Cars in Song
The American love affair with the car runs deep — so much of our culture has been touched in some way by the venerable automobile. Telling car stories through music has helped immortalize particular models, with songs dedicated to cars such as the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro — even the Chevy Chevette. As rock band Queen put it, “I’m in love with my car, gotta feel for my automobile.” Take a look back at a selection of cars in song that pay homage to some of our favorite — and sometimes obscure — cars of the American road.
“Mustang Sally” — Wilson Pickett
The Ford Mustang is one of the best-known American cars around the world, so of course it has been the subject of plenty of musical compositions. Our favorite song dedicated to this original pony car is “Mustang Sally,” made popular in 1966 — just a year after the Mustang was introduced — by Wilson Pickett. The most recognizable lyric: “Mustang Sally, think you better slow your Mustang down.”
“Hot Rod Lincoln” — Commander Cody
Originally released in 1964 by Johnny Bond, the song “Hot Rod Lincoln” about hot rod races where “Fords and Lincolns were settin’ the pace” was made famous by Commander Cody in 1971. The exciting story gets told by the driver of the Lincoln-motored Model A hot rod chasing down a Cadillac sedan — he catches the Caddy, then the cops catch him. The song fittingly ends with “They arrested me and they put me in jail / And called my pappy to throw my bail / And he said, Son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’ / If you don’t stop drivin’ that hot rod Lincoln!”
“Bitchin’ Camaro” — The Dead Milkmen
The Chevrolet Camaro has been celebrated in song many times, but our favorite — mainly for the title — is “Bitchin’ Camaro” from The Dead Milkmen in 1984. Honestly, the song is not that great, but it has some rather entertaining lyrics. Perhaps our favorite verse: “. . . When I drive past the kids / They all spit and cuss / ‘Cause I’ve got a bitchin’ Camaro / And they have to ride the bus.”
“Red Barchetta” — Rush
Although the lyrics of “Red Barchetta” don’t specifically call out the Barchetta as a Ferrari, Rush does provide some clues in this song from 1981. Barchetta actually translates to “little boat,” but Rush sings “My uncle preserved for me / an old machine / for fifty-odd years,” so we’d like to think this is a Ferrari 166 MM. The song continues with “I strip away the old debris / That hides a shining car / A brilliant Red Barchetta / From a better vanished time.”
“Mercedes-Benz” — Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin recorded the song “Mercedes-Benz” on October 1, 1970, introducing it on the album Pearl as “a song of great social and political import.” In the song Joplin laments that she doesn’t have the things her friends have. “Oh Lord, won’t you / Buy me a Mercedes-Benz / My friends all have Porsches / I must make amends.” Joplin passed away a few days after this song was recorded — her Porsche parked outside.
“Pink Cadillac” — Bruce Springsteen
There have been several covers of this song, but Bruce Springsteen first released “Pink Cadillac” in 1984. Where other songs mention a car in passing, this song is all about the Pink Cadillac. One of the classic lines from this fun song: “They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple / But man I ain’t goin’ for that / I know it was her pink Cadillac.”
“Love Shack” — The B-52s
In this classic 1980s song from the B-52s, they sing about heading out for a good time at the love shack. How are you going to get there — in a Chrysler of course. As the song goes, “I got me a car as big as a whale, and we’re headin’ on down to the love shack / I got me a Chrysler, it seats about 20 so hurry up and bring your juke box money!” The music video features the band cruising in a 1965 Chrysler 300 convertible which definitely fits the bill of being as big as a whale.
“Fun, Fun, Fun” — Beach Boys
The Beach Boys wrote several songs in the 1960s featuring cars — “Fun, Fun, Fun” is about a girl who goes cruising in her daddy’s Ford Thunderbird to the hamburger stand instead of the library. The lyric “She makes the Indy 500 look like a Roman chariot race, now” certainly paints a picture. And the title lyric says it all: “And she’ll have fun, fun, fun ‘til her daddy takes the T-bird away.”
