By Madeline Bocaro ©
It’s a beautiful day! It’s the middle of the night on the open road.
There’s no particular place to go. You’re driving in your car – turn on the radio.
It’s Steppenwolf! “Get your motor running / Head out on the highway…”
If your kicks keep getting harder to find, you can always get them on Route 66.
ON THE ROAD
‘(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66’ by Bobby Troup is an American R&B standard from 1946. It’s a perfect song to start our cross-country drive. The road stretches from Chicago to L.A. The song, which rhymes the names of several United States has been covered by many, including Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and my favorite version by The Cramps!
Watch – Bobby Troup in 1964 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLUYf6cekMA
Route 66 (Get Your Kicks On) · The Cramps
‘Happy Trails’ was the theme song to 1940s/50s TV and radio cowboy Roy Rogers’ broadcasts. It was written by his wife, Dale Evans and sung by the couple. The highly popular single was released in 1952. The couple were asked to perform the song at Woodstock but they declined.
‘Hit the Road Jack’ was a swinging smash made famous by Ray Charles in 1961. This short tune at just 2:00 in duration won a Grammy for best R&B song,
‘Travelin’ Man is a No.1 1961 hit by Ricky Nelson accompanied by Elvis’ back-up singers, the Jordanaires. He has girls all around the world, including a senorita, a fraulein, and a China doll. It highly resembles the Bobby Darrin song ‘Dream Lover’ from 1959. The B-Side ‘Hello Mary Lou’ makes this single a double delight! Ricky died in a plane crash along with his band mates on the final day of 1985.
‘Hitch Hike’ by Marvin Gaye (1962) has an intro which Lou Reed adapted as a theme throughout the Velvet Underground’s ‘There She Goes Again’. The song spawned a brief dance craze.
Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ is the title song from his 1965 album. It pays homage to blues pioneer Robert Johnson’s 1930s song ‘Highway 61 Blues’. It is also a road in Dylan’s home town of Duluth Minnesota which stretches down to New Orleans. It’s a heavy song populated by several characters. God tells Dylan’s father, to kill his son at the location where the blues began – where Robert Johnson had sold his soul to the Devil for fame.
The Who are motorvating on ‘Motoring’ in 1965 and on ‘Magic Bus’ (written in 1965 /released in 1968).
The Doors take us on a ‘Moonlight Drive’ on their second album Strange Days (1967). This was the lyric that Jim Morrison had shown to Ray Manzarek who was blown away, cementing the idea to form a band. It was the first song that the band recorded, but it did not appear on their debut album. Jim poetically invokes a strange erotic journey.
“Let’s swim to the moon, let’s climb through the tide, penetrate the evening that the city sleeps to hide.” He uses a double entendre at the end; ‘Baby gonna drown tonight/Goin’ down, down, down.” The eerie sounding slide guitar of Robby Krieger lends an otherworldly ambience to this tune, which Manzarek calls a ‘rock tango’.
It’s a good thing that Jim is wearing his moonglasses!
Paul McCartney wrote The Beatles 1968 song ‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?’ when he saw monkeys humping in the streets in India.
This is what Paul thought of Phil Spector’s embellishments on his song ‘The Long and Winding Road (Let It Be, 1970) which he later ‘corrected’ on the album Let It Be – Naked released in 2003.
‘Moonlight Mile’ is on The Rolling Stones’ 1971 on Sticky Fingers. Although credited to Jagger/Richards, it is a Jagger/Mick Taylor composition with strings by Paul Buckmaster. The band members are high on the road touring with ‘a head full of snow.’
Mick Jagger told Marc Myers of The Wall Street Journal that he had an Oriental-Indian riff on acoustic guitar, which he played for Mick Taylor. The song is about “Looking forward to returning from a foreign place while looking out the window of a train and the images of the railway line going by in the moonlight.”
See my Rolling Stones stories:
Golden Earring are driving all night on the telepathic ‘Radar Love’ from 1973. The drums drive the 5-minute epic, giving it lots of mileage. It’s really strange that the ‘forgotten song’ on the singer’s car radio is this one – not really one for driving:
Brenda Lee’s ‘Coming On Strong’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEtbin9pwSc
Radar Love https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zf53Pg2AkdY
Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ (from their 1974 album Machine Head) is an ode to a girl and a car – built for breaking the speed of sound, (The album’s title track is also a great road song!)
