Feb 252022

Go back to the beginning

20. Matt Pond PA – Drive

“I love covering songs,” Matt Pond said in a 2020 interview. “It may be almost a point of weakness, but I feel like you learn so much about getting inside of a song. It’s something unexplainable, not just the chords, and the melody, and the structure. You exist as an extension, an homage to what the song was, and try to bring it back to life, if it’s forgotten.”

That certainly comes across in his cover of “Drive.” Recorded with his partner Anya Marina under the Matt Pond PA moniker, it breathes just as strongly and steadily as the original. Its sheen is no longer metallic, but retains the Cars’ soft focus beautifully. — Patrick Robbins

19. Jason Falkner – Touch and Go

“Touch and Go” is an amazing, yet largely unappreciated song from The Cars’ catalog. While secondhandsongs.com lists nearly 70 versions of “Just What I Needed,” and almost 100 of “Drive,” they list only two for “Touch and Go” — the original and this one. Perhaps that’s not surprising. Expectations were high following the success of Candy-O, but the more experimental sound of Panorama didn’t resonate with fans in quite the same way, and even though “Touch and Go” did crack the top 40 (peaking at #37 on the Billboard Hot 100), the album as a whole was one of the Cars’ less commercially successful endeavors.

While his cover version may, at first listen, sound like a near-clone, Californian Jason Falkner takes this minimalist, haunting song about a challenging relationship and makes it his own by giving it the full band treatment. The quirky drumbeats are still there; they’re just no longer riding up front. The synth stabs are now moderated with sweeping keyboard fills behind them. Rather than the single-note picking of the original’s bridge, Falkner’s playing chords, and playing them from the get-go. The biggest effect that the shift in instrumentation and the (relatively) lush production have on the song, though, is a marked change in attitude. In the original, the balance of power in the relationship clearly rests with the song’s subject. With this version, Falkner takes some of that power back. While the lyric are still melancholy, bordering on plaintive, Falkner infuses them with energy, and seems to be saying, “All I need is what you’ve got—so bring it on.” It puts the song in a different, and some might even say more powerful, light. — Bob Potemski

18. Toshi Reagon – Just What I Needed

The daughter of civil rights activists and musicians, and named after her godfather Pete Seeger’s wife, Toshi Reagon is a musical powerhouse and social activist who commands the stage. Her self-titled sixth album, released in 2002, is for the most part rocking soul/blues/folk songs with gospel influence, but she closed the album with a downtempo, contemplative version of “Just What I Needed,” sung as a duet with Mark Anthony Thompson (of Chocolate Genius), with the rough edges intact. It’s a fundamentally different approach to the song than the original, which was the Cars’ first single, and set the stage for their success. But Reagon’s approach makes it easier to appreciate the songs off-kilter lyrics than the bouncier original. — Jordan Becker

17. Josh Goodman – Magic

This cover brings some island whimsy to the triumphant sound of the original, appropriate for the summer setting. Despite the lighter touch of the ukulele accompaniment, this version of the song is ironically more assertive than the original. Goodman is really speaking that hold on someone into existence. The ukulele is joined by electronic elements towards the end, and ode to the Cars’ synth-pop tendencies. — Sara Stoudt

16. Red House Painters – All Mixed Up

The Red House Painters take The Cars original and turn the melancholy and confusion of the lyrics to 11. The Cars version certainly has a sadness to it, but it feels somewhat muted. For example, the bridge has an uplifting feel, ending with “everything will be alright.” In the RHP version the same bridge has a hopelessness to it, with those same lyrics sounding almost sarcastic. And while the original has its own churning repetition the cover has multiple repeating elements (the marching snares, the rising piano, buzzy guitars) that give the song a feeling of being “stuck.” This cover serves as an excellent soundtrack for the conflicting feelings of a tumultuous relationship. — Mike Misch

15. Les Crossaders – I’m Not the One

Les Crossaders are one of those semi-anonymous groups that records genre-specific covers of pop songs. Some digging reveals that the moniker refers to French producers Jean Michel Villiers and “Pépin” Martinez, working presumably with a host of singers and collaborators. Unlike some of those Pickin’ On type groups, they dig a little deeper on their song choices, as on this 2021 version of a Cars song practically no one covers. They must be doing something right; their cover’s nearing half a million plays on Spotify. — Ray Padgett

14. 27 – Good Times Roll

The Cars’ “Good Times Roll” is as lush as top-40 synthpop gets. 27’s “Good Times Roll”… isn’t. That’s not to its detriment, though – by paring away all but the bare essentials, 27 exposes the irony of the lyrics to a brighter light, while still finding the beauty in them. — Patrick Robbins

13. Kris Delmhorst – You Might Think

Kris Delmhorst is an extremely talented singer, songwriter and musician who is active in the Boston folk scene, with several fine albums of original songs under her belt, but in 2011, she decided to put out an album of Cars covers, to honor a band whose cassettes she bought with her babysitting money as a teenager. Delmhorst’s own website notes: “Nothing in the music of Kris Delmhorst immediately suggests a deep affinity with proto-punk new-wave masters The Cars,” and yet we know that this doesn’t prevent an artist from creating a great cover—or an album of great covers. We really could have picked any of the songs from Delmhorst’s album (which includes contributions from many Boston folk scene luminaries, and Cars keyboard player Greg Hawkes on ukulele), but we’re going with the first track, an uptempo folk version of “You Might Think,” the first single from the Cars’ fifth studio album, Heartbeat City. Not surprisingly, it is warmer and less synth-filled than the original, mostly because of Delmhorst’s rich voice, the acoustic instruments, including fiddle, and the female backing chorus. — Jordan Becker

12. Aimee Mann – Drive

When it comes to heavy needle drops, Aimee Mann is one of the best in the game. Her soundtrack work in 1999’s Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson’s surreal SoCal opus, is a high-water mark for the role of the singer-songwriter in modern movies — bringing cohesion to the film’s sprawling, disparate storylines. Nearly twenty years later, for 2018’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Mann’s cover of The Cars’ “Drive” finds her cutting to the quick in a similar impressive balladeer mode. This time, though, she’s not just an omniscient voice: Mann has an on-screen cameo all her own, appearing mid-episode as a crooner in a Minnesota dive bar, equipped with her acoustic guitar. Her performance is stirring enough to fully interrupt the episode’s heated chase; but, as with the Magnolia soundtrack—which more than stands on its own—you need not be in the weeds with American Crime Story’s plot particulars to catch goosebumps from Mann here. Her cover of “Drive” is spare, artful and profound of its own accord, a much-deserved cause for pause. — Ben Easton

11. k-os – Just What I Needed

Canadian singer/rapper k-os is a freebird who follows wherever his muse takes him, at home in every musical landscape, endlessly rocking, rapping, and R & B-ing with wonderful weirdness. His 2021 cover of “Just What I Needed” is a storm of supersized sensory overload living on laughing gas. From the winking-yelping vocal to the cascade of ad-libbed “yeahs” to the stupid fat riffs and madcap 80’s UHF channel style video, this cover is truly a love song to a song and it is both perfect and perfectly nuts. — Hope Silverman


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  3 Responses to “The 40 Best Cars Covers Ever”

Comments (3)
  1. Nothing about the Stokes and Jarvis Cocker? Relly?

  2. This is awesome – one of the best. A heads-up. I think the video for No. 32. The Debutante Hour – Just What I Needed is actually a cover by Graham Verchere.

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