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No. 35: The Cars, ‘Just What I Needed’– Top 100 Classic Rock Songs

Elektra Records

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.

Next: One of Our Most Difficult Choices

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Watch the Cars Perform ‘Just What I Needed’

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