Watch & Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAKCR7kQMTQ
The synthesized Motorik sound of German bands Can, Neu, and Kraftwerk maintains a steady driving 4/4 beat and a precise robotoic style . Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ fills the whole side of their 1974 album titled after the track. The line ‘Fahn, fahn, fahn on the autobahn’ (German motorway) is a reference to the Beach Boys’ 1964 song ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ “ about a girl who is speeding around “till her daddy takes the T-Bird away”. ‘Autobahn’ is full of curves, swerves, honking horns, screeching wheels and tempo changes according to road conditions. The album cover art by Emil Schult is a classic blue and white graphic postcard style painting of the autobahn with two German cars going in opposite directions; a Mercedes and a Volkswagen, which translates as “car of the people”). This was later simplified for reissues – becoming an iconic blue and white graphic of a road intersecting an overpass.
Jonathan Richman’s ‘Road Runner’ (originally recorded in 1972/released in 1976) is a fantastic road song. Several versions were recorded with Richman’s band The Modern Lovers. The melody and beat were inspired by The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sister Ray’. It is also driven by a Doors-like keyboard. The song is simply about driving fast in Boston, Massachusetts with the radio on. One many cover versions is by The Sex Pistols on their album The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.
A song by Birmingham indie band Denim called ‘Middle of the Road’ from their 1992 album Back In Denim 1992 was obviously influenced by ‘Road Runner’ (with a reference to ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ by the band called Middle of the Road at the end). The song celebrates MOR music by listing all the legendary genres and artists that the singer hates.
‘Desolation Boulevard’ is the title of the 1974 album by The Sweet, their third. All of the songs on this album and on their next one, ‘Give Us a Wink’ are built for the road! Their big hit from this one is ‘Fox on the Run’. The Sweet were a Glam band who were dying to break out and rock HARD. The album artwork is by Hipgnosis, designer of many psychedelic covers. The location of the photo shoot was on Sunset Blvd. where The Viper Room now stands.
‘Bend Over I’ll Drive’ is on The Cramps’ 1981 album Look Mom, No Head! The tasteless yet highly amusing lyrics include, “Is this the way Jayne Mansfield died? Bend over, I’ll drive.”
In 1985 Talking Heads released their album Little Creatures with the track ‘Road to Nowhere’ composed by David Byrne. It’s a fun, upbeat melodic romp about getting nowhere on a journey surrounded by doom, which begins with an uplifting acapella gospel chorus.
Watch and listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQiOA7euaYA
‘Here Comes Bob’ – a vocal / violin excursion by Sparks is about a guy who deliberately crashes into other cars in order to make friends. It’s a fine example of Ron Mael’s warped writing skills. It’s on Sparks’ second album A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing (1973). Sparks also have a song called ‘Fill Er’ Up’ about getting gas, on their 1976 album Big Beat.
The soundtrack to the 1976 Scorsese/Schrader film Taxi Driver was written by conductor/composer Bernard Herrmann just prior to his death in 1975. Hermann had also scored several Hitchcock films, including the notorious maniacal strings of the shower murder scene in Psycho in 1960. Other Hermann scores were for Citizen Kane in 1941, and an eerie sci-fi soundtrack to The Day the Earth Stood Still, starring the robot character Gort in 1951.
An alto sax highlights the main theme of Taxi Driver, It is the consummate cinematic expression of depressed driver Travis Bickle’s plight and disgust with the slimy, depraved conditions New York City. The album cover and movie poster with an illustration of Robert De Niro were drawn by Belgian psychedelic pop artist Guy Peellaert whose 1973 book of illustrations Rock Dreams inspired David Bowie to commission him to draw his 1974 Diamond Dogs album cover. The Rolling Stones also used Peellaert’s art on the cover of It’s Only Rock n’ Roll the same year.
‘Drive My Car’ is on The Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul. It’s Paul’s tale of a woman whose dreams of grandeur have become so big that she will allow him the humble yet coveted task of being her limo driver.
The Beach Boys’ third album and song ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ (1963) are named for a 1932 Ford Model 18 Coupe hot rod (deuce is for the year ’32). There is a photo of the car on the album cover. The title song was written by Brian Wilson with lyrics by Radio DJ Roger Christian. ‘Mustang Sally’ is the 1966 hit by Wilson Pickett, a cover of the R&B song by Mack Rice in 1965. Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor wrote about his ‘machine of a dream’, ‘I’m in Love w My Car’ for their 1975 album A Night at the Opera. Prince meets a girl who drives a ‘Little Red Corvette’, carries used condoms and parks sideways. She is even too fast for him! She must be a wild one!
