Song of the Day #990: ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ – The Cars

I’ve always felt that it’s never too late to become a fan. I discovered Bob Dylan when I was 14 years old, 20 years after his most groundbreaking work. The Smiths had already broken up by the time I got into their music. Brad Paisley had been a country superstar for nearly a decade before I heard a single note.

But in other cases, for reasons I haven’t determined, I believe the chance at fandom passes me by. Had the timing been right, I would have been completely absorbed by a band or artist. But things just didn’t work out the way they could have.

I feel that way about The Kinks, whose music is worshiped by the kind of people who like the kind of music I like. I bet if I’d immersed myself in The Kinks’ best work starting in high school or college, I’d own every one of their albums and know them all by heart. But that never happened. Now I own one of their records and like it well enough but only casually.

I’ve never thought much about The Cars one way or the other… I’m familiar with their hits — especially ‘Drive’ and ‘You Might Think’ from the MTV era — but only in the way I’m familiar with any band that has received a lot of radio play. I never considered owning one of their albums.

But I checked out their self-titled debut from the library recently and realized what a fresh and exciting sound they introduced back in the late 70s. They were the most commercially successful of the New Wave rockers and had a pretty strong influence on a lot of bands who followed them. I hear echoes of their sound in Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, for example.

I was too young to discover The Cars when they got their start, but I’m guessing I would have been totally into them in high school.

But as much as I loved discovering this album for the first time 35 years after it was released, I don’t see myself diving into The Cars’ catalog at this point in my life. This is a train I’ve missed.

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

Here 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

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

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #990: ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ – The Cars

  1. Amy says:

    Of course the question is – why. Why does one decide that it’s not to late to ferry out and catch the boat for some artists, while in other cases, one determines that the boat is too far away from the dock? there is no ferry available to jump into? the boat doesn’t appear all that appealing from land? to make the journey worthwhile?

    What about Brad Paisley, The Smiths or Bob Dylan made them worth making that extra effort that comes with having to discover an artist after the fact? I would suggest that there is something in the music when you first hear it (your entry point theory) that makes an impression on you at the point you are when listening. If the Cars only could appeal to you when you were 14, then they never had much chance of being anything other than a passing fancy (think J. Geils Band and the other artists you featured from the 80’s)

    For me, The Cars = Drive – the video. Directed by Timothy Hutton! of all things, this video intrigued me no end when it first came out. When Ric Ocasek wound up married to Paulina Porizkova (she of the psycho wall coloring and SI swimsuit covers), that image was just cemented forever. They’re still together some 25+ years later, aren’t they? That’s rather amazing. It never occurred to me to buy one of their albums, though I certainly enjoyed and could sing every word of more than a couple of their hit singles. For whatever reason, I wasn’t inspired to delve deeper.

    I guess that’s what I ultimately think answers the “why” question. Something grabs you and makes you want to explore further. I think of silly little moments for me – listening to a song by Billy Pilgrim in this cool little record store in California and NEEDING to own that album. Hearing a song by Sarah Hickman off Shortstop and falling instantly in love. The fact that I only own two of her albums and I just now read that she has 15+ shows that the love affair was fleeting. Still….

    So will this week be devoted to those artists who passed you by?

  2. Clay says:

    I think you’re onto something. When I first heard the music of Dylan, The Smiths and Brad Paisley, it meant something to me right then and there… it spoke to me at and about the time in my life when I first heard it.

    When I hear The Cars, I think about high school (and yes, the creepy ‘Drive’ video). So they can never have meaning for me in real time, they can only serve as nostalgia.

    Had I been an active Cars fan back then and stuck with them through the years, it would be different. They would have been a real-time presence in my life even as they served as a reminder of years past (think U2 or REM).

  3. Dana says:

    I actually count myself as a fan of the Cars, at least I was in the 80’s. My sense was, however, (though I could well be wrong), that the Cars didn’t really evolve in the same way other artists I followed at the time did (Costello being the most obvious example, but you could probably throw in Joe Jackson, David Byrne to name a few).

    I agree, though, that to become a belated fan, the music must speak to you in the present day. That happened with Costello for me–having become a fan about 10 years after he emerged on the scene. To some extent, that happened with Randy Newman as well and, to a lesser extent, Jackson Browne.

    Anyway, I do feel tremendous nostalgia when I hear the Cars, not so much Drive (which was their biggest hit, but also the least Cars like sound), but songs like today’s SOTD and “Just What I Needed.” WIth the transition from cassettes to tapes, I never renewed my Cars collection (I probably only had one or two albums anyway–or maybe just one big mix tape). I’m content now though to hear them pop up on the 80’s station and don’t really fell the need to rekindle that fandom.

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