There is a history of bands that clicked after changing their names. The High Numbers became The Who. Smile became queen. Bad Lester became Kiss.
And Cap’n Swing became Cars.
In 1976, Ric Ocasek and his friends Ben Orr, Greg Hawkes and Elliot Easton were playing clubs in Boston, finding their feet. “It was a potpourri of styles, almost like a jam band,” Ocasek told me in 2007. “But I don’t think the songs were up to par. Then when David [Robinson, drummer] we got into a band and started calling them the Cars, it all just came together. He redefined our style.”
Robinson, whom Ocasek described as “Mr. Suave’ also brought about a change in the group’s fashion sense. “David said, ‘If we want to look like a band, let’s try to dress like a band. And the music soon reflected that sleek and streamlined atmosphere.
Here it is My best friend’s daughter He came to.
Ocasek told me: “It was one of the first songs I wrote for the band. I remember playing acoustic guitar a lot, and I would always keep eighth notes on the acoustic, to keep time and feel the beat, making it sound more like a rock thing. When I got an electric, I just kept that eighth grade thing. He set that precedent for that feeling in the sound of The Cars.”
Words and music arrived together. Although the lyric “wasn’t something that happened to me personally,” Ocasek said he imagined it was a universal theme. “I just realized that stealing a girlfriend was probably something that happened to a lot of people.”
The song also created a kind of lyrical blueprint for how Ocasek would approach many of the band’s hits, which would set spiky, elliptical verses against simple choruses. Think of lines like ‘You’ve got your nuclear boots and your dry glove / Oh, when you bite your lip it’s a reaction to love’leading to the repeated refrain.
“People tend to forget the verse once they hear the chorus,” Ocasek said. “I like to play with the words and images in the verses, so they’re more open, then I put them together with a straighter chorus.”
Ocasek also liked how the chorus added a twist to the story. “Up until that point, you think the singer stole his best friend’s daughter based on how good he feels about her. With the last line of the chorus – ‘But she used to be mine’ – you realize the guy didn’t steal his best friend’s daughter – his friend stole her from him.”
In the studio, producer Roy Thomas Baker took Ocasek’s simple demo and added widescreen grandeur, setting the band’s sparse instrumentation against flashes of stacked vocals. Baker had already perfected the massive harmony sound with Queen, especially in the 1975s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Ocasek said, “When we recorded the vocal harmony on the line”Here she comes againRoy had us record a set of vocals. He tripled them, so there were 24 voices. Then he used the Stephens machine [a multi-track tape deck] to reach up to 70 voices. At one point, we said, ‘Roy, we can’t do this,’ for fear that the vocals would sound too synthetic. Roy said, ‘You’ll get used to it.’
Another key texture in the song was Elliot Easton’s rockabilly lead lick, partly inspired by The Beatles I will, and as Easton said, “a bit at odds with Ric’s strong 8th note feel.” David Robinson said, “Elliot’s guitar really raised the bar.”
As the group listened back to what they had created, Thomas Baker still wasn’t quite satisfied.
Ocasek said, “When we finished recording the song, it was a very slow tick. Roy wanted it a little faster. So he turned and sped up the tape, pushing the song up a key, from E to F.
Ocasek gave an acetate of My best friend’s daughter on two Boston radio stations, where it quickly became a sought-after local favorite. Officially released worldwide in October 1978, the single reached #35 in the US and #3 in the UK (where despite negative reviews such as nWith‘s, which he called “A Sweet Thaway”, was the group’s highest-charting single). In the UK, it was also one of the first singles on discs, featuring a caricature of a red sports car.
When I asked Ocasek (who died in 2019 of heart failure) if he knew the song would be a hit, he said, “No. I don’t think I could ever make a song as a single. I think you can tell which ones are a little more attractive. In The Cars, I could bounce off the boys and they’d be like, ‘That’s a single.’ But when I write songs, I don’t think like that. I just think they’re all chapters in the book for that one record.”