pop ensuring an appeal that shows no sign of slowing down. Here, then, is our list of the best Cars songs, each one proving that the group’s power-pop legacy can still go the distance…

Listen to the best of The Cars here, and check out the best Cars songs, below.

10: Since You’re Gone (from ‘Shake It Up’, 1981)

Riding a steady-moving beat, The Cars’ power-pop finger-snapper Since You’re Gone peaked at No.41 on the US Hot 100 in May 1982. Recording his vocal in a single take, Ric Ocasek reflected on romantic estrangement (“You’re so treacherous/When it comes to tenderness”), his voice meshing perfectly with Greg Hawkes’ skittering synth lines and the cocked-wah sustain of Elliot Easton’s Television-esque guitar solo.

9: Moving In Stereo (from ‘The Cars’, 1978)

Co-written by Ric Ocasek with keyboardist Greg Hawkes, Moving In Stereo is a hi-fi-thumping art-rock highlight that easily ranks among the best Cars songs from the group’s self-titled debut album. Sung by bassist Benjamin Orr and perked up by an oscillating synth hook from Greg Hawkes, the song sees producer Roy Thomas Baker push the limits of the stereo spectrum, the sound sweeping across from one speaker to another in order to mimic the disorienting feel of coasting through everyday life.

8: Magic (from ‘Heartbeat City’, 1984)

Truly spellbinding in more ways than one, Magic hits like a heady love potion. Joyous stabs of power-pop guitar and a flashy bombardment of sprightly synths caused listeners to instantly fall in love with the song, sending it to No.12 on the US Hot 100 in July 1984. The third single from The Cars’ quadruple platinum-selling 1984 album, Heartbeat City, Magic still casts its spell among the best Cars songs.

7: Shake It Up (from ‘Shake It Up’, 1981)

Taking The Cars in a brighter, more poppier direction, Shake It Up brought a kinetic burst of art-punk energy to the dancefloor in late 1981. Though Ric Ocasek felt his lyrics could have been improved upon, the immediacy of Shake It Up is what earns it a spot among the best Cars songs. Issued as the lead single from the album of the same name, the song charted at No.4 on the US Hot 100 thanks to the motorik thrust of Elliot Easton’s guitar and drummer David Robinson’s enthusiastically upbeat tempo.

6: Good Times Roll (from ‘The Cars’, 1978)

Delivered with a knowing wink, Good Times Roll brought a satirical edge to the chugging grooves of The Cars’ debut album. “That was my song about what the good times in rock’n’roll really mean, instead of what they’re supposed to be,” Ric Ocasek later said. “It was kind of a parody of good times, really. It was kinda like not about good times at all.” Peaking at No.41 on the US Hot 100 in May 1979, Good Times Roll ranks highly among the best Cars songs for embodying a punky spirit of aloofness that lit the fuse of the new wave revolution.

5: Let’s Go (from ‘Candy-O’, 1979)

With bassist Benjamin Orr on lead vocals, Let’s Go is a road-ready pop-rock anthem that became one of The Cars’ biggest hits at the time of its release, reaching No.14 on the US Hot 100 in 1979. Fuelled by the driving combination of Orr’s pulsing bass grooves and Easton’s circumvolving guitar riffs, Let’s Go inspired Greg Hawkes to summon whirly tube-like noises from his synthesiser, bringing a playful sense of whimsy that earns it a place on this list of the best Cars songs.

4: You Might Think (from ‘Heartbeat City’, 1984)

With MTV in full swing in the mid-80s, The Cars carved out a pioneering niche for themselves by bringing a touch of punk-inspired surrealism to their music videos. You Might Think, their US No.7 hit single from 1984, was arguably the apex of The Cars’ mission to subvert the airwaves, with a promo clip featuring frontman Ric Ocasek singing from the inside of a toilet bowl. “That’s up there in the pantheon of rock music videos,” guitarist Elliot Easton later said in an interview with Vulture, “and it was an enjoyable and silly time to film it.” Easily one of the best Cars songs, You Might Think boasts more than 95 million streams on Spotify and showcases the band at their quirkiest, hitting a home run with a catchy pop-rock ditty.

3: My Best Friend’s Girl (from ‘The Cars’, 1978)

Kicking off with Beatles-inspired handclaps and a touch of rockabilly vamping, My Best Friend’s Girl was chiefly responsible for launching The Cars to the forefront of the new wave scene upon its release in late 1978, peaking at No.35 in the US and No.3 in the UK. A fan favourite among the best Cars songs, it boasts a wondrously vibrant groove, with Ric Ocasek hiccuping his way through proceedings with all the envy of a spurned ex-lover. “Nothing in that song happened to me personally,” Ocasek later said. “I just figured having a girlfriend stolen was probably something that happened to a lot of people.”

2: Drive (from ‘Heartbeat City’, 1984)

A masterful synth-rock power ballad that showcases bassist Benjamin Orr’s achingly melancholic voice, Drive became forever synonymous with Live Aid in 1985, when it was featured in a video raising awareness of the Ethiopian famine crisis. In a remarkable gesture, Ric Ocasek donated all proceeds from the single’s attendant re-release to the Band Aid Trust, ultimately raising £160,000 for charitable causes. Peaking at No.4 in the UK and No.3 in the US, Drive tells a deeply affecting tale of concern for an ex-lover spiralling into self-destructive behaviour, making it an essential listen among the best Cars songs.

1: Just What I Needed (from ‘The Cars’, 1978)

Coasting with all the forward momentum of a purring Camaro and laced with punk attitude, The Cars’ 1978 debut single, Just What I Needed, is a blast of power-pop perfection. Written by Ric Ocasek when he was living in a commune in a Massachusetts basement, an early version of the song made an immediate impression on keyboardist Greg Hawkes when he auditioned to join The Cars. “They played me a demo,” Hawkes told The Boston Globe, “and I thought, Wow, that sounds like that could be a hit single.” He was spot on. In September 1978, Just What I Needed peaked at No.27 on the US Hot 100, and made it to No.17 in the UK early the following year. Showcasing Ric Ocasek’s clever knack for pop-rock hooks, The Cars’ first outing is a punchy and snark-filled new wave classic that tops this list of the best Cars songs.

Find out where Drive ranks among the best power ballads of all time.

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