This past weekend, our local oldies station was running a ‘car song’ weekend; all those great 60’s tunes about muscle cars and drag racing, surfing and girls, in twin-spins four times an hour. A staple of the oldies format, you can probably find ‘car song weekend’ in multiple cities on any given summer Saturday and Sunday.
Those were great songs that told great stories about great cars.
Top-notch paeans to Detroit went mostly out of fashion by the early 1970’s, while the city itself went out of fashion a decade later. There are a few stray car songs from the 70’s and 80’s with some staying power, but by my sophomore year of high school in 1975 we were cruising around and living nicely off the cars and car songs our older siblings and cousins found fresh. We were no longer the parentally-coaxed ‘hangers on’ to the era.
Every time I went somewhere this weekend, I was thinking the definitive cliché: “Man, they sure don’t make cars or songs like those anymore!”
There is simply not a whole lot on the American road today that seems even remotely song-worthy, nothing that stirs the musical soul. Every car looks, feels and sounds basically like everything else. There is not a model on the road today that inspires me to write about it, let alone plug a dollar in a jukebox.
In 1964, Ronny and the Daytonas cranked out one of the first classics of the car genre about the original muscle car; ‘Little GTO.’ Pull up to the stoplight next to a GTO and you knew the guy loudly revving the idle in the next lane was just waiting to smoke you once the light turned green, laying rubber in an instant and leaving you in the dust. And you were okay with that
Today you have no such allusions pulling up next to say, a Honda Accord. When you are at that line waiting for the green light, you want to hear an engine roar that says “kick. your. a**…buddy” – not reach an accord on anything. There is no top-10 hit potential in that. Plus, it’s just a cool sounding collection of letters: G-T-O. Nothing comparable today, is there?
GTO: cool dude with, white t-shirt, bad-boy smile-sneer
BMW: cake eater
Besides, The Monkees drove a GTO. Case closed.
Jan and Dean gave us a ride in a ’34 Woody in ‘Surf City’ and a wrecked Stingray in ‘Dead Man’s Curve.’ Even a totaled Stingray in a junkyard has more Detroit charisma left in it than a Chevy Cobalt.
Really? Cobalt? “It’s named after a shade of blue, but you can get it in green!” And who want to be immortalized as not coming back from the shopping mall frontage road?
The cars from the 60’s hold up as well as the music; tell me that most any ‘64 –‘69 Mustang can’t beat anything on the road today hands down in the ‘cool’ department and find me vocal harmonies as tight as The Beach Boys.
Ahh, The Beach Boys: ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ says it all. As a solid-gold bonus, we had all sorts of ‘Fun, fun, fun’ with them until a nameless somebody’s daddy took her T-Bird away. If you’re dating a girl these days, you’d want somebody to take away her Camry so you wouldn’t have to go cruising in it. The ‘Boys also gave us the immortal ‘409’ which started out as a ‘B’ side to ‘Surfin’ Safari,’ and glamorized (for Pete’s sake!) a model of engine – not even a specific car.
Let’s see some Eddie Vedder type crank out a tune extolling a 3.6 litre V6. I’m not seeing any gold record potential there. Be honest about it: what sounds more impressive “409”…or, ooooh! “Mazda6.” Six? Catchy. Six! That’ll get your ol’ lyricist fuel-pump pumping: “Nothing can catch her..nothing can touch my little V6…my little V6…ooooo 3-point-6 litre little V6…”
Creepy. Who would want to touch a little V6?
The numbers of the cars and in the songs back then told you all you needed to know about the car, fed the emotion of the song, and we all knew what was being sung about. Today, not so much; Mazda has a two and three to go with their six (that’s original) and most other car models that have numbers (350, 950, etc.) have them because they sounded good in test marketing or are part of a model ‘series.’
They may have sounded a lot like The Beach Boys, but it was actually The Rip Chords who sang ‘Hey Little Cobra’ which is a definite day-and-a-half-earworm song. What would the Rip Chords be singing today? “Hey Little Prius dontcha know we gotta plug you innnnnnnnnn…”
Then there is the definitive car of the era: the classic Ford Mustang.
When you see an old Mustang Fastback, you think Steve McQueen driving in the unforgettable chase scene in the movie Bullitt. When you see most any classic Mustang you think of a ‘Mustang Sally’ you once knew, even if her name wasn’t Sally.
Mustang, yes. Miata….? ‘Miata’ Sounds like something you should have a dermatologist remove.
Even VW’s were cool in the sixties; Beetles and hippie vans. Today you have your choice of a Jetta or a Passat. Passat? Please say “Excuse me” after doing that. Try sticking either of those cars into something remotely lyrical and/or musically romantic.
Do Fusion or Focus stir your soul? Picture your favorite singer or band doing a song about a Cruze, Aveo, Venza or a Yaris. (Don’t all those guys play for the Mets?)
Oh sure, The Dodge Charger is still around, and like with the new Mustang, its current design is a nod to its legendary beginnings, but I don’t know that I would give it an edge over their original namesakes in a quarter mile or back alley. I’ve seen and heard the new ones. If the original Charger was a muscle car, the 2011 needs more Pilates classes.
There is one holdover car song from the past that might have contemporary musical potential. Jan and Dean’s ‘The Little Old Lady from Pasadena’ wouldn’t really fit in today’s politically correct environment, but with a little tweaking might still have some potential as grandma would now be driving a Hummer with her boy-toy riding shotgun and …
Eh. Maybe that one should stay in the garage.