Janis Joplin’s great vocal acapella vocal made on October 1, 1970 just three days before her death is showcased on ‘Mercedes Benz’.
A really cool mix was made of this along with Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’! It’s one of my favorite things ever! Listen below!
Janis Joplin vs. Kraftwerk: Mercedes/Autobahn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fRPqhl3IhI
‘Re-Make/Re-Model’ by Roxy Music – CPL 593H is the most glamorous license plate number in the world. It belongs to an unapproachable mysterious woman whom the singer is too intimidated to approach. Perhaps he will look up her plate number and contact her later? The number is repeated by Brian Eno (Roxy’s resident knob twiddler – my favorite since Joe Meek) in his backing vocal. The song opens Roxy Music’s debut album released in June 1972. The ultramodern tune, written by singer Bryan Ferry begins with the clanking glasses of a cocktail party. It oscillates and swirls in a glittery synthesized whirl, along with Andy Mackay’s wildly skronking sax. Each instrument is allowed a solo in the middle eight. We hear the bass riff from The Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’. The stunning album cover has a portrait of model Kari Ann Mueller who also graces the cover of Mott’s 1974 album, The Hoople. The gatefold sleeve has photos of the band members strewn upon a background of a car interior’s tufted leather seats!
Also see my story about all the Roxy Music album cover girls:
Mott The Hoople had some fun on the road with two songs on their 1973 Mott album, ‘Drivin’ Sister’ and ‘I’m a Cadillac / El Camino Dolo Roso’ both written by Mick Ralphs. When Ian Hunter left the group, the band reformed as simply Mott. Their debut album is titled Drive On.
Mott The Hoople – Drivin’ Sister on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert – 1974 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjdPRuJN818
‘Brand New Cadlillac’ was a single by Vince Taylor in 1959. David Bowie partially based his character Ziggy Stardust on the eccentric rocker (born Brian Holden) known as the French Elvis Presley. Holden had worked in France as an Elvis impersonator. He honed his act in Los Angeles nightclubs. Taylor displayed rock n’ roll magnetism at his chaotic live gigs. Screams from women drowned out his weak voice, his only flaw. He wore black leather with a large Joan of Arc medallion and make-up, thrashing around as if in an epileptic fit, inducing riots. During his final performance in France, he dismissed his band (as Bowie later did onstage, without warning to the Spiders From Mars). Taylor descended into drugs and madness. From the mid-1960s, he drifted around London, claiming to be the Son of God. He only ate eggs. After spending much of his life in prisons and psychiatric institutions due to alcoholism and schizophrenia he died in 1991 in Switzerland from cancer at age 52. Taylor’s most popular song is ‘Brand New Cadillac’, which was covered by The Clash on their London Calling album in 1977.
“Vince Taylor was the beginning of British rock n’ roll. Before him there was nothing. He was a miracle.”
– Joe Strummer, The Clash
“He was the inspiration for Ziggy. Vince Taylor was a rock n roll star from the Sixties who was slowly going crazy. Finally, he fired his band and went on-stage one night in a white sheet. He told the audience to rejoice, that he was Jesus. They put him away.”
– Bowie 1976
(Adam Ant includes a tribute song called ‘Vince Taylor’ on his 2013 album. Adam sings about Taylor’s Joan of Arc medallion – passed on to him by Taylor’s girlfriend).
‘Brand New Cadillac’ Vince Taylor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2j7sLUDkDM
The Clash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqTpZXcTc_s
This artist did not have a car – so he wrote, ‘I Took A Trip on a Gemini Spaceship’. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy a.k.a. ‘The Ledge’ was another inspiration for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character. Born Norman Carl Odam in 1947 in Texas, The Ledge was a forerunner of Psychobilly in the 1960s. While considered a novelty act, he thought of himself as a serious performer. Odam was interested in space travel since childhood. As a teen he combined his interests in outer space and the American west to create the name ‘Stardust Cowboy’ adding the word ‘legendary’ because ‘I am a legend in my own time.’ The fact that the initials of ‘Legendary Star Dust’, L.S.D., refer to a drug is coincidental. Odam adopted the name in 1961, before LSD was popularized. In May 2007 The Ledge played at the High-Line festival in New York City at David Bowie’s invitation. On his 2002 Heathen album, Bowie covered Odam’s song, ‘I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship’.
