Published June 2013

Traffic Jams

Relive the days of car-inspired rock ‘n’ roll with these timeless songs

BYJim Prueter
Ever since the Galvin brothers installed the first commercially successful car radio into a Ford Model A Deluxe Coupe back in 1930, Americans have been wedded to the notion of listening to music while on the road.
 
Maybe it’s because of the proliferation of (unromantic, though highly functional) minivans, SUVs, or hybrids, but gone are the days when classic rock ‘n’ roll bands crafted songs praising their rides. If so inclined, we can still beckon that era of discology, load our iPods, and cruise to what we think, in no particular order, are the 10 best songs about cars. 
 
1. “G.T.O.” by Ronny & The Daytonas (1964)
The 1960s surf band’s debut single was an ode to the Pontiac speedster. They sang, “Little GTO, you’re really lookin’ fine/ Three deuces and a four speed and a 389.” The song reached No. 4 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and sold more than 1 million copies, earning a gold record.
 
2. “Pink Cadillac” by Bruce Springsteen (1984)
Written and sung by The Boss, this song was released on the B-side of Springsteen’s classic “Dancing in the Dark.” Natalie Cole, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis have also recorded this sleeper hit. He sang, “You may wonder why I love you/ when you get on my nerves the way you do…/ Honey, it ain’t your money…/ I love you for your Pink Cadillac.” 
 
3. “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin (1970)
Written by rock goddess Janis Joplin, “Mercedes Benz” was used in commercials for the automaker; however, the company misinterpreted her intentions when selecting the song for their commercial advertising. In fact, this a cappella melody’s counterculture message conveyed that owning a luxury automobile does not make you a better person. She sang with her signature rasp, “Oh lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?/ My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.” Joplin never owned a Mercedes, but she did own a 1965 Porsche.
 
4. “One Piece at a Time” by Johnny Cash (1976)
This rockabilly song, written by Wayne Kemp and recorded by Johnny Cash, tells the story of a man who left his Kentucky home to work at a Detroit auto plant, smuggling out one piece at a time in his lunchbox until he built his own Cadillac. “The transmission was a ’53/ And the motor turned out to be a ’73,” Cash sang. It would become his last song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
 
5. “Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (1971)
First recorded in 1955 by Charlie Ryan, “Hot Rod Lincoln” has been covered by numerous artists over the years. The lyrics begin, “My pappy said, ‘Son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’/ If you don’t quit driving that hot rod Lincoln.’” This anthem of the hot-rod community reached its height of fame (No. 9 on the Billboard charts) when Michigan country rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen released its version in 1971. Today, it’s the signature song of Texas-based swing band Asleep at the Wheel. The actual Hot Rod Lincoln, about which the song was written, was auctioned off in January 2013 at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction.
 
6. “Maybellene” by Chuck Berry (1955)
In this rock ‘n’ roll hit, Berry sings about chasing his temptress, Maybellene, in his V-8 Ford while she drag races a man in her Cadillac Coupe de Ville. He sings, “The Cadillac pulled up to a hundred and four./ The Ford got hot and wouldn’t do no more.” The song was Berry’s first single and his first hit. Before his career as a musician, Berry earned a degree in cosmetology, so it’s fitting that his first song shares its name with a cosmetic company.
 
7. "Drive My Car" by The Beatles (1965)
Co-written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, this tune tells the tale of a woman who dreams of becoming famous and offers the male narrator the opportunity to be her chauffeur. “Baby, you can drive my car/ Yes, I’m gonna be a star,” they sing. The song’s catchy “beep, beep” refrain is a take off of the Beatles’ familiar “yeah, yeah, yeah” lyrics.
 
8. “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett (1966)
In his recording of this R&B song, Wilson Pickett warns a girl to change her lifestyle. He sings, “Mustang Sally, think you better slow your Mustang down…/ You been running all over the town/ got to put your flat feet on the ground.” Over the years, the song has been performed by many artists, but none more successfully than Pickett, whose version climbed to No. 6 on the charts.
 
9. “Hey Little Cobra” by The Rip Chords (1964)
In 1964, the Shelby Cobra was just beginning to make its mark on the racing circuit, making the timing of this song perfect for a hit. Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston sang the lead and backup vocals, respectively, for The Rip Chords. Melcher is the son of actress Doris Day, and Johnston became a member of the Beach Boys. Together, they sang, “I took my Cobra down to the track/ Hitched to the back of my Cadillac…/ Spring little Cobra/ Getting ready to strike.”
 
10. “Fun, Fun, Fun” by The Beach Boys (1964)
Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, this song is based on a real-life story about a radio-station owner who let his college-aged daughter borrow his new Ford Thunderbird under the guise she was going to the library. Instead, she uses it for anything but, and we all know what happens next: “And she’ll have fun, fun, fun,/ ‘Til her daddy takes the T-bird away.” It peaked at 
No. 5 on the Billboard charts.
 
JIM PRUETER, an automotive writer based in Phoenix, has provided reviews and advice about cars for more than 20 years.
For More Information
Consult AAA Automotive by visiting AAA.com
×