My Best Friend’s Girl (1978)

The Cars

Written by Rick Ocasek
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The Cars

As the “Classic Rock” period faded in the late 1970s, many bands poured Synth-Rock into a new vat and started stomping those grapes with a drug-fired vengeance. Whether those bands couldn’t play their instruments or they just skipped down the primrose path of the new, we don’t know.

The result? Lots of over-produced, fake music, a plague upon the House Of Rock to this day.

The Cars took an entirely different approach. Instead of trying to experiment their way to the top, they expertly blended Classic R&R sounds (at times downright Doo-Woppy and Rockabilly) with New Wave as well as with synthesizer-driven backup. The result on their self-titled first album was nothing short of spectacular. “My Best Friend’s Girl” is a shining example of the blend.

“My Best Friend’s Girl”

The album is one of the best of a year that was a bit thin on quality, although released that year were Van Halen’s first; the Stones’ Some Girls; Darkness At The Edge Of Town; Zevon’s Excitable Boy, and if you tend that way, Judas Priest’s Stained Glass, which carries the power metal classic “Beyond The Realms Of Dreams.”

Rick ocasek

Composer/singer Rick Ocasek

“My Best Friend’s Girl” isn’t quite a revenge song, isn’t quite despairing. It’s more of an “Oh shit” song, when the singer begins realizing that maybe he lost something pretty good. Although we are left with the distinct impression his girl might have been a bit too hot to handle for him.

From the kickiness of the near-bass ax line that opens “Girl,” (reminiscent of Tommy James & The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone”) and the Beatlesque hand-clapping, the listener is in for an attic-full of hooks, last-minute escapes from the mundane into radiant Rock-N-Roll, and certainly something lightly satirical musically and vocally.

 

 

Fellow Ohioans’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”

From the start, the song tips its punky hat to the early days of Rock, referencing Elvis’s “Blue Suede Shoes.”

You’re always dancing down the street
with your suede blue eyes
and every new boy that you meet
he doesn’t know the real surprise

The cascades of sound include a full-stroke grungy rhythm guitar; a drum track that was recorded far back from the mikes and then brought forward in the mix through the magic of the echo machine; a maniacally repetitive organ riff, and a throbbing-temples bass evocative of Paul McCartney’s eclectic playing on songs like “Hey Bulldog.”

Elliot Easton’s nimble lead guitar fits like a glove with the general feeling of the song, raising Cain, but still touching on the foundations of Rock. It’s perfectly done in every respect. Additionally it resonates with the image of the girl as she moves in the writer’s mind:

Best friend's girl singleHere she comes again
when she’s dancing ‘neath the starry sky
she’ll make you flip
here she comes again
when she’s dancing ‘neath the starry sky
you kinda like the way she dips
she’s my best friend’s girl
she’s my best friend’s girl
and she used to be mine

The overall arrangement pesuasively beckons you to do “the dip.” (Go figure it out, but you’ll have to practice to get it right.)

Rick Ocasek, who wrote “My Best Friend’s Girl,” also does a sharp job parodying British New Wave pop singing although he’s from Ohio. He incorporates some Buddy Holly flourishes, hiccuping, hesitating then singing brashly when he comes out of those throat tics.

Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”

One of the best aspects of the song is that it is so hooky, a facet of The Cars’ work that did not endear them to harder core Punk-lovers. So be it. It Rocks while much of Punk refused to gel outside of masses of noise. Making music, is, after all, a business, and part of that business is to get ears to the sound and eyes on the performers at concerts.

Aside from zooming guitar slams and sinuous underlying cookery, the lyrics are pointed, funny and purposely self-conscious. Here she comes again:

You’ve got your nuclear boots
and your drip dry glove
and when you bite your lip
it’s some reaction to love

This is what happens when Rock, Pop, Punk and art speed down the highway together in a flashy roadster.

mangoids
  • The entire debut album, The Cars,  recorded in 12 death-defying days, would sell over 6 million copies. And, oh that cover with the out-of-control girl at the wheel!
  • The lead guitar shares many – perhaps too many? – similarities to The Beatles’ “I Will” from their White Album.
  • Nirvana covered “My Best Friend’s Girl” during their last concert in Munich, March 1, 1994.

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