Top Ten Car Songs
Article by Mark Trotta
These are my favorite Top Ten car songs, laid out in chronological order. There's countless more great car songs - these are just ten of my favorites.
"Rocket 88" - Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (1951)
Oldsmobile debuted their new "Rocket V-8" in 1949, the first of the GM divisions to offer a high-compression OHV engine. The 135-horsepower motor, placed inside Oldsmobile's lighter-bodied 76-series cars, started the Rocket 88 series, which dominated NASCAR's Grand National series for several years.
Although Jackie Brenston sings the lead vocals on "Rocket 88", the song was actually written and arranged by Ike Turner, who also plays piano on it. The "Delta Cats" were Turner's backup band. Recording was done at Sun Studios in Memphis Tennessee and produced by Sam Phillips. "Rocket 88" topped the R and B charts in 1951.
"Maybellene" - Chuck Berry (1955)
Recorded at Chess Records in Chicago in 1955, "Maybellene" was an adaptation of the country song "Ida Red." This was Chuck Berry's first recording, as well as his first hit. Featured on this record are Jerome Green (Bo Diddley's maraca man), and blues legend Willie Dixon on bass. "Maybellene" sold over one-million copies, reaching #1 on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart.
"Stick Shift" - The Duals (1961)
The "Duals" were a couple of 19-year-old boys from California, Henry Bellinger (lead guitar) and Johnny Lageman (rhythm guitar). Their instrumental "Stick Shift" was originally recorded and released on the newly-formed Star Revue label in Los Angeles in 1961. On the B side was a song called "Cruising".
"Stick Shift" became very popular, in fact, too popular for the small record label to effectively handle. The master tapes were sold to Sue Records of New York City, who re-released the single for national distribution. The record peaked at #25 on Billboard's Pop chart in the autumn of 1961.
"Little Deuce Coupe" - The Beach Boys (1964)
For those who don't know, a "deuce coupe" is slang for a 1932 Ford Model-B Coupe, called "deuce" for the year. Written by Brian Wilson and Roger Christian, the song "Little Deuce Coupe" runs a mere minute and 38 seconds long. It first appeared as the B-side to The Beach Boys' 1963 single "Surfer Girl". It was also appeared on the "Surfer Girl" album, and then again as the title track of the album "Little Deuce Coupe."
"Dead Man's Curve" - Jan and Dean (1964)
Co-songwriter Roger Christian wanted the song to end with the two racers finishing in a tie, but Jan Berry insisted it end in a crash. Two years after the song had become a hit, Berry himself crashed into a parked truck close to the fabled Dead Man's Curve, while driving his Corvette down North Whittier Drive. He received severe head injuries and was given a slim chance of a full recovery, but within a year Berry was writing and producing music again.
"Little GTO" - Ronny and the Daytonas (1964)
Certainly on everyone's Top-Ten car songs list, "Little GTO" was written and recorded by Ronny and the Daytonas, a band made up of Nashville session musicians. The song reached #4 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and sold over one million copies.
"Hot Rod Lincoln" - Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen (1972)
"Hot Rod Lincoln" was originally recorded by Charlie Ryan and the Livingston Brothers in 1955. Ryan wrote the song about his 1948 Lincoln, which had a 12-cylinder engine. The car was shortened two feet and fitted with a Ford Model-A body, an early example of what we now call a "sleeper". In 1959, he recorded the song again as Charlie Ryan and the Timberline Riders. A 1960 version by Johnny Bond found the lyrics slightly altered, with the Lincoln engine now having eight cylinders.
Certainly the most well-known version was released by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen in 1972, which rose to #9 on the Pop Charts and #51 on the Country Charts. Commander Cody starts off their version of the song with the spoken line, "My pappy said, 'Son, you're gonna drive me to drinking, if you don't stop driving that Hot Rod Lincoln."
"Crawling From the Wreckage" - Dave Edmunds (1979)
Written by Graham Parker, the best version of this song appears on Dave Edmund's 'I Hear You Knocking' live album. The song's lyrics, which include the line, "When I'm disconnected from the driving wheel, I'm only half the man I should be" make this a top-ten driving song as well.
"Red Barchetta" - Rush (1981)
In November of 1973, Road and Track magazine featured a short story by Richard Foster called "A Nice Morning Drive". It depicted our automotive future completely overseen by the government, and every car built was over-safe and underpowered. Neil Peart, drummer/lyrist of Rush, loosely based "Red Barchetta" around Foster's story. It's set in a time and place where the cars we know and love are completely illegal, but not completely gone.
"69 Chevy" - Robert Ross Band (1991)
Rounding off my Top-Ten car songs list is "69 Chevy", which was originally featured on a four-song vinyl PEP entitled "Introducing Robert Ross" back in 1981. It was re-recorded by Ross in 1991 and appears on the full-length CD "Rocking' The Rails." Here's one of the verses:
- "Can't open the hood, can't close the trunk
- Windshield was smashed by a red-headed punk
- $2,000 into it that I've sunk
- And she's still a piece of junk."
Read: Classic Cars Through History