Deep Dive: The Cars, MY BEST FRIEND'S GIRL

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Cars crashed the American music scene straight out of the gate with the May 29, 1978, release of the band's debut single, "Just What I Needed." The song's breakout success was enough to propel the band through the summer, burning up radio playlists and peaking at #27 on the Hot 100 over the week of September 16, 1978. The #1 song in the country that week: "Boogie Oogie Oogie" by A Taste of Honey.

It wasn't until October 10, 1978 when Elektra finally dropped the album's second single: "My Best Friend's Girl." Much like its predecessor, the tune combined sharp songwriting with modern sensibilities and just enough quirk for it to sound like it was beamed in from another planet, unlike anything else on radio at the time.

"Nothing in that song happened to me personally. I just figured having a girlfriend stolen was probably something that happened to a lot of people," songwriter and band leader Ric Ocasek shrugged to Wall Street Journal about the band's salad days of communal living in Boston.

"At some point, I realized my lyrics didn't include the words 'My Best Friend's Girl.' So I pulled out the lyrics someone had typed up and added a chorus in the margin in pen: 'She's my best friend's girl / she's my best friend's girl / but she used to be mine,'" Ocasek continued. "I liked the twist. Up until that point, you think the singer stole his best friend's girl based on how good he feels about her. With the last line of the chorus, 'But she used to be mine,' you realize the guy didn't steal his best friend's girl--his friend stole her away from him."

The band cut a demo of the track in February 1977 at Northern Studios in Maynard, Mass. Ocasek gave a copy to his friend and WBCN radio DJ Maxanne Satori, who put it the new tunes in heavy rotation: "I began playing the demos of 'Just What I Needed' and 'My Best Friend's Girl' in March during my weekday slot, from 2 to 6 p.m. Calls poured in with positive comments," Satori recalled of the time. "The Cars' sound was fresh. It wasn't punk, hard rock or folk rock. I thought of it as pure pop for now people, the title of a Nick Lowe album."

Quickly signed to Elektra Records, the Cars decamped to London with producer Roy Thomas Baker to record their debut at George Martin's AIR Studios. According to the band's drummer, David Robinson, the song's secret weapon came in the form of guitarist Elliot Easton: "It really elevated the joy level."

"The inspiration for my rockabilly riff and solo was the guitar lick from the Beatles' 'I Will,'" Easton explained. "I played my solo on a new Fender Telecaster I had brought to London along with my Martin D-35 acoustic and Gibson Les Paul Standard."

"If my best friend had stolen my girl, I might have been hurt but I wouldn't have been out for revenge. It's not me," Ocasek theorized of the song's enduring appeal and the Cars' road to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame immortality. "That's why the lyrics are observational and not bitter. Maybe it was all of that peace and love at the communal house."

Today, "My Best Friend's Girl" is among the Cars' signature songs, and one of the group's most recognizable; upon release, it made a formidable chart run, peaking at #35 on the Hot 100 for the week of December 23, 1978. The #1 song in America that week: Chic, "Le Freak."