Since the birth of the automobile, there’s been a culture of fanboys (and girls) surrounding it thicker in density than the fuel mixture in a nitrous-tuned engine racing at 3,000 feet above sea level. As a result, countless songs have been penned exalting the many virtues of the automobile. In an effort to properly acknowledge those that accomplish that very feat best, I put together a list of the 10 songs that illustrate/celebrate the nuanced culture of the automobile the best.
1. Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head Sufjan Stevens
When you first take in the Cosby sweater-esque cover art and the terrible Bureau of Tourism album title, it’s easy to miss the subtle quality of Sufjan’s Stevens’ underground vibe. In Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head, Stevens salutes the innovation of the early auto industry and the genius of Henry Ford while simultaneously lamenting the decline in popularity of the American automobile. Soulfully mourning how the far the mighty have fallen, Stevens’ seemingly disjointed lyrics quietly urge Detroit to remember from whence they came and rebuild their crumbling empire.
2. Bucket T The Who
Sung with a distinctive Beach Boys flavor, The Who’s cover of Jan and Dean’s Bucket T is a punk rock ode to the unique style of hot rod born from the Ford Model T, which offers irrefutable proof that the love for hot metal and greased axles is a universal one.
3. Paradise By The Dashboard Light MeatLoaf
Although MeatLoaf’s Paradise has little to do with any actual car and more to do with the hilariously accurate plight of the teenage male, it makes the cut as one of the 10 Best Cars songs for largely personal reasons inasmuch I can clearly recall being felt up in the front seat of a Chevy Camaro while listening to Ellen Foley belt, “Stop right now! I gotta know right now…” I also clearly remember laughing at the poorly timed musical interlude, and Jimmy (who had definitely not been paying attention to the radio), fumbling frantically to change to station, eyeing me warily to gauge my reaction.
4. Travelling Without Moving Jamiroquai
Jamiroquai’s third album, Travelling Without Moving, is widely considered to be illustrative of the jazz/electronica aficionado’s deep love for sports cars. In addition to the Ferrari-esque logo adorning the album cover, several of Jamiroquai’s songs are dedicated to his love for Ferrari. Of those songs, the most notable is Track 10, identically titled Travelling Without Moving, which opens to the sound of Jamiroquai revving the engine of his Ferrari F50. A treat for motorheads worldwide, the attention to audio detail is so meticulous, you can actually hear the “snick snick” of the gearbox as the F50 is rapidly downshifted.
5. Little Red Corvette Prince
Famous for its catchy little beat and extremely raunchy innuendo, Prince is perhaps the only man in known universe who can convincingly perform a song worshipping both the female anatomy and one of the most masculine cars ever engineered while wearing patent leather pumps and a silk blouse.
6. Radar Love Golden Earring
Repeated chart toppers in the UK, Dutch band Golden Earring was only met with mild success in the U.S. with their single Radar Love from the Moontan album. Although Radar Love only managed to go gold in the U.S., it was voted one of the best car songs by both USA Today and BBC’s auto lustfest, Top Gear. In addition, the genius of Radar Love has been worshipped in the form of over 300 covers, performed by music legends who need no introduction, like R.E.M. and Def Leppard.
7. Fuel Metallica
Unquestionable the perfect anthem for F1 racing, Metallica’s Fuel was guaranteed a spot on the list simply for being the kind of gear-grinding head banger that makes you want to open it up and just thrash the throttle.
8. My Hooptie Sir Mix-A-Lot
Before he expressed his overwhelming distaste for Cosmopolitan magazine and Jane Fonda, Sir Mix-A-Lot created what was destined to be one of the last hip-hop songs to pay homage to the truly hood way of life. Noticeably void of the gratuitous luxury references littering today’s rap music, “My Hooptie” celebrates the indesctructible nature of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ’69 Buick as well as a time when it wasn’t acceptable to lease a brand new Range Rover while you were still living with your mother. Favorite verse from the song:
I ain’t really fazed, ’cause I pop much game
Rolled up tough, ’cause I got much fame
“How ya doin’ baby, my name is Mixalot”
“Mixalot got a Benz boy, quit smokin’ that rock”
Ooooh, I got dissed. But it ain’t no thing
Runnin’ that game with the home made slang
Baby got ished, Bremelo gip.
Keep laughin’ at the car and you might get clipped
Oh, where have you gone Sir Mix-A-Lot, a nation littered with empty, meaningless hip-hop turns its lonely eyes to you, woo-woo-woo…
9. Still Fly Big Tymers
While nothing will ever live up to the standards created by the likes of Sir Mix-A-Lot and others of his ilk, Big Tymers comes as close as anyone will with their satirical glorification of the “hood rich” life. Through the course of this 8-verse rap, Big Tymers et al manage to reference a Caddillac Escalade, a Chevrolet Impala, a Lexus Roadster, a GMC Suburban, and both the Mercedes E- and G-Class models. Undeniably overqualified as a song about cars, Still Fly didn’t make the list for its excessive references to aftermarket car mods of questionable taste, but rather for its humorous forthrightness about the egregious cost of said mods:
“…Can’t pay my rent, cause all my money’s spent
but thats OK, cause I’m still fly
got a quarter tank gas in my new E-class
But that’s alright cause I’m gon’ ride
got everything in my moma’s name
but I’m hood rich da dada dada da”
10. American Pie Don McLean
Before it became a Hollywood blockbuster and pop culture symbol for uninformed, uninterested youth, American Pie was singularly known as one of the greatest songs ever performed. Social commentary heavily laden with brilliant metaphors, McClean himself describes the song as “…my attempt at an epic song about America…” Indeed it is, and as such, American Pie pays tribute to several legendary moments/aspects of the American car culture, including everything from the male virility and potency the pick-up truck came to represent, to Bob Dylan’s near-fatal traffic accident in the 60’s [from Bob Dearborn’s original analysis of the song, approved by Don McClean].