Road Trips with Jason Crane: Classic Car Songs

This week I’m sticking with the idea of travel and turning my attention to songs about cars. After relationships (and not counting holiday tunes), cars have to be one of the most common rock and roll themes. Let’s look at a few classics.

I’ve got to start with “Drive My Car” by the Beatles. Not only is it a classic car song, but it’s a song that pops up in several different ways here on The Drive. (Beep beep!) Paul McCartney is the primary writer of the song, but he struggled a lot with the lyrics until John Lennon stepped in and suggested the car theme. The line “Baby you can drive my car” was originally “You can buy me diamond rings.” I think we got the better version. If you had the British edition of 1965’s Rubber Soul, this was the first track, but it didn’t even appear on the original U.S. album. Instead it was the first track on 1966’s Yesterday And Today.

For my money, if we’re going to talk about car songs, we’ve got to talk about the Beach Boys. In addition to being my official band of summer, they’re also masters of the hot rod anthem. From “I Get Around” and “409” to “Fun Fun Fun” and even ballads like “Don’t Worry Baby,” the Beach Boys cranked out one car classic after another. I don’t know what a “flat head mill” is, but I’ll sure belt out those words with the windows down any time “Little Deuce Coupe” comes on.

For pure cool, look no further than William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful For What You Got.” This, to me, is the ultimate cruising song, and one of my favorite songs we play on The Drive. The groove is infectious, the lyrics are ultra-hip, and DeVaughn delivers the song with the kind of swagger that makes me feel cool just by association. This song was written as part of a development deal; essentially the record label told DeVaughn to record a few songs and if they liked them, they’d put them out. DeVaughn caught lightning in a bottle, because “Be Thankful For What You Got” shot to #1 on the R&B charts and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974, going on to sell more than two million copies.

Finally, let’s wrap up with another funky classic, Rose Royce’s 1976 jam “Car Wash.” This chart topper came from the soundtrack of the film Car Wash, and it rocketed to the top of both the Hot 100 and the R&B chart. It also was a #3 disco smash and even hit #1 in the UK. Oddly enough, nearly three decades later the song appeared in another movie, Shark Tale, in a cover version by Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott. Hey, good music knows no time.

What are some of your favorite car songs? Let me know at jason@thedrivetucson.com and maybe I can feature them in a future edition of Road Trips.