“G.T.O.” — Ronny and the Daytonas
Pontiac introduced the vaunted GTO in 1964, the same year that Ronny & the Daytonas released the eponymous song “G.T.O.” Ronny (stage name for John “Bucky” Wilkin) reportedly wrote this song in his high-school physics class. An ode to this ‘60s muscle car, the song and its high vocal harmonies praises the GTO: “You oughta see her on a road course or a quarter mile / This little modified Pon-Pon has got plenty of style.”
“Racing in the Street” — Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen has released several car-related songs over the years — “Racing in the Street” debuted in 1978. As the title indicates, this song is about drag racing — the first line is “I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396, fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor.” However, it wasn’t Bruce doing the driving. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine about this song, Springsteen said, “I was hitchhiking, I didn’t have a car! But I wanted one real bad.” The last line of the song is a subtle take on the classic song by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, “Dancin’ in the Street” — “Cause summer’s here and the time is right for racing in the street.”
“Life’s Been Good” — Joe Walsh
There aren’t a lot of songs about Maserati, and this really isn’t one either. The Joe Walsh song “Life’s Been Good” came out in 1978 and is his biggest solo hit. Describing the crazy life of a rock star from that era, Walsh famously sings, “My Maserati does 185 / I lost my license, now I don’t drive.” Walsh owned a custom 1964 Maserati 5000 GT — while it was a fast car, it’s unlikely his Maserati ever did 185 mph.
“Chevette” — Audio Adrenaline
Most car songs feature high performance or luxury models — this song does not. The Chevrolet Chevette is a perfect example of mediocre cars from the late 1970s / early 1980s. While we don’t have fond memories of this compact hatchback, it was the best-selling small car in America in 1979 and 1980. Not a car typically celebrated in song, the Chevette can boast one tune from Audio Adrenaline that does this small car justice: “30 miles to the gallon, 0 to 60 / Sometimes.” The chorus sums it up nicely: “No AC, no FM and no regrets / In my Chevette.”
“Little Deuce Coupe” — The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys loved their car songs, and “Little Deuce Coupe” was the title song of the band’s fourth album, which hit record stores in 1963. The song is about racing a 1932 Ford Coupe turned hot rod, and beating all the competition. “Well I’m not braggin’ babe so don’t put me down / But I’ve got the fastest set of wheels in town / When something comes up to me, he don’t even try / ‘Cause if I had a set of wings, man, I know she could fly / She’s my little deuce coupe / You don’t know what I got.”
“Viper King” — Dream Theater
The Dodge Viper was a beast of a car, boasting more than 600 horsepower before being discontinued a few years ago. Similar to many other cars in song no longer with us, the Viper lives lyrically on. The heavy metal band Dream Theater released “Viper King” in 2019, singing the praises of this ultimate muscle car. Clearly not an oldie, the song starts with “Venomous by design / Lying idle, biding time / Bore down the clutch, tore up the road / Six hundred horses, genetic code / Lightning speed, the road she bends / Slammed down the brakes, losing my ass end.” The Viper required a practiced hand at the wheel — as the song underscores: “Speed demon, tempting fate / Do or die, in the blink of an eye.”
“My Ol’ Bronco” — Luke Bryan
The Bronco has been making news lately as Ford prepares to bring back its iconic 4X4, thanks in part to the collectability of the original models. Although the song is not an oldie, in 2015 country singer Luke Bryan wrote “My Ol ’Bronco” as an ode to his own 1972 yellow open-top Bronco, clearly explaining the vehicle’s appeal. “Ain’t no doors and no windows, just a roll bar and a radio / If it rains you’re gonna get wet / But that ol’ 302 ain’t let me down yet.” The song ends with a peaceful vision: “It was built for a day like this, a clear blue sky and a white sand kiss / It’s three on the tree and geared down for going slow / No I ain’t gonna ever let her go / My ol’ Bronco.”