The reason I like power pop and skinny tie new wave so much may have to do with the fact that draws from some of my favourite musical styles. This specifically means mid-60s Beatles, a bit of the Kinks, a bit of the Who, a dash of the Zombies, plus some early garage rock too.
But apart from that I think a very big reason is that it is, give or take, music written and performed by nerds, for nerds. Most power pop tunes and late 70s early 80s new wave are about not getting the girl, or getting the girl and then getting wrecked by said girl because you’re too dumb to know she’s no good for you.
How can I resist that?
It helps when the nerds in question have enough self-awareness to write these stories convincingly, and have the additional skills of being able to pack them with hooks and memorable performances. The Cars can certainly be held up as great examples of this, writing great pop songs and putting them across in a new wave idiom better than many. They pulled in a number of styles and textures including British invasion harmonies, Bowie-esque synthesizers, and 50s rockabilly guitar, among others. And they certainly hit all of the major stops as far as nerds-in-love songs go.
“Just What I Needed” is reminds me of the guy that shouldn’t be with the person he’s with, but keeps trying to tell himself that he should be. It gives off wave upon wave of teenage awkwardness (“When you’re standing oh so near/I kind of lose my mind…”), vulnerability and pathos (“I don’t mind you comin’ here wastin’ all my time…”), and inner turmoil (“I needed someone to bleed…”), with that last thing being kind of a shot of disturbing, too.
And of course there’s that razor sharp synth line, the big drum sound, Benjamin Orr’s accessible yet slightly disturbed vocal, and Elliott Easton‘s phenomenal guitar work. The band would go on from here to make even more big radio singles in “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Shake It Up”, “Good Times Roll”, “You Might Think”, “Magic”, and “Drive” before breaking up by the end of the 1980s. But, this is my favourite song of theirs – a perfect anthem for teenaged love, which is defined by not really knowing what one is doing, feeling everything, and feeling the pressure not to show any of it.
For more information about the Cars, I’d suggest a pit stop (see what I did there?) at this unofficial the Cars MySpace page.