10. Tim McGraw – Drive
This may be country mega-star Tim McGraw and band, but it’s not a country-soaked repackaging of “Drive.” The only strong country element here is the dobro’s mournful calls and responses. McGraw was still in high school when the song first hit, and still playing bars when he added “Drive” to his setlist. No wonder his singing is so understated and natural decades on. This acoustic treatment has all the feeling that got washed out in McGraw’s studio recording released in 2019. The hand drumming gives the whole thing life and grounding. — Tom McDonald
9. Bason – Tonight She Comes
Greatest-hits albums always used to have one or two new songs to rope in the superfans who already had the normal hits elsewhere. Those new songs almost never became actual hits. But every now and then, like Babe Ruth pointing where he’s about to hit a home run, a band declares a song to be a “greatest hit” ahead of the fact… and is right. The Cars pulled off that feat with “Tonight She Comes,” topping the rock songs chart with it in 1985. It’s not really “rock” any more in David Bason’s supremely mellow country-pop version, but still sounds like a classic. — Ray Padgett
8. Bhi Bhiman – My Best Friend’s Girl
Singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer Bhi Bhiman brings his irreverent stylings to “My Best Friend’s Girl,” released on his all-covers EP Substitute Preacher II last year. With buoyant acoustic strums and a clacking cajon backbeat (a callback to, and signature element of, much of his original/solo material), Bhiman’s take on “My Best Friend’s Girl” becomes somehow both sweeter and smarmier than The Cars’ original. He distills the track to something pure, satisfyingly lazy and subliminally funny, singing with a cool Shel Silverstein-y aplomb. Bhiman channels The Cars’ classic guitar work too, deploying an artfully sunny pointillist lick, played in two-part harmony, in a satisfying drop near the song’s close. — Ben Easton
7. PurrBox – Shake It Up
From the opening laughs we know we’re in for a free-spirited take on this dance anthem of sorts. We’re shaking it up at a slightly faster clip this time. PurrBox blends a little bit of a sock hop with plenty of punk. Even with a little more edge, electronic elements still play a prominent role. For every in-your-face electric guitar break there is a synth frill to remind us of the original. — Sara Stoudt
6. The Brian J. White Quartet – Since You’re Gone
With a name like the Brian J. White Quartet, there’s a good chance you can guess what you’ll be getting, the name reeking of a semi-sophisticated supper club, the band in tuxes, and it is all nice and smooooth. And it is, the sound transported in from the early 60s, grown up guitar and silky piano cosseting the baby doll vocals, the rhythm section on a jazz fm autopilot. Suddenly you find yourself two martinis down, ahead of remembering the passive aggression of the original, it seeming a million miles, and years, away. I might even prefer it that way. — Seuras Og
5. Prince – Let’s Go
Prince’s live cover of “Let’s Go” hits the mark and then some, scaling up the The Cars to the arena status they deserve. The Purple One and his band performed this cover almost exclusively during the ‘10s (this fan footage is drawn from a November 25th, 2011 performance on the Welcome 2 America Tour, one of his final arena-scaled runs in the U.S.) It’s clear that Prince viewed the song as timeless, worthy of key placement in his setlists; musically, he pulls the cover into a place that feels natural between a pair of his own classics, blending the ecstatic energy of “Let’s Go Crazy” and the pulse of “Raspberry Beret.” The footage is pretty shaky, but manages to catch a lot of the cover’s moving parts: the nest of keyboards, chugging away at the core of the in-the-round stage; the background singers emerging mid-tune from an underground spiral staircase; Prince strutting around nearly every inch of catwalk available. The theatrics aren’t the sole thing, though; no matter what angle you see it from (here’s another one from that night), Prince’s performance manages to get at the core of The Cars and their essence too: rock ’n’ roll, pure and simple. — Ben Easton
4. Lucy Woodward & Charlie Hunter – You Might Think
With its insanely catchy riff and chug, Woodward and Hunter dispatch any sense and memory from the start, stripping it way back into a bluesy torch song, And if you think a whiff of Norah Jones about it, well, you wouldn’t be far off, veteran guitarist Hunter having worked with her, ahead of a serendipitous pairing with Woodward in 2018. With now two records of largely revamped covers, each bringing out jazz and blues based nuances missed by their writers, it seems we ought to have heard them before today. Better late than never. — Seuras Og
3. Perpetual Groove – Drive
The jam band Perpetual Groove lived up to its name on the 2021 cover of the Cars’ “Drive.” With a steady bongo drumbeat, eerie guitar and piano licks, the band’s cover has the feel of an endless late-night spin down a deserted highway. With their slow, quiet delivery, they highlight the disturbing nature of the lyrics. “Who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream.” Is it a love song? A breakup song? Or a dark exploration of addiction and codependency? When the band is playing, you don’t care about the answer, you just want the “Drive” to go on forever. — Curtis Zimmermann
2. Smashing Pumpkins – You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
Smashing Pumpkins put a darker spin on “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”: boosting the overdrive, leaning into the snarl, giving the drums some hollow space of their own. While The Cars’ original was satisfyingly urgent—all power pop fills, big keyboards, and enthusiastic gang vocals— the Smashing Pumpkins make a point to pull apart “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” toward its rawer and most disparate poles: tooling up the hooks to stadium-rock scale, while laying bare a performance that has the slop and immediacy of a late-night garage-band practice. — Ben Easton
1. Butch Walker – My Best Friend’s Magic Girlfriend
Butch Walker’s medley of the joyfully bitter “My Best Friend’s Girl” and the just plain joyful “Magic” begins as a sad sack, lo-fi bedroom recording of the former, all wistful twanging, nimble picking, and longing vocals before fading into a fulsome and breezy version of the latter. But calling it a Cars medley seriously underplays just how inventive and windblown-handsome it is. Walker marries the songs so seamlessly that if someone was actually unfamiliar with either they would have no idea they were hearing two separate pieces sewn together. The result is a beautiful hazy daydream, an after-before song that, if there is any justice in the cosmos, is currently playing over the credits of a bittersweet ’80s teen movie in another galaxy. — Hope Silverman
Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Paul Simon, Queen, Willie Nelson, and more.
Nothing about the Stokes and Jarvis Cocker? Relly?
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.
Fixed! Thanks for catching that.