24 March 2016

Ten car songs you rarely hear

It’s inevitable that when people talk about car songs, the same ones are always mentioned. How boring. Here are ten, listed chronologically, offering a different take on our love affair with the automobile. They can be commonly found online, and definitely require a sense of humor.

“He'd Have to Get Under – Get Out and Get Under (To Fix Up His Automobile)
Billy Murray, 1913
Murray, a Philadelphia native, was one of music's most popular artists during the 20th century’s first two decades thanks to his incredibly clear diction, no small thing given the primitive recording technology of the day. He recorded 169 sides, many for RCA Victor across the Delaware River from Philly in Camden, N.J. This ditty told of a motorist’s frustrating attempt at making out with his girl. Some things never change.

"A dozen times they'd start to hug and kiss/
And then the darned old engine, it would miss/
And then he'd have to get under – get out and get under – and fix up his automobile.”

“Hot Rod Race”
Arkie Shibley, 1951
If you’ve heard the song “Hot Rod Lincoln,” you’ll hear this song referenced in the opening line, “you’ve heard the story of the Hot Rod Race.” This ditty, which reached number five on the country charts, laid down a template that many songs copied, including “Hot Rod Lincoln,” which was a hit for Charlie Ryan (1960), Johnny Bond (also 1960) and Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen (1972).

“We made grease spots outta many good town/
And left the cops heads spinnin' round 'n' round.
They wouldn't chase, they'd run and hide/
But me and that Mercury stayed side by side”

"Flat Tire"
The Del-Vikings, 1958
Formed in 1955 at the Pittsburgh Air Force base, these jet mechanics won an Air Force talent contest and went on to become one of doo-wop's great groups, and one the few interracial ones. Recording for a small Pittsburgh label, Fee Bee, two tracks from 1957 yielded top 10 hits: "Come Go With Me" and "Whispering Bells." This one, which concerns a date ruined by four flats and a curious police officer, failed to chart.

"Feeling bad, thinking about the fun we could've had/
Just about figured out what to do/
Pssss. Pssss. The others blew."

“Gas Money”
Jan and Arnie, 1958
Before there was Jan & Dean, aka Jan Berry and Dean Torrence, there was Jan & Arnie, aka Jan Berry and Arnie Ginsburg. All three had recorded as The Barons, who had a top 10 hit with “Jennie Lee.” But the single was credited to Jan & Arnie; Torrence had left for a stint in the Army. Their next single, “Gas Money,” only made it to number 81. Once Torrence returned, Ginsburg bailed, and Jan & Dean were born.

“Well if you really want to go/
You'll have to come up with some dough/
I need some gas money.”

"’59 Volvo"
Vernon Green and the Medallions, 1959
Chevrolet sells a poster that shows a 1963 Corvette with the headline, “They don’t write songs about Volvos.” Wrong again, GM. This group recorded a number of riotous automotive-themed songs, including “Speedin’,” “Push Button Automobile,” “Coupe DeVille” and “Buick ’59,” the latter being the B-side of their hit single, “The Letter.” Why they wrote "'59 Volvo" in 1959 is puzzling to say the least.

“Up and down the freeway/’59 Volvo ’59/
Best car on the highway/’59 Volvo ’59/
Going to slow, much too slow for my Volvo”

"Why Don't You People Learn How To Drive?"
Gene Vincent, 1960
Hailing from Vincent's album "Crazy Times," which was released to exploit his U.K. tour with Eddie Cochran, this album track features Sandy Nelson on drums and future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston on piano. The lyrics are ironic given that a car crash during the same tour would kill Cochran. This was Cochran’s first tour after Buddy Holly’s death; Cochran had stopped touring fearing he might be next. He was right.

"Well if you drive like crazy/
gonna be pushing up daisies/
I think you people is crazy."

"Smog Gets in Your Eyes"
Allan Sherman, 1965
Having had success as a comedy writer and TV producer, Sherman signed to Warner Brothers and had a top five hit in 1962 with “Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh” as well as three consecutive number one comedy albums. This ode to pollution, both manmade and otherwise, comes from Allan Sherman Live,” which was recorded in Las Vegas. His record label dropped him the following year. Sherman died in 1973.

"Ten billion cars provide carbon monoxide/
If they'd all drive a horse/
There'd be no smog of course/
But there'd be something worse."

“Dear Dad”
Chuck Berry, 1965
Having been incarcerated for two years for violating the Mann Act, Berry returned to the charts with such hits as “No Particular Place To Go,” “You Never Can Tell,” and “Promised Land.” This was among the last singles to chart by one of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers. Like so many other songs that he wrote and recorded, it’s a memorable slice of automotive Americana that cooks like a sports car tearing up the tarmac.

“Almost every time I try to go and pass a truck/
If I ain't going down hill, Dad, I’m out of luck.

“LeSabre Radar”
The Hentchmen, 2003
Most likely you’ve never heard of the Hentchmen or know that in 1997, they were named in Seventeen magazine’s “Cute Bands Alert.” This Detroit trio with the garage band sound had been working for a decade before releasing the album “Three Times Infinity,” which included this track. Of course, anyone who’s ever restored a car or truck can relate to this tale of searching for old car parts.

“Hit the junkyards every week/
I need a fender and a new back seat/
Le Sabre radar”

“Little Rivi-Airhead”
Junior Brown, 2004
With a voice that recalls Ernest Tubbs and Dave Dudley, a knack for writing songs that are fresh yet instantly classic, and a demonic guitar technique, Junior Brown’s work easily hooks in your head. And while many songs have been written about Buicks, few match the wit of this one, which concerns a lady with a lead foot and a Buick Riviera. Who says that country artists don’t write great car songs?

“Well the boys all kid me cause she’s pretty and kind of dumb/
But she can smoke a Riviera down a quarter-mile run”

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