Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part III

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

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.

Chuck Berry/Maybellene

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.

Bruce Springsteen/Ramrod

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

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Vocals In Perfect Harmony

I dig vocals. Great vocals. Especially multi-part harmony singing. Big time! As some visitors of the blog know, that’s why I sometimes can get a bit impatient when it comes to instrumentals. Don’t get me wrong, listing to such music can be very enjoyable. But after a while, I tend to start missing vocals. This gave me the idea to put together a post about tunes featuring great harmony singing.

Admittedly, this is a somewhat random list. I didn’t want to overthink it. Let’s kick it off with The Beach Boys. While I generally wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of their music, much of which sounds quite repetitive to my ears, especially their early tunes, I’ve always loved how these guys could harmonize. One example I like in particular is In My Room. Credited to music genius Brian Wilson and Gary Usher, an early outside collaborator, the track was included on the band’s third studio album Surfer Girl from September 1963. It also appeared separately as a single in October that year.

One of the first bands that comes to my mind when thinking about harmony vocals are Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Boy, when they get into it, they sound like they came from some other planet. Here’s Carry On, the opener to CSNY’s amazing second studio record Déjà Vu. Stephen Stills wrote this song. Harmony singing doesn’t get much better than that, in my humble opinion!

Perhaps the next choice may surprise you: Huey Lewis and the News. Say what? While undoubtedly that band primarily was known for slick pop rock and hits like I Want A Drug and The Power Of Love, these guys could also sing. Don’t believe me? Check out their a cappella version of It’s Alright  – and, yes, have a good time! The song was first recorded in 1963 by The Impressions and written by the great Curtis Mayfield. Huey Lewis and the News recorded their a cappella cover in 1993 for a tribute album to Mayfield titled People Get Ready: A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield. No matter how you feel about Lewis, this take is just awesome!

Speaking of Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, why don’t we throw in one of their other tunes and a clip of them performing it: People Get Ready. I’ve said it before and I’m not ashamed to say it again, sometimes music really moves me. And, yes, it can bring me to tears, depending on my mood. This is one of these tunes, which was the title tack of the band’s fourth studio album released in February 1965. It’s another composition by Mayfield.

A band I dig for both their music and their singing are the Eagles. One of the best illustrations of their vocal power I can think of is Seven Bridges Road. What I hadn’t known until now is that it’s not an Eagles tune, which for some reason I had always assumed. Nope, it was actually written by American country singer Steve Young in 1969. He also recorded it that year for his debut album Rock Salt & Nails. The Eagles version, which became the most popular cover of the song, was inspired by Iain Matthews’ take of the tune he recorded for his 1973 album Valley Hi. I realize, it’s a bit of a convoluted background story, but you have to give credit where credit is due. This finally brings me to the Eagles’ cover, which they recorded for their Eagles Live album from November 1980. It just sounds breathtaking!

If you looked at the image on top of the post, you already may guess what’s coming next – and last: The Temptations. I think to say that harmony singing doesn’t get better than that is not an overstatement. Their multi-part harmonies ranging from very low to very high are simply insane. Here’s Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).  And, no, this is not an illusion, though it sounds heavenly – is that a real word? In any case, co-written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and produced by Whitfield, the song first appeared as a single in January 1971. The tune was also included on the The Temptations’ 14th studio album Sky’s The Limit from April 1971. It became their third no. 1 in the U.S.

I realize there are many more songs I could have included. Feel free to let me know which tunes featuring harmony singing you like.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube