The Cars, “My Best Friend’s Girl”
Release Date: October 10, 1978
Peak Chart Position (US): #35
Peak Chart Position (UK): #3
The Cars crashed the 1978 music scene right out of the gate with the May 29 release of debut single, “Just What I Needed,” followed shortly by the instantly classic self-titled album that arrived on June 6.
The success of “Just What I Needed” was enough to propel the band through the summer, climbing as high as #27 on the Hot 100 and amassing countless spins on FM radio stations across the country. The album would peak at #18. The Cars was also built for longevity, as it stayed on the charts for an impressive 139 weeks.
It wasn’t until early October when Elektra dropped the album’s second track, “My Best Friend’s Girl,” as the band’s sophomore single. Much like its predecessor, the tune combined sharp songwriting with modern sensibilities and just enough quirk for it to sound like nothing else on the radio that year.
“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 told Wall Street Journal last year 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 ’77 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,” he said.
“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."