This is the third and final part of this mini-series featuring songs related to planes, trains and automobiles. Parts I and II focused on planes and trains. This leaves automobiles.
In case you missed the two previous installments, the theme of the mini series was inspired by the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.
I couldn’t think of a better way to start this final installment of the mini-series than with a car chase told by Chuck Berry in a classic rock & roll tune. Credited to him, Russ Fratto and Alan Freed, and partially adapted from a Western swing fiddle tune titled Ida Red, the song tells the tale of a guy in a V8 Ford, chasing after his unfaithful girlfriend Maybellene who is driving a Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Initially released as a single in July 1955, Maybellene became Berry’s first hit, reaching no. 1 on Billboard’s Rhythm & Blues chart and no. 5 on the mainstream Hot 100 chart. The tune is an early example of Berry’s gift to write lyrics that appealed to both young African American and young white people. Maybellene also became part of the soundtrack of the motion picture Rock, Rock, Rock! from December 1956, and was included on Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top. The latter might as well have been titled “The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll.”
The Beach Boys/409
The Beach Boys released various car-related tunes in the ’60s. I guess hot rods and surfing made for good friends. Here’s one of my favorites: 409. Songfacts notes 409 refers to a Chevrolet Bel Air 409 sport coupé, a 360-horsepower beast that with some tuning could be boosted to more than 400 horsepower. If you’re into cars, you can view some images here. Co-written by Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Gary Usher, the tune first appeared in June 1962 as the B-side to the band’s second single Surfin’ Safari. It was also included on two studio albums: Surfin’ Safari, The Beach Boys’ debut record from October 1962, and Little Deuce Coupe, their fourth studio release that came out in October 1963 and featured car songs. Giddy up, giddy up 409!
Wilson Pickett/Mustang Sally
The first time I heard Mustang Sally and fell in love with the tune was in the 1991 music comedy picture The Commitments, which not only is hilarious but also features outstanding Stax style soul – a film I can highly recommend. Originally, the song was written and first recorded by Mack Rice in 1965. But it wasn’t until the following year when Wilson Pickett released a cover that popularized the song, taking it to no. 6 and no. 23 on the U.S. Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts, respectively. The tune was also included on Pickett’s 1967 studio album The Wicked Pickett.
Golden Earring/Radar Love
When it comes to ’70s car songs, the ones that always come to my mind first are Deep Purple’s Highway Star and Golden Earring’s Radar Love. I decided to go with the Dutch rock band, which included the tune on their ninth studio album Moontan from July 1973. Co-written by their guitarist and lead vocalist George Kooymans and Barry Hay, respectively, Radar Love became Golden Earring’s most successful song. It hit no. 1 in the Netherlands, reached the top 10 in the UK and various other European countries, and climbed to no. 13 in the U.S. If you’re stickler, the one thing that isn’t clear is whether the driver in the song is in a car or in a truck. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume it’s the former. And since I’m not fooling around with any single edits, here’s the 6:26-minute LP version. It’s a hell of a rock tune that deserves to be heard in its full length.
Let finish with The Boss and what I feel is more of a deep cut from The River, especially when considering this album also includes tunes like The Ties That Bind, Sherry Darling, Independence Day, Hungry Heart and, of course, the title track. This doesn’t change the fact that Ramrod is a great song. There’s a reason why it has remained a staple during Bruce Springsteen concerts. Springsteen originally wrote and recorded Ramrod for Darkness on the Edge of Town but didn’t use it until The River album, which was released in October 1980. I dig the tune’s 60s garage rock vibe. Let’s go ramroddin’!
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube