Lyric Of The Week: The Cars, “Drive”
When music fans think of The Cars, they might think of Ric Ocasek’s eyebrow arching over his RayBans, or the band’s stoic live performances, or maybe their albums full of up-tempo tracks rife with hooks aplenty, innuendo-laced lyrics, pristine production, and the almost robotic precision of the players. Yet those who were around for the magical musical year of 1984 probably remember quite a different side to the band, the one they displayed on their heartbreaker of a hit “Drive.”
Unlike “You Might Think” and “Magic”, the turbo-charged hits that preceded it as singles from The Cars smash ’84 album Heartbeat City, “Drive” was a ballad. And while those other two songs were sung by Ocasek, who wrote all the Cars material, he gave “Drive” over to bassist Benjamin Orr to sing.
Orr, who sang on previous Cars hits like “Just What I Needed” and “Let’s Go”, was the wise choice. Ocasek had a knack for putting a wry, ironic spin on his lyrics, but “Drive” demanded tenderness and emotional connection to the words. In an era where histrionics and affectations often passed for singing, the lonely ache in the bassist’s voice haunted and captivated listeners.
The lyrics are a series of questions asked to an unnamed girl, a songwriting tactic that harkens back to classics like “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” When asked in the right sequence with varying levels of intensity, these questions can create a thorough character sketch in very short strokes, which is what Ocasek pulls off brilliantly here.
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