The Ledge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MhbCzTqFsQ
Marc Bolan of T. Rex had a car fixation although he feared driving. It was ironically tragic that he died in a car crash at age 29 in 1977. His lyrics included “You’re built like a car/you got a hubcab diamond star halo” on ‘Bang a Gong’. On ‘Children of the Revolution’ he sings, “I drive a Rolls Royce ‘cos it’s good for my voice.” Bolan’s song titles include ‘Cadillac’ and ‘Buick MacKane’.
On ‘Always Crashing in the Same Car’ from his 1977 album Low, David Bowie keeps making the same mistakes – At this low point in his life, he literally and deliberately crashes his car in a drug-fueled rage amidst gorgeous swirling sounds. His own ‘Autobahn’ – but in a hotel garage!
See my full story – High On Low:
‘Cars’ was the debut single by British new wave artist Gary Numan in 1979 from his album The Pleasure Principle. The singer isolates himself by comfortably living in his car, safe from the outside world. It has a strangely futuristic synthesized feel with a sustained eerie note juxtaposed by a tambourine and live drumming.
Cars – The video:
‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ by Meatloaf was the soundtrack single of the summer of 1978. It appeared on the album Bat out of Hell, in 1977 (produced by Todd Rundgren). The album became a smash due to Meatloaf’s appearance as a biker in the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show which had gained an explosive cult following with massive ‘audience participation’ during midnight showings in theaters that year. The lengthy 8:28 song is a mini-opera, written by Jim Steinman, who called it ‘the ultimate car sex song’. Meatloaf’s vocals were accompanied by powerhouse singer Ellen Foley. New York Yankees announcer Phil Ruzzuto makes a cameo as the radio voice metaphorically speaking the ‘play by play’ foreplay of the couple in the car. Suddenly, Ellen sings, ‘Stop right there!’ and the rest is history! Singer Karla DeVito performed the female vocal part on tour with Meatloaf, and in the music video.
Watch & Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C11MzbEcHlw
Read my interview with Ellen Foley here:
Here’s a fun song by The Dickies dedicated to the cartoon car repair team of ‘Manny, Moe & Jack’ (their ode to The Pep Boys) from their 1979 album Dawn of the Dickies. This is one of my favorite songs of all time!
A really strange single by a mysterious band called The Normal (a.k.a. The Norml) appeared in 1980 called ‘T.V.O.D.’ The B-side was ‘Warm Leatherette’. The man behind this mask was Daniel Miller, who was influenced by the 1972 novel Crash. The quirky synthesized punk song was released on Mute Records, prefacing the industrial genre. It was covered by countless other bands. Grace Jones titled her 1980 album after the song, covered it on a promo single and performed it live.
The beautiful ‘Europa’ is Blondie’s poem to the automobile on their 1980 album Autoamerican. It’s perfect for driving into a sunset.
Based on the desire for total mobility
And the serious physical pursuit of religious freedom
The auto drove mankind further than the wheel
And in remote areas even today is forbidden as a device too suspect for human conveyance
This articulate conception has only brought us all more of the same
Thoughtlessly locked into phase two gridlock
Keyed up on its rims and abandoned on the expressway
Ironically, The Cars song ‘Drive’ on Heartbeat City (1984) is perhaps the only song about driving that the band ever produced. Their first album cover in 1978 pictures a beautiful woman at the wheel. The Russian model (who had appeared in Playboy) was Natalya Georgievna Medvedeva, a singer, writer, poet, and member of a rock band called Tribunal.
In 1982 she married her fifth husband Eduard Limonov, a Russian writer and soon leader of the National Bolshevik Party. Natalya died in her sleep of a heart attack in February 2003 at age 44.
‘Detroit Rock City’ from the KISS album Destroyer in 1976 has the band speeding down the road in the Motor City as their own song comes on the radio. There is a car crash at the end.
‘Detroit 442′ is Blondie’s ode to the Oldsmobile’s 442 muscle car, to Motor City’s car factories and to Iggy Pop. Upon the release of their debut album in 1977, Blondie were the opening act for Iggy (on his tour promoting The Idiot with David Bowie on keyboards). Iggy hails from Ann Arbor near Detroit. “Feel hot to go like Jimmy O. / dodging flying objects at the show” refers to Iggy (real name Jimmy Osterberg).
