When The Cars released their immaculate self-titled debut album in 1978, it seemed transported from a whole new dimension, one of slick cool looks, well-honed hooks and elusive, efficient wit – one where the regular pop-culture genre divisions simply didn’t exist.
With mechanical, tight rhythms, alien synths, jarring guitars and passages of monotone speak-singing, The Cars’ songs were clearly inspired by the avant-garde art-rock world of artists like Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, and re-imagined in pop form by Ric Ocasek. The Cars made weirdness seem fun and infectious, blasting strangeness into the mainstream with their carefully crafted, polished and provocative, postmodern sound.
It’s no surprise that New Wave’s slickest contenders were not only hugely inspirational to their peers, but even more so to the generations of artists who followed. Ocasek produced records for everyone from UK rockers, The Cribs to Weezer and his songs have been covered by numerous devotees. So, in memory of the incredible Ric Ocasek, who passed away in 2019, here are some awesome 90s covers of The Cars' songs.
Nirvana | 'My Best Friend’s Girl' (1994)
Nirvana performed My Best Friend’s Girl as the opening song at the last gig Kurt Cobain ever played, in Munich on March 1st, 1994. While grunge may have been the nail in New Wave’s coffin, Ric Ocasek and Kurt Cobain had much more in common than you might think. Both found a way to process the ominous underground into a universal delivery that the whole world could relate to. Cobain buried irrepressible, sun-kissed melodies with monstrous guitar filth, much as Ocasek did in the ’80s with glaring synths and obnoxiously infectious guitar hooks; both with the same result of blurring the mainstream/cult hero line so far that they changed the meaning of what mainstream even was.
Smashing Pumpkins | 'You’re All I’ve Got Tonight' (1996)
You’re All I’ve Got Tonight is one of The Cars’ most popular cuts and you’ll find this shimmering cover of it buried on the deluxe edition of their Bullet With Butterfly Wings single. The Smashing Pumpkins’ version takes a primal, drum-led approach that gives the 1978 classic a fittingly grungey update, complete with a classic Pumpkins, mind-bending acid guitar solo that blasts it into the 90s.
Red House Painters | 'All Mixed Up' (1996)
The Red House Painters give Ocasek’s itchy synth-pop epic, an opaque, solemn folk-pop makeover, hovering all the quirky energy down to a slowcore shuffle. Chief House Painter, Mark Kozelek creates a circle of life moment by effectively taking Ocasek’s pop precision back to its bohemian art-rock origins.
The Strokes and Jarvis Cocker | 'Just What I Needed' (2011)
The imprint New Wave left on the future of music is arguably epitomized by The Strokes. The band made a celebratory nod to their inspirational lineage at the 2011 Redding Festival when they invited ‘90s Britpop icon, Jarvis Cocker (equally epitomized by the Ocasek influence) onstage to perform The Cars’ smash hit, Just What I Needed with them. Judging from this video, it was a moment that Jarvis and Julian had undoubtedly been dreaming of for some time.
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