Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Ed's 15 Personal Favorite Car Songs
MY FIFTEEN PERSONAL FAVORITE CAR SONGS
There isn’t a better marriage than the one shared by the music and auto industry. Cars personify individual wealth, power, and mobility, both of the social and physical kind, while music captures the thrill, love, and even the consequence of owning and operating a gas-guzzling, four-wheeled beast. Like singers and songwriters, cars have a story to tell — and not just about the person behind the wheel, but stories drivers make themselves.
I doubt very few reading this have gone through life without forging some memorable tale involving an automobile. Not all the songs on this list are obvious choices, although many are. The tracks are chosen not only because of their lyrical fidelity, but because of the emotional response they illicit. It’s a myriad of music meant for all types of tastes. So, in no particular order, here are my personal picks for the fifteen most memorable songs about cars and driving. These are in no rank order, but I do favor Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” for its sheer humor and audacity and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” for its clarion call to the lure of the road.
1. One Piece at a Time (Johnny Cash)
Though another country singer originally wrote “One Piece at a Time,” it was the great Johnny Cash that brought the song to the limelight. It tells the tale of a General Motors employee who works on the Cadillac assembly line who, over the course of 24 years, smuggles enough parts to assemble a Cadillac of his own (albeit not the most attractive one). The song noted for being Cash’s last chart-toppers, along with first recorded usage of “psychobilly” as a music genre.
2. Mustang Sally (Wilson Pickett)
American songwriter Mack Rice may have written “Mustang Sally” — and change the title from “Mustang Mama” per Aretha Franklin’s suggestion — but it was the late Wilson Picket that popularized the song a year after its initial radio debut. The hallmark chorus quickly became even more iconic when newspaper headlines pronounced Sally Ride the first American woman in space. Also, bonus points if you’re actually cruising around town in a a classic ’65 ‘Stang.
3. American Pie (Don McLean)
Folk rocker Don McLean has never fully explained the lyrics of his 1972 magnum opus “American Pie,” but it’s widely believed to be inspired by the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. It’s an incredibly sad song of reflection, rollicking in quiet piano before burgeoning with acoustic guitar and brushed drums following the first verse. Madonna’s rendition of the song was absolutely terrible, but the original is the longest song to ever top the charts.
4. Little Deuce Coupe (The Beach Boys)
The Beach Boys’ highest charting B-side, “Little Deuce Coupe” is specifically about the 1932 Ford Model B. It’s often cited as mastermind Brian Wilson’s favorite car song, instantly glamorizing the life of California teens with a passion for cars and high swells. It’s incredibly bouncy, adorned with some of the most iconic harmonies of all time and featuring a unique shuffle rhythm that was ahead of its time. It simply encapsulates hot-rodding Americana at its pinnacle.
There’s something to be said about a band where the drummer often turns out to be a better singer than the lead singer of most other bands. Queen lead Freddie Mercury decided to simply take piano duties on “I’m in Love With My Car,” and as a result, ” Roger Taylor took lead vocals. Also, rumor has it, Taylor locked himself in a cupboard until Mercury agreed to make the track the B-side to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Plus, it’s still a better love story than any novel to date.
Officially credited to the Stills-Young Band, a joint collaboration between Stephen Stills and Neil Young following their brief stint in Buffalo Springfield, “Long May You Run” is a simple elegy for Young’s first car -- a 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse. It’s a nostalgic piece with Young reminiscing about his final days with the car down by the Blind River, along with projections of where “Mort” may now reside. There’s harmonica, sun-dappled guitar, and harmonies galore.
7. Life is a Highway (Tom Cochrane)
No doubt cliché, but Canadian Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” remains one of the most endearing metaphors of all time. Cochrane wrote the southern-soul rocker following a trip to west Africa with his family in 1990, as he was raising awareness on behalf of a famine relief organization. Being the case, the Top 40 song makes cursory references to Mozambique and the infamous Khyber Pass, along with his hometown of Vancouver and simply the open road.
The theme of the 1976 film , Motown producer Norman Whitfield’s “Car Wash” remains one of the few renowned successes of the disco era aside from tracks like Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive.” The tune describes the easy-going atmosphere of working at a car wash, set to a melange of funky bass, trumpets, and hand claps, the latter component of which has been sampled on countless tracks since. Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliot revamped it in 2005, but to no avail.
Although Janis Joplin died a mere three days after recording “Mercedes Benz,” that never stop Mercedes-Benz from utilizing the song in a number of the automaker’s advertisements. The acapella track, which graced Joplin’s phenomenal post-humous album is also considered a blatant hippie-era rejection of consumerism. It remains one of the most iconic songs about a luxury car, yet it’s also one of the most rawcuts on our list, recorded in a single take.
Although Prine’s “Automobile” graces his 1979 album , it’s actually a reference to a . The song is a testament, not to the luxury sedans of the world, but the beater vehicle of the everyday man. There isn’t much more to it aside from chugging acoustic guitar and short harmonica bursts, but it does showcase a breakneck guitar solo and the utter sadness accompanying a dead battery. Apparently, it takes nine versus just to convey it, though.
Willie Nelson’s classic is less about your driving and more about the slew of feelings the open road evokes. It’s a song that has crossed genres and generations, one that defines the automotive experience and the overwhelming freedom we all feel behind the wheel. It’s a country-western song at heart, one written as the theme song for the film and winner of the Best Country Song at the 23 Annual Grammy Awards. What more do you need to know?
Hot Rod Lincoln (Commander Cody)
Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen might have one of the longest band names ever, but drive the same way the song’s protagonist does, and it’s the fastest way to a night spent in the slammer. The song was a 1951 hit for Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys, but Cody’s version opens with different dialogue and guitar lick, while splicing lyrics from several other covers of the song. At a mere three minutes in length, it’s quick, but it’s the lesson that matters.
The Boss’ “Pink Cadillac” has never been issued on an official studio album, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t heard it before. It was a staple on his tour, noted for its not-so-subtle use of metaphor. As one might expect, Springsteen doesn’t necessarily like the girl for her “pink cadillac,” but something else entirely. Regardless, the chugging bass and spare toms render it the perfect track for cruising down the street, waving to the girls, and feeling out of sight.
Riding in My Car (Woody Guthrie)
Singer-songwriter and folk legend Woody Guthrie might be best known for his classic “This Land Is Your Land” and the icon slogan “this machine kills fascists” displayed on his guitar. However, his lighthearted, folky ode to the automobile will likely have you grinning from ear to ear. It’s undeniably silly, with Guthrie haphazardly spouting phonetic renditions of a car engine against a backdrop of acoustic guitar.
Ol’ 55 (Tom Waits)
"Ol' '55" is a song by American musician Tom Waits. It is the opening track and lead single from Waits' debut studio album, Closing Time, released in March 1973 on Asylum Records. Written by Waits and produced by Jerry Yester, "Ol' '55" was a minor hit. The song has been covered by numerous artists, most notably by the Eagles on their On the Border (1974).