Iggy’s tribute to the automobile factories of Detroit is ‘Mass Production’ on The Idiot. The whole album is admittedly influenced by the sounds of industrialism in Iggy’s hometown in Michigan, as was most of The Stooges material. We hear the buzz of mass production, the drone, clang and repetition of machinery – metal on metal. ‘Mass Production’ is hypnotic (with warped guitar sounds and wonky melody) punctuated by a factory smokestack whistle. To Iggy, these are the sweet sounds of home. The riveting repetition sends us into a monolithic trance, akin to the enslaved workers in Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’. “Though I try to die they put me back on the line…” The song illustrates monotony in uniformity, and the cheapening of products and people through mass production – conveying the same message as the art produced in Andy Warhol’s Factory.
“She’s almost like you / and I’m almost like him”
‘The Passenger’ is from Iggy Pop’s 1977 album Lust For Life. Iggy hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan – right near the Motor City of Detroit. The amazing guitar groove by Ricky Gardner makes this a perfect driving song, inspired by Iggy’s travelling with David Bowie on his Station To Station tour. ‘The Passenger’ is lyrically based on an unnamed poem by Jim Morrison in his book The Lords and The New Creatures.
“…Modern life is a journey by car. The Passengers
change terribly in their reeking seats, or roam
from car to car, subject to unceasing transformation.
Inevitable progress is made toward the beginning
(there is no difference in terminals), as we
slice through cities, whose ripped backsides present
a moving picture of windows, signs, streets,
buildings. Sometimes other vessels, closed
worlds, vacuums, travel along beside to move
ahead or fall utterly behind.
Read my story all about Iggy’s Lust For Life album here:
Also check out Iggy’s ‘Highway Song’ from his American Caesar album in 1993. A beautiful country style song.
“Ain’t nothing gonna take this road away
Ain’t nothing gonna take this road outta my heart”
CRASH AND BURN
‘Teen Angel’ is a tragically sad million seller about a girlfriend who dies in a stalled car on railroad tracks. It was by Mark Dinning (written by his sister Jean) released in 1959. He sings of pulling his young darling out of the car in time, but she dies after running back to get his high school ring. Despite being banned for its super harsh lyrics, the song was still a No. 1 hit in the U.S.A.
‘Just sweet sixteen and now you’re gone…they’ve taken you away / .I’ll never kiss your lips again /they buried you today.’
‘The Leader of the Pack’ by The Shangri-Las (1964) is the tragic tale of forbidden love between a school-girl and a biker. How tough could he be if she met him at the candy store?! This is by the infamous teenage band of girls from Queens, NY. The dramatic revving motor and screech of his motorcycle crash in the rain (after she rejects her true love in obeyance of her parents’ rules) are devastating. We’ll never know if the accident was deliberate or not. The BBC banned the song from Top of the Pops although it was No. 1. due to the disastrous ending. (It’s as sad as the haunting ghostly cries of the dead girl singing the chorus of John Leyton’s ‘Johnny Remember Me’ with its galloping beat, produced by the genius Joe Meek).
The spoken opening line, “Is she really going out with him?” is also spoken at the start of ‘New Rose’ by The Damned. It’s also the title of a song by Joe Jackson on his 1979 debut Look Sharp. The Shangri-Las song was written by Shadow Morton (who also produced the New York Dolls’ second album) along with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Another Shangri-Las lyric, about being in love with a juvenile delinquent who is ‘good-bad, but he’s not evil’ “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V! from their song ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss’ starts The New York Dolls’ song ‘Looking For a Kiss’).
Watch & Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8UKf65NOzM
My New York Dolls story
My interview with Joe Jackson
‘Wild in the Streets’ is a great song about drinking and driving by Garland Jeffreys (1973). A fantastic version by British Lions (the remnants of Mott The Hoople after Ian Hunter’s departure – formed by 3 of their members; Morgan Fisher, Overend Watts and drummer Buffin) is on their 1978 debut album. Another great driving track on that album is ‘One More Chance to Run’ which was also covered by Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott’s side band The Down ‘n’ Outz in 2010 on their album My Regeneration (on which they cover other Mott and British Lions songs).
‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ was written by Bob Dylan with The Band in 1967 but was not released until 1975.
A wheel represents the circle of eternal life through rebirth of the soul. Dylan converses with God who promises him eternal life through obedience and service, but he instead chooses another path – becoming a destructive wheel on fire. The lyrics might also refer to Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle accident. It was the theme song of the TV comedy Absolutely Fabulous.
This wheel’s on fire
Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode!
See more in my Playlist category
About A Song