The Cars were cruising into the summer of 1984 quite nicely. The band's fifth studio album, Heartbeat City, had been released in March of that year, and produced one top 10 hit, "You Might Think," followed by "Magic," which peaked at #12 on the Hot 100.
The third single from the album proved to indeed be the charm. "Drive" was released on July 23, 1984. Yet another of Ric Ocasek's songwriting contributions to the Cars, the haunting ballad was sung by bass player and resident heartthrob, Benjamin Orr.
"Drive" pulled up in an impactful music video, directed by Academy Award-winning actor Timothy Hutton, who was just 24 years old at the time.
“During that time, [music] videos were a new thing and musicians were so excited to make videos that it was a great atmosphere for a filming,” Hutton recalled during a Q&A for the SAG-AFTRA Foundation held in May 2019 (via Variety). “It came to be because I lived next door to the manager of the Cars,” he explained, referencing the late Elliot Roberts.
“He had some people in the neighborhood over to listen to a new album they had coming out, sort of a record-listening party. Then he asked everybody what we all thought might be the hit. I said I thought the ballad, ‘Drive,’ was really a special song. “And that was it.”
The very next day, Hutton was connected with Ocasek: “I got on the phone with him and he just said, ‘So you like that song, huh?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You want to direct the video?’ And that’s how it happened. It was so much fun.”
"Drive" soared up the Billboard charts, peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 for the week of September 28, 1984. The songs ahead of the Cars: Prince and the Revolution at #1 with "Let's Go Crazy," and John Waite at #2 with "Missing You."
The song received new life in 1985 at the massive Live Aid charity event, which the Cars played. David Bowie ended his set by introducing a grim video detailing the Ethiopian famine that inspired the event. The clip used "Drive" by the Cars as background music. The track immediately leapt back up the UK charts, peaking at #4 in August of 1985. The Cars donated the proceeds from the re-release to the Band Aid trust. Ocasek personally presented a check in the amount of £160,000 to charity trustee Midge Ure of the band Ultravox in 1986.