It could be said that there are two elements that place a person firmly in time: the music that provides the soundtrack to their life, and the cars they have driven.
Perhaps then, it should not surprise us to find that the car has provided the inspiration for a very significant proportion of 20th and 21st Century popular music lyrics.
The automobile and Rock ‘n’ Roll go so cosily hand-in-hand that a kind of sub-market has evolved for “driving” CDs. While it isn’t really clear what qualifies a song for inclusion in one of these compilation projects (under which the shelves of motorway service stations positively groan) as the lyrical subject matter does vary widely, it remains clear that a huge number of songs have been written in which the car plays a major role.
No popular music genre has a monopoly, and none is safe from the influence of cars, trucks, driving…
The chart here illustrates just a few examples of the way that the internal combustion engine has coloured the musical reflection of popular culture over the years.
There are many, many more, and each reader will probably find one or two amongst his or her own list of favourites that we have missed.
In the songs of The Beach Boys and their contemporaries, the car is a vital part of teenage life. It is a means of transport, a status symbol, an environment for conducting courtship rituals… Whether the vehicle driven is owned or borrowed from parents, these songs reflect a time when driving was just becoming a part of the domain of youth, giving them a kind of freedom formerly enjoyed only by the older generation.
In other cases, songs about the car seem almost designed to be played as an accompaniment to car journeys. The driving force of the bass and drum rhythm section chugs along in time to the beat of a revving engine. Golden Earring’s classic ‘Radar Love’ is the obvious example. Meanwhile, few self-respecting motorcyclists would listen to Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to be Wild’ without feeling the urge to don leather and tear up the street.
Kraftwerk, in their electronic epic ‘Autobahn’ (over 20 minutes in length) endeavoured to paint a sonic picture of the automobile and its natural environment, the German autobahn highways. A little later, in America, Meatloaf’s car provided an unusual ambience in ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’. An amusing blend of romance and youthful, hormonal desperation.
However, your correspondent’s own personal favourite motor vehicle reference occurs in the incomparably crafted poetry of The Ramones. From the tragic-romance of ‘7-11’ comes the heart-rending: “Oncoming car ran out of control. It crushed my baby and it crushed my soul”.
What more is there to say?