6 obscure car songs to liven up your next cruise
Tired of songs about Pink Cadillacs? Here are some new ones for your repertoire.
If you have fuel in your veins, chances are you’ve read articles about car songs. Heck, you’ve probably read one or two on this website! But generally they tend to be the same, old same-old that are overplayed at local car cruises.
Yet the online soundscape is vast, giving enthusiasts opportunities to be exposed to automotive music obscured until now—here’s a few to get your toes tapping on the accelerator:
“My Automobile” by Parliament
P-Funk history is long and convoluted thanks to a combination of George Clinton’s poor business sense and a corrupt music industry. After winning a hit as The Parliaments, George Clinton & Co. went on some trips, so to speak, shed their vocal group origins, and became psychedelicized. The legacy of funky craziness began with the Osmium LP from 1970. Though more in the spirit of what would become the Funkadelic group, the album included the ditty “My Automobile,” a tongue-in-cheek (if not politically incorrect) take on a guy’s set of wheels and the love interest he tries to pick up. A few years later, Parliament ditched the flivver for a UFO.
“455 SD” by the Radio Birdman
Named after misheard lyrics from a Stooges song, the Radio Birdman was an Australian proto-punk band of some repute, complete with an American singer who grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The group took its Michigan connection seriously with homages to Woodward Avenue (“Murder City Nights”) and life in Detroit (“I-94”). But when it came to automobiles, “455 SD” truly waxes poetic on the wax. Recorded in 1978 and appearing on the LP Living Eyes, the song imparts the smell of burnt rubber from a band hell-bent on celebrating Detroit horsepower: “Got a Hurst T-stick in my hand, Borg Warner four speed says I can … Do the standing quarter in 12.5, Run through it, bring tears to your eyes, Edelbrock high rise manifold, Zero to 60 in 7.0.” Purists may wince at times, but the intention was pure adrenaline.
“Super Bee” by the Demonics
Imagine being a college student and taking a three-day trip 3000 miles away with Dad to the City by the Bay. The free weekly city tabloid mentions a quasi-punk group with a singer who has a penchant for Iggy Pop acrobatics and, oh, guess what? They just released a 45 called “Super Bee!” After navigating the bus system and dodging plenty of San Fran crazies, that student (moi!) ended up in the Upper Haight, where I found the store that was selling the record complete with nifty picture sleeve. Self-released in 1996—way before the cost of self-promotion was lowered thanks to MP3s—“Super Bee” was a typical revisionist punk rocker that included the actual rumble from the singer’s 1969 ‘Bee.
“’48 DeSoto” by Tony Kosinec
A British-born Canadian who spent much of his musical career in New York, Tony Kosinec was among the large group of singer-songwriter musicians that was peddled by the industry in the 1970s in search for “the next big thing.” Kosinec enjoyed minor success in the early 1970s but was drowned out by the James Taylors of the world, though he parlayed his talents into writing jingles and scoring TV and film. Bad Girl Songs, his sophomore effort (produced by Peter Asher for Columbia Records), contained the song “’48 DeSoto.” It was more about two carefree lovers bombing down the backroads than a paean to a big ol’ Mopar, but if Bob Seger can sing about night moves in a ’60 Chevy, then why not a fat-fendered DeSoto?
“The Hot Rod Song” by the Nightshadows
Among the earliest garage bands in the U.S., Atlanta’s Nightshadows formed in the 1950s, primarily playing R&B and Blues … and then the British Invasion hit. Band member exits and entrances led to an evolution of what could be characterized as more frat band than Beatles-esque, resulting in the recording of a few humorous and risqué crowd-pleasers before “The Hot Rod Song” in 1965. What starts off sounding like a “Taxman” knock-off eventually reveals itself to be a typical (if not slightly twisted) rocker of the period, with no inkling of what kind of car is being sung about, but apparently it’s the fastest/biggest/finest/wildest one around. Every town has a car like that, right?
“She Took My Oldsmobile” by the Romancers
Here’s a nugget of authentic garage from a Chicano band out of East Los Angeles with this 45 on the Linda label. Like many 1966 releases, this song was about a girl doing a guy wrong, in this case by taking his Oldsmobile. It’s even an Olds 88 (albeit without the “Rocket” hot rod references)! “Looked out the window, what do I see? Big black clouds looking back at me. No matter how all I try, all I seem to do is cry—she took my Oldsmobile (my 88, my 88, yeah)!” as one lament follows the other. We don’t learn if he gets his Olds back, but four years later she may have been riding in a ’48 DeSoto for all we know.
Know of any car songs to recommend that few know about? Post them here!