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Car culture and rock ‘n roll developed hand in hand, each fueling and inspiring the other. From FM radio and cassettes to bluetooth connected stereo systems, music has been a mainstay of vehicle dashboards. And everyone can probably name at least one song about a car, truck, or motorcycle, and the enduring theme of the open road. Inspired by that shared history, the car (and music) freaks at Gearhead put together this list of 10 bands who incorporate car culture into their songs. Check it out and discover some must-have tracks for your next road trip playlist.
You may know The Beach Boys from classic rock stations and written them off as your parents’ music, but think again. Notably one of the first bands in California to tap into the teenager fascination with hot rods, racing, and surfing, The Beach Boys released a string of hot rod and drag racing themed hits in the early 60s. Considered one of the most influential bands in rock history, those early hot rod songs cleared the road for a wave of hot rod and surf songs as the California car scene heated up. Check out “Shut Down,” “409,” and “Little Deuce Coupe.”
Originally from Seattle, WA, The Sonics took the world by storm in the early 60s with their edgy, raw, garage-punk sound. Ultimately influencing bands such as Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, and many of today’s alternative bands, they recorded possibly one of the best car songs around, “Boss Hoss.” While it never hit the charts, the song is still played today by aspiring garage bands.
“Little GTO” by Ronnie and The Daytonas was released in 1964, celebrating the legendary muscle car, the Pontiac GTO. The song hit number one on the Billboard charts, followed in short order by another car-inspired tune, “Bucket T.” The band then released a whole record of hot rod and surf inspired songs, but they never again repeated the success they had with “Little GTO.” The song continues to enjoy success today among car enthusiasts.
Fronted by the hirsute axe man Billy F. Gibbons, ZZ Top formed in the late 60s in Houston, TX. They play a gutsy, bluesy brand of rock ‘n roll, with hot rods and customs often featured in the band’s imagery and song lyrics. Gibbons is such a fan of cars that he wrote a book entitled Rock and Roll Gearhead. He also starred in a short-lived series called Rockin’ Roadsters for the Discovery Channel, creating custom machines with builder Jimmy Shine. Some of ZZ Top’s car-influenced songs include: “Manic Mechanic,” “I’m Bad,” “I’m Nationwide,” and “Chevrolet.”
You have a cool car, chances are you’re gonna catch the eye of that special someone. No song captures this better than “(I Live For) Cars and Girls” by The Dictators, an American rock band from NYC who first started playing their tough, punk rock ‘n roll in 1973. Bridging the gap between the Detroit garage style of The Stooges and the late 70s punk explosion, the band put out a series of records, and despite many line-up changes, are still playing today, including the above mentioned song. Little Steven Van Zandt (of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) even mentioned the band as historically important to the evolution of today’s alternative rock bands.
Social Distortion’s lead singer Mike Ness makes no secret of his love of custom cars, even singing about it in his hit “I’m In Love With My Car.” The gruff, swampy rock ‘n roll of Social Distortion has provided the soundtrack to countless modern-day car shows and hootenannies. Often photographed in front of classic cars, Ness also wrenches on his own rides, customizing them to make them his own.
Known as the grandfather of rock ‘n roll, Chuck Berry hit upon a sound that inspired everyone from the Beatles and The Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen and Green Day. Getting his first hit, the car-themed “Maybellene,” in 1955, Berry churned out multiple hits, many incorporating themes about teenage car culture. Perhaps one of the cheekiest is “No Particular Place to Go.” Chuck Berry was still rocking and performing his classic tunes right up until his death on March 18, 2017 at 90 years old.
Ever since Elvis Presley started buying pink Cadillacs, rockabilly and classic cars have been linked. The Stray Cats made a name for themselves in the early 80s by slicking back their hair, flaunting the tough greaser look that was so popular in the 50s, and mixing rockabilly styling with pop and punk. Guitarist and vocalist Brian Setzer continues to play rockabilly festivals to this day. Noted songs include “Blue Café,” “Brand New Cadillac,” “Hot Rod Girl,” and “Hell Bent.”
Listen to any classic rock station and you’ve no doubt heard “Hot Rod Lincoln” performed by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. Written in 1955 by Charlie Ryan about an actual hot rod road race he was involved in, Commander Cody’s version hit the Billboard charts in 1971. The song became so popular that numerous bands still cover it, including George Thorogood, Pat Travers, and punk band All.
Born in the basements of LA’s early punk scene, the five women of The Go Go’s rocketed up to the top of the charts in the late 70s and early 80s. The theme of cars from a uniquely female perspective formed the basis for several of their hits including “Speeding” and “Stuck in My Car,” both about driving around Los Angeles freeways, and “Skidmarks on My Heart,” about a girl being pushed aside by a boyfriend in love with his muscle car. The video for their first single, “Our Lips Are Sealed,”even features the girls cruising around Hollywood in a 1960 Buick convertible.
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