SONG DUEL!: “Drive” by The Cars vs. “Drive” by R.E.M.

Two songs enter. One song leaves. Well, OK, both leave. It’s not like we erase all traces of the losing song from the Internet, but we determine once and for all which tune has the right to their strikingly similar titles. This is SONG DUEL!

Smack! Crack! Hey, kids, it’s a digital vs. analogue showdown between a quintessential ’80s synthpop ballad and an acoustic dirge that leant some gravitas to the alternative revolution.


In this corner: “Drive,” the international New Wave hit by The Cars and the zenith of the Boston band’s career, achieved by trading in the guitar-driven power-pop of the group’s early hits for some full-on synth balladry, Mutt Lange production and a Timothy Hutton-directed video.

And in this corner: “Drive,” the lead track and first single from Automatic for the People, R.E.M.’s haunting meditation on death and loss, bringing the Athens, Georgia, college-rock heroes into the ’90s with acoustic guitar, accordion, tons of vocal reverb and a John Paul Jones string arrangement.


Precedence: Automatic for the People, R.E.M.’s eighth studio album, came out in 1992. Heartbeat City, The Cars’ fifth studio album, came out in 1984. Point: The Cars.

Chart performance: At the time of these respective releases, both bands found themselves counted among the biggest mainstream rock acts on the planet. “Drive” was Automatic for the People‘s highest-charting single, but it reached only No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 (though it was a slightly bigger hit in the U.K.) The Cars’ “Drive” was the band’s biggest hit and was a Top 10 single around the globe, including a peak at No. 3 on the U.S. chart. Point: The Cars.

Critical mass: Though critics haven’t always been thrilled with whatever output the bands have managed to produce in the last decade, both continue to be well regarded and considered highly influential. While Automatic for the People is often acknowledged as R.E.M.’s finest moment and always makes just about any list of the best albums of the ’90s, Heartbeat City’s merits are often overshadowed by the MTV-approved videos it spawned and all the style-over-substance assumptions that come with that.  Point: R.E.M.

Technique: Neither “Drive” is very challenging vocally, and both Benjamin Orr and Michael Stipe turn in performances well suited to their respective songs’ particular needs. Whether it’s fair or not, though, it’s a lot harder to make out any technique through the slick sheen of The Cars’ entry compared to the exposed rawness of R.E.M.’s. Point: R.E.M.

Bad-assity: Which is less bad-ass: a wash of mellow synths or accordion? Tough call, right? However, only one of these songs works as something that middle schoolers could conceivably slow-dance to, and it ain’t the one that Kurt Cobain was listening to before shooting himselfPoint: R.E.M.

Sexitude: Only one of these songs’ videos features Sports Illustrated swim-suit cover model Paulina Porizkova sexily drawing on the wall. Point: The Cars.

Redeeming social value: In R.E.M.’s case, the title “Drive” allegedly refers to the band’s support of the Motor Voter Bill. But The Cars’ “Drive” famously served as the background music for a montage of starving Ethiopian children shown at Live Aid, during which donations demonstrably increased, and it is therefore inexorably intertwined with the $200 million dollars raised for famine relief. Point: The Cars.

The victor, by a score of 4-3 … THE CARS!


One Reply to “SONG DUEL!: “Drive” by The Cars vs. “Drive” by R.E.M.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− six = 3