My very good pal Domenic Priore was just visiting from the Left Coast, promoting his grand new book “Pop Surf Culture: Music, Design, Film, and Fashion from the Bohemian Surf Boom” (Santa Monica Press) (and REQUIRED READING, by the way!)
We duly began discussing the flat-out importance of The Road in rock ‘n’ roll culture, and teenaged society in general, back during that apparently long-lost Golden Age of both.
Which then led me to virtually compile for us all a RRR Dashboard Top Ten, as it were.
So then, with tops down and volumes all the way UP…..
1. ” I GET AROUND” by THE BEACH BOYS (1964)
Instrumentally (the arrangement and production effectively trounced ALL comers that summer of ’64), lyrically (though one can safely interpret “I’m gettin’ bugged drivin’ up and down the same old strip, I gotta find a new place where the kids are hip” as B. Wilson’s hint at the non-sun, non-hit, B.Boy phase to come), and atmospherically THE hands-down, Number One car tune Of All Time. And, backed as it was on its original seven inches with “Don’t Worry Baby,” just maybe the greatest single SINGLE of all time!
2. “CRUISIN’ MUSIC” by (THE) RASPBERRIES (1974)
The not-lately great Eric Carmen’s definitive Brian Wilson tribute; the logical descendant of “I Get Around” (by way of “Do It Again”), and quite possibly the finest car/radio tune of its decade. Should’ve been revived by It’s My Party on the “Josie and the Pussycats” soundtrack, for starters.
3. “I WANT TO BE YOUR DRIVER” by CHUCK BERRY (1965)
The Great Chuck could arguably be said to have invented not only the duck-walk and the ding-a-ling (not to mention certain stomach-curdling after-show water-sports), but the Car Tune too (eg: “Maybellene,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” et all!). Yet THIS little-heard wonder was cruelly denied hit status – even after Lennon & McCartney gamely re-wrote it as “Drive My Car.”
4. “CYCLE ANNIE” by THE BEACHNUTS (1965)
Another rockin’ li’l undiscovered gem that deserves to go Top Ten even more now than it did four decades ago. Odd to ponder then that the author of this masterpiece, against which ALL other sickle-songs pale greatly, later went on to foist such inanities as “Heroin,” “I Wanna Be Black” and “My Red Joy Stick” onto the airwaves.
5. “SCHLOCK ROD, Parts One and Two” by JAN & DEAN (1964)
The last – and FUNNIEST – word in 1960’s hot rod songs: As always, give the self-styled “Laurel and Hardy of the surf crowd” a fad and they’ll wickedly yet oh-so-skillfully deflate it quicker than you can say “Dead Man’s Curve.”
6. “DODGE VEG-O-MATIC” by JONATHAN RICHMAN (1977)
“Schlock Rod, Part Three.”
(Honorable Mention: Jonathan’s immortal, rightfully much-covered “Roadrunner”)
7. “LAST KISS” by J. FRANK WILSON & THE CAVALIERS (1964)
The automobile looms large in the annals of Death Rock (“Teen Angel,” the afore-mentioned “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Can You Please Crawl Out YOUR Window”…) But J. Frank’s morbidly moody number contains all the necessary ingredients (a railroad crossing, a stalled car, an on-coming train, and your fiancée) – and THEN some! (ie: cheesy “Runaway” organ, sounding appropriately ominous herein). Sounds Good Even On CD, such is the magnitude of this timeless tone poem.
8. “HITCHIN’ A RIDE” by VANITY FARE (1970)
Lack of one’s own wheels at the turn of that ‘70s decade did little to dissuade the restless masses from spending their summers alongside the nation’s thoroughfares, thumbs erect, trouble afoot. As a result, a spate of hitch-hikin’ ditties suddenly materialized, of which this remains my personal fave. Sure fit perfectly amongst “Yellow River,” “Going Up The Country” and, yes, “Sweet Hitch-Hiker” back in Grade Ten, I’ll tell ya fer shure.
9. “HIGHWAY STAR” by DEEP PURPLE (1971)
I know, I know: it’s hard to believe these machine heads made a decent record after they last raided the Neil Diamond songbook. But this here “molten slab of heavy-duty R-A-W-K,” as some DJ’s still refer to it, picks up nicely where “Born To Be Wild” left off, helping motorvate Car Tunes confidently into the dreaded Seventies.
10. “THERE’S NO ROOM TO RHUMBA IN A SPORTS CAR” by ELVIS PRESLEY (1963)
As always, of course, the last word on the subject goes to The King.