By: Andy Newbound
We’ve been going Top 10 crazy at Stoneacre HQ recently, and our list making reached an all-time car-inspired frenzy as we debated history’s most iconic car songs.
Big hitting tunes about cars seem to have tailed off in recently years. Maybe that’s because we now take our four-wheeled iron horses for granted. Yet back in the twentieth century, the car was a go-to subject for big name warblers in search of a guaranteed hit. Even the late, great chart-topping legend Prince got in on the act (more about this soon.)
Cars and music have always gone hand in hand. The first car radio was invented by Motorola back in 1930. Compact cassettes and 8-track tape players were launched in the 1960s. These were followed by the first compact disc players in the 80s. Today we have MP3 players, and we can stream our favourite tunes direct from our phone.
Almost for as long as we have driven cars, we’ve had music to accompany our driving. It’s an important aspect of our culture and a major part of our driving experience. For many of us, the car we drive and the music we enjoy point to the kind of person we are.
Many of the Top 10 tunes we’ve selected are still played on the radio today, and included on ‘driving’ playlists and compilations. How many do you recognise?
There can only be one tune at the top of our driving chart – Gary Newman’s fuel-injected electropop classic, Cars. First released in 1979, Cars reached number one in several countries and was a top ten hit in the US too. But chart places are irrelevant; it’s the feeling the song evokes and for generations of drivers, this is the track that makes them want to get behind the wheel.
Originally recorded by Roy Orbison but first made famous by American Cindy Lauper in 1989, ‘I drove all night’ is an anthem for truckers and anyone driving long distances at…well…at night, I guess. If you stay up late enough and tune into an old-school radio show for a little late night company, you’re sure to hear this one dusted off and given a spin.
Few songs can transcend music but Drive by The Cars will forever be associated with something much bigger, Live Aid. An atmospheric and emotive track in its own right, when the song became the unofficial anthem for the greatest global fund raising mission in history the tune acquired immortal and legendary status. Was it about driving? Was it about cars? Perhaps once, yes.
Here’s another track that piggy-backed something much bigger than music. Songstress Tracy Chapman released the track on 1988 but it was only after her appearance on the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute that the song became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a truly great song though, capturing the freedom and possibilities and dreams that are wrapped up for so many of us in the ‘idea’ of a fast car.
Prince wasn’t just a fantastic singer, he was an incredible story teller too. Little Red Corvette is a stunning example of an artist at the peak of his powers. To fans of classic American cars, the Corvette is perhaps one of the most iconic models. Prince knows this, and skilfully plays with automobile metaphors to seduce listeners and build an unforgettable song. If you love cars, you can’t help love this song.
A true classic back in the 1960s, Mustang Sally was revived in the early nineties when it featured heavily in the British mega-movie, The Commitments. Since that time, it has become a must-sing in Karaoke bars the world over. Like Prince’s Little Red Corvette, Mustang Sally uses an iconic muscle-car brand to help hook the listener and tell its story.
For many, the 1960s were a watershed period. The decade marked the formal end of post-war austerity and awakened fresh hope and freedom in an entire generation. The light and upbeat music of American Band The Beach Boys captured the moment perfectly, creating a sound that will forever be synonymous with summer days at the beach, surfing waves and of course, cruising in your car with the top down.
Billy knew the special relationship we all have with our cars. It’s our own personal sanctuary, where we can escape from life’s stresses and pressures, be ourselves and do our own thing. Back in the time of Billy’s 1988 chart-topper, life could be a little claustrophobic. Young couples and groups of friends had fewer ways and places to spend time together, so the car became a meeting place and venue. Oh, and the video also featured a classic Porsche 911 cabriolet. Nice!!
This song is a modern classic and it mentions the word ‘cars’ in the title, so we had to include it. However, beyond a solitary mention in the song lyrics themselves, I’m not entirely sure that this song has anything whatsoever to do with cars. The video isn’t exactly car-tastic either. But it’s a great song…so here it is.
Now, if it’s a truly car-tastic tune you’re looking for, few can go toe-to-toe with the 1977 Rose Royce disco-fever classic, Car Wash. This has ‘feel good’ woven through every chord and beat and was the signature tune from the cult classic disco-era movie by the same name. The movie may have since faded from the memory, but the song remains one of the most recognisable disco tracks ever recorded.
How does our list compare to yours? Did your favourite make it? There are dozens to choose from and some genuine classics just failed to make our Top 10. However, we have to tip our collective hats to tracks like Drive My Car by the Beetles, AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, Camaro by the Kings of Leon and of course, any tune by the undisputed queen of the automobile…Mariah CARey. Sorry, we couldn’t resist that one.
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