No, I have not neglected the radio/infotainment column of this site. Nothing really came up to discuss for it since the last column.
To reboot the column, I ask this question: have we explored songs about automobiles?
There are hundreds of them. Going back to the early days of the automobiles and wax cylinders being played on Edison and Victor gramophones. Each set of songs were a reflection of their time and of youth society. The list of very long, I can assure of that.
I will not go back a hundred or so years to tell you which ones I picked for this playlist. Although, I went back a few decades to dust off some songs we might have forgotten over time. My starting point will be the year I got my learner’s permit at the age of 15 – 1979. Some say that it was a musical wasteland that year. I’m sure the programmers at SiriusXM would disagree.
Here’s my playlist of songs about automobiles from 1979 onward. Maybe your Apple Music or Android Music account will be your guide to listen to them for future playback.
"WARM LEATHERETTE" – THE NORMAL (1978) AND GRACE JONES (1980): Yes, I cheated here. The problem is that I did not hear The Normal’s version until 1980 when it aired on KROQ (the seminal New Wave radio station in Los Angeles). Though it may have played on Dr. Demento’s show on KMET (the more popular rock station in Los Angeles, which KLOS would dispute for decades), it was a New Wave/Post-Punk anthem that pushed the synthesizer boundaries before Gary Numan recorded “Cars.” Then came Grace Jones’ cover. She turned that song into a steamy, runway-infused number that opened up her 1981 tour with all the sexuality you expected form her. Which version would you listen to? I’ll take The Normal, please?
"CARS" – GARY NUMAN (1979): This track debuted in the summer of 1979 as the first “New Wave” track to permeate American airwaves. Some would argue that the Boston-based group The Cars (the one Rick Ocasek was in, remember him?) would predate this British artist’s hit single. It sent shockwaves with the amount of synthesizers that created this wall of sound this side of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and their Moogs. This song represented the decade ahead and Numan was well ahead of the curve. As was this song.
"PULL UP TO THE BUMPER" – GRACE JONES (1981): The craziest Jamaican woman that we all love – model, actress, song stylist. Yet, she delivers on a Post-Disco Dance track with a tinge of New Wave that talks about the nightlife outside of Studio 54 – or any club you can think of. It is classic Miss Jones: dusky voice, runway arrogance, and a bit of champagne and cocaine mixed in for ambiance. This is why some of us love her…and it won’t be the only time she will appear on this list.
"LITTLE RED CORVETTE" – PRINCE (1983): The late Minneapolis legend had an Edsel in mind when he conceived this song prior to recording it for his “1999” album. But, we’re glad The Purple One changed his mind…and the lyrics. As with most of “1999” and everything before it, Prince was uninhibited about his sexuality. This time, he tells his story through the automobile. Sometimes, there’s always a car involved in such stories.
"I CAN’T DRIVE 55" – SAMMY HAGAR (1984): Speaking of speeding, the "Red Rocker" tells the tale of how he can; abide by the (then) national speed limit. One thing about Hagar is that he is an enthusiast and we would most agree with him on the story of his iconic hit. This song may have been the calling card that brought Hagar and Eddie Van Halen together after the latter and his band got rid of David Lee Roth. Van Halen loves his fast cars, as well.
"100 MPH" – MAZARATI (1986): Speaking of Prince, he had his hands on a lot of the artists who comprised of the "Minneapolis Sound" in the 1980s. As formed by Prince and Brownmark (his bassist), the group became a one-hit wonder with this song about going fast – and loose. Of course, it was written by The Purple One. That tells you everything, right?
"MY HOOPTIE" – SIR MIX-A-LOT (1989): First off, who knew Seattle had a Hip Hop scene, to begin with? However, Anthony Ray kicked things off for the Puget Sound area under the guise of Mix with a series of albums that made you laugh through each one of them. In his second album, 1989's Seminar, Mix talked about what was up in the streets. For him, it was about his back-up car – his "Hooptie." It would not be a rapper's first choice of ride, but if his normal car (a Mercedes-Benz) was in the shop, how will Mix and his crew roll? In the video, Mix showed off a forlorn 1969 Buick Electra. It was a whole story of a day in the life of a baller, his hooptie and the trials and travails of a car that would die on him at a drop of a hat.
"LOVE SHACK" – THE B-52s (1989): Fred Schneider proclaimed that his Chrysler was "as a big as a whale and it was about to set sail!" His unique vocal stylings, joined by the dual sirens of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson and the guitar of former drummer Keith Strickland, Schneider, and the gang invites you to a love shack somewhere deep in the woods. The party continues in the huge Chrysler – the video shows a 1965 convertible, possibly a New Yorker – that "seats about 40." The song is about partying – and getting to the party. How else would you get to a place where the tin roof was rusted and the company just as eclectic? Included in said company was RuPaul herself! As campy as it is, this classic 1989 track Don Was produced for the B-52s was the right party song to cap off the 1980s with. It also yielded the Athens, Georgia quartet their first Top 40 pop chart song.
"JESUS BUILT MY HOTROD" – MINISTRY (1991): It was part-Speed Metal, part-Industrial – as Al Jourgensen intended. This Wax Trax classic was as fast as a hot rod can go. I mean, really fast! It was the antithesis of Hair Metal with driving guitars going 100 MPH. Jourgensen added manic, fast lyrics to the equally fast guitars. This is the kind of song you’d play if you want to see how fast your car goes. I mean, really fast!
"SOBB STORY" – THE LEADERS OF THE NEW SCHOOL (1991): Before Busta Rhymes hit the gym and went solo, he was part of a crew with Dinco D, Charlie Brown and Cut Monitor Milo who hit big for a few moments in the early 1990s. One of the tracks that came out of this youthful Long Island-based (Uniondale, to be exact) crew told the story of one of the biggest dreams for a teenager – getting a car. While Busta "got stingy" and got a red Nissan Pathfinder, Brown tried to get a ride with anyone to go anywhere. Then, Dinco went on to bust a guy who was all image, but no cash. He had a Saab – with no money for gas. This tale was part of the "Native Tongues" crew and the conscious rap movement where it's members sported Cross Colours and African iconography – perhaps considered one of the best eras in Hip Hop. The time was ripe for a fun track by LONS – 1991.
"BACK SEAT (OF MY JEEP)" – LL COOL J (1993): As you can probably tell, there’s a lot of love and sex in these songs. This was released two years before James Todd Smith married his lovely wife Simone, who called him out after he released a similar single, "Doin' It." This song is as blatant as sexual innuendos do – bravura, conquest, and ultra-masculinity. And, it involved a Jeep – most likely a Wrangler. You do the math…
I’m sure there are hundreds of more songs that will fill this playlist. I’ll leave that up to you to do that. You can always use the comments below to add to this playlist.
Photo by Randy Stern