The Cars’ ‘Just What I Needed’: Timeless Power Pop That Still Rocks Today
And it almost never happened
Today we’re listening to “Just What I Needed” by The Cars.
There aren’t many records that have stood the test of time as well as The Cars’ 1978 self-titled debut. The record turns 45 later this year, and at least (by my own admittedly subjective count) six of the nine tracks from the original release still see a decent amount of airplay.
"We used to joke that the first album should be called The Cars' Greatest Hits. We knew that a lot of great bands fall through the cracks. But we were getting enough feedback from people we respected to know that we were on the right track."
~The Cars guitarist Elliot Easton
Along the way, the band sold millions of records, had a string of hits, and landed a spot in the rock and roll hall of fame. The Cars had a knack for blending new wave and power pop. This was a band—and record— groups of all stripes could enjoy. After hearing them, numerous bands can claim to have been inspired to start.
And it almost didn’t happen.
Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr (who sings lead here) started out in Columbus, Ohio, before moving east and settling in Boston. There they met keyboardist Greg Hawkes and cut a record that went absolutely nowhere. There were still playing shows and getting decent traction, but nothing that could dislodge them from “local favorites” status.
But Boston DJ Maxanne Sartori started working a demo of “Just What I Needed” into her sets and into heavy rotation.
"I began playing the demos of 'Just What I Needed' and 'My Best Friend's Girl' in March 1977 during my weekday slot, from 2 to 6 p.m. Calls poured in with positive comments," Boston radio DJ Maxanne Satori recalled. "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."
Soon A&R reps descended on Boston to see what all the fuss was about. They found a band that took the best of traditional rock and burgeoning technology and rolled it all up into a novel pop sound unlike anything else at the time.
And the rest is history. “Just What I Needed” spent the summer all over the airwaves as the first of three singles, followed by “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Times Roll.” It reached #27 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in June of 1978.
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“Just What I Needed” may be the most purely new wave song on the album with spazzy guitars and square-wave synth lead. The only song on the first side which Orr sings instead of Ocasek, the song was the group’s first big hit regionally and internationally.
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“Just What I Needed” by The Cars | S/T, 1978
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