No. 35: The Cars, ‘Just What I Needed’– Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
The Cars set the bar rather high for themselves with their 1978 self-titled debut: Out of the album’s nine songs, seven of them remain AOR staples to this day. Perhaps the most indelible of those tunes, however, is ‘Just What I Needed.’
This clear choice for our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs list crams together hooks in simple, yet inventive, ways. First, there’s the staggered, stuttering intro-- splattered quarter notes and then clipped eighth notes punctuating concise, tick-tock guitar. Then, the song’s tension increases as minimalist chords -- containing no more than several changes -- kick in and gradually pile up underneath the first verse.
Things build even more before the second verse, thanks to the emergence of an unexpected curveball: a fuzzy keyboard line which languishes like a siren. That crucial element anchors ‘Just What I Needed’ for the duration, as it unfolds into a rather biting tune.
The lust the narrator has for the mysterious object of his affection is obvious: “I don’t mind you coming here / Wasting all my time / Cause when you’re standing oh-so-near / I kind of lose my mind.” However, the chorus reveals more than a little arrogance -- if not disdain for this beauty—on the protagonist’s part, as he asserts, “I guess you’re just what I needed / I needed someone to” alternately “feed,” “bleed” and “plead.”
Heartthrob bassist Ben Orr assumes lead vocal duties, which softens the tone of the song somewhat. Orr sounds like more a teenybopper singer than he does a muscular rocker, presaging new-wave’s embrace of unconventional masculinity. In fact, ‘Just What I Needed’ is a bridge between the past and future: Classic rock-friendly riffs and unabashed expressions of lust cohabitate with power-pop’s brevity and new wave’s keyboard-pop.
Post-‘The Cars,’ mingling rock elements with electronic sounds became de rigeur. Even ragged rockers the Strokes, who in later years felt more like a Cars tribute band than one indebted to NYC hipsters, covered the song with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker in 2011.
Watch the Cars Perform ‘Just What I Needed’