Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A dozen of my favourite car songs which mention brand names and are mostly about cars

The first time I heard "Jaguar and Thunderbird" was on the Chuck Berry On Stage LP in a friend's bedroom in Thornton Road, Wimbledon, circa 1964 (the album was released in '63). The long-player consisted of 13 already released tracks with a fake announcement at the start and audience noise throughout (my friend actually figured out the subterfuge - not bad for a 13-year old). Presumably Berry's record company decided to recycle his old stuff in this way because he was in prison for transporting a 14-year old girl across a state line. "Maybelline" was on the same album, but I've always preferred "Jaguar and Thunderbird":

Once I'd got a handle on playing rockabilly to a decent standard on my Telecaster, I rather assumed I'd go on to "master" Hot Country. It took me years to realise that the level of technical accomplishment required was simply - and hugely - beyond me. My guitar teacher softened the blow by telling me I'd have had to start playing at the age of ten or so and to have practiced for thousands and thousands of hours to have had any hope of reeling off the sort of finger-twisting solos produced by American country pickers at the drop of a cowboy hat. It was an attempt to recreate Brent Mason's two witty, inventive solos from Alan Jackson's version of the 1949 K.C. Douglas classic, "Mercury Blues" that finally convinced me to take Homer Simpson's advice: "if at first you don't succeed - give up."

I first heard Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps' "Pink Thunderbird" (1957) on Crusin', an excellent early '80s compilation. This one was from the group's eponymous second album. Vincent's brilliant guitarist, Cliff Gallup, had quit the previous year, but - fortunately - was persuaded to return for the recording sessions:

I feel enormous affection for Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, an eclectic, rootsy American band that a work colleague put me on to in the mid-1970s, when I'd lost my way, music-wise.  They were mainly a cult albums band, but their remake of Charlie Ryan's "Hot Rod Lincoln" (1955) reached No.9 in the US charts in 1971:

Next, Wilson Pickett's version of "Mustang Sally", blessed with one of the greatest backing tracks in Soul music, courtesy of the FAME studios band in Muscle Shoals:

When it comes to the Beach Boys, it's either "Little Deuce Coupe" or "Shut Down". I've gone for the latter because of the line "Tach it up, tach it up, buddy gonna shut you down":

Ronnie and the Daytonas "GTO" went to number 4 in 1964. Using an acoustic guitar as lead instrument was bold:

Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers always sounded like they really were recording in a garage and Richman's vocals invariably give the impression that he was singing the first words that come into his head and making up the tune as he went along - and yet it all works! Bob Dylan was famous for discarding songs if they didn't work after three takes: on the wonderfully goofy 1977 LP Rock 'n' Roll with the Modern Lovers - from which "Dodge Veg-o-matic" is taken - Richman gave the impression of rejecting anything that didn't work on the first run-through:

Warren Smith's semi-ballad "Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache" was one of the stand-out tracks on Sun Rockabillys: Put Your Cat Clothes On, the marvellous 1973 compilation LP that helped turn me into a rockabilly obsessive. There are dozens of rockabilly songs about Cadillacs (mainly pink or black), but this is till my favourite:

The New Trad country of Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam had me hyperventilating with excitement when I first heard it in the mid-1980s. "Guitars, Cadillacs" was the title track from Yoakam's fabulous debut album:

Johnny Cash's "One Piece at a Time" (1976) needs no introduction:

Chuck Berry wrote and recorded "Dear Dad" in 1965, but the version on Dave Edmunds's 1983 album D.E. 7th was much better (Edmunds was once asked to produce a Chuck Berry LP, but turned down the offer on the grounds that the curmudgeonly old blighter habitually disrespected his own music - quite right, too).


  1. Great post. I'm going to be totally wet and make a plea for Cars and Girls by Prefab Sprout for its melody and its happy evocation of youthful car-related hijinks. Hot Rod Lincoln by Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen represents a different way of looking at what boys tend to do when they get behind the wheel. I always liked Ry Cooder's version of Crazy 'Bout an Automobile - and how difficult it is to impress the laydees on "nothing but rubber heels". I prefer Steve Miller's version of Mercury Blues - great guitarist and vocalist, with a gift for harmony. I'm surprised not to see any car crash songs - Tell Laura I love Her, any one. Maybe that's for another post.

  2. Sorry - like a fool, I forgot to mention that one of my main criteria was that the song should mention a speicific car brand name! I've now put that in the heading to clear things up. I did this because there were just too many car songs to choose from.

    Yes, re Cooder, and Steve Miller's Mercury Blues is indeed a better record than Jackson's - but it's the guitar solos that do it for me.

    Yes, it would be wet of you to make a plea for "Cars and Girls" which I've just listened to for the first time and which I'll now have to work hard to forget.

    I am indeed planning a car crash songs blog, which will include Ray Peterson's classic (and Nervous Norvus and Dead Man's Curve etc.).

  3. Well in that case, I'll claim a place for Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury, in which he had "a love affair with Nina, in the back of my Cortina, a seasoned up hyena, could not have been more obscener." All the action in the first verse takes place in a brand name car, albeit while stationary. Does that count?

    I didn't expect the excellent Sprouts to go down well, being neither rockabilly nor Cn'W.

    1. "I didn't expect the excellent Sprouts to go down well, being neither rockabilly nor Cn'W." Don't really care about the musical genre - it's just that, as you suggested, they're so bloody wet!

      Having been rude about your suggestion, I suppose I'd better accept Ian Dury onto the list, although I wasn't that enamoured of "New Boots and Panties!!", apart from the truly lovely "Sweet Gene Vincent".

  4. Terrific music, Scott. quite a few I hadn't heard before.

    I've always liked the Jackson Browne lines from ' Take it Easy' :

    "It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford,
    Slowin' down to take a look at me."