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Have you noticed how few songs there are about new motor vehicles. I can name a few from the 50's and 60s, but I cannot name a famous rock or pop song that that explicitly refers to a vehicle manufactured in the last ten or so years.

There are still musicians who sing about cars and motorbikes, e.g. bands like Clutch and Fu Manchu, although their songs are nostalgia for a lost golden age of motoring rather than praise for the modern car.

Fun fun fun 'til your daddy took the Mondeo away? It doesn't sound right; indeed why should musicians be inspired to serenade a family saloon? Today's cars are designed to be dull; Who would buy a car with 'personality' when they could have one that is reliable. As the cars have improved, musician's relationships with the car have transformed from one of obsession into ambivalence.

Musicians began singing about cars in the 50's when thanks to the American post-war manufacturing revolution, a car was something an average person could own. For the first few who could afford a car it was a liberating and inspirational machine.

In the 60's the Beach Boys gave us songs like Little Deuce Coupe and Fun Fun Fun. Steppenwolf gave us a thrilling ode to the motorcycle: Born to be Wild, and the car obsession even spread to Britain: In 1966 the Beatles sang "Baby You can Drive my Car".

This was the decade when Cadillacs had big fins and movies like "The Italian Job" made stars of cars. It was a time of songs that equate optimism and happiness with driving a cool vehicle. This really was a golden age of the car.

By the 80's musicians attitudes to the car has changed; In Gary Numan's rather melancholic Cars, the car is shown as isolating place of refuge. Whenever I hear the song it creates image of being stuck in an M25 tailback in the pouring rain. Although more up-beat, Billy Ocean's Get out of my Dreams and Into my car show the car as just a means to an end. Neither song name-checks or praises the car; the car is just a functional machine.

In the 90's and 00's our feelings toward the car have embittered. The 90's was the first decade where the UK (traditionally a strongly pro-motoring country) saw intense anti-motorway protests. Anti Motoring campaigners such as Swampy became folk heroes overnight. With the economic boom of the 90's our cities swelled and driving was no longer the great liberty; we are heavily taxed for driving on gridlocked roads in our standardised car products that apart from corporate logos, the occasional luxury are much the same as each other.

Even today's concept of "Drive-time" radio helps us enjoy our drive by making us forget that we are in our cars; something that would seem absurd for the 50's pioneer of motoring.

In the 50's people sang about cars. In the twenties and thirties it was the railroad that caught the musicians imagination. Perhaps before that there was an entire genre of folk musicians who obsessed upon the horse and cart, and before that people sang about the simple pleasures of walking. I'm not sure what our decade sings about yet; certainly not telecommuting!

Update

Update: Minutes after posting this writeup people began to remind me how narrow my taste in music has become.

TAFKAH "Nobody sings about "new" cars. people have always sung about the "old" cars of their time, not the new ones. "Little Deuce Coupe" was about a souped-up 1930s Ford Model A. The only time a "new" car figures into a song is when someone is singing about a rich daddy's-boy (or girl) as in "Fun, Fun, Fun".

"I'd imagine there are plenty of songs this minute, especially dance tunes--about 1980s and 1990s Japanese coupes, since that's what those musicians customize and race like the Deuce Coupes of old"


Any references to Rock & Popular Music's growing disdain for the car please msg me!

It is mostly true that rock and roll musicians no longer compose odes to their beloved automobiles, nor use their preferred make and model of car as a major fixture in their songs. The disdain for the automobile that salimfadhley observes is certainly present in rock music - I'd imagine that it's a stronger presence in Britain, as the best modern anti-car song I can think of is "Killer Cars" by Radiohead. Another recent rock song, "Survival Car" by Fountains Of Wayne, seems to glorify the joy of joyriding on its happy-toned surface, but upon closer examination, its message is more like "driving in the city is a fight for survival". And "Bitchin' Camaro" by the Dead Milkmen likewise portrays a car (a particular type in this case) as an instrument of reckless endangerment.

However, the tradition of namechecking and glorifying one's car is still alive and well in rap, hip-hop, and r&b music. There is a lack of songs about nothing more than the writer's car and why it rules, but the mentioning or use of a car is an essential part of the character of modern rap music.

Some examples:


"In the Ferrari an' Jaguar, switchin' four lanes
Top down, screamin out, 'Money ain't a thang!'"
"Bubble hard in the double R, flash the rings
With the window cracked, holler back, 'Money ain't a thang!'"

-Jermaine Dupri & Jay-Z, respectively, from Money Ain't A Thang

Here, the car is nothing more than a status symbol. The entire song is little more than a well-composed serenade to the institution and privilege of excess, and the cars are an excellent way to press the point.


"Beep beep! Who got the keys to the Jeep?
Vroooooom! I'm drivin' to the beach
Top down, loud sounds, see my peeps"
-Missy Elliott, The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)

Here, the car is being used to emphasize the playful tone of the lyrics - Jeeps are fun, going to the beach is fun, and making car noises is fun, ergo Missy is fun.

Note that, like in Money Ain't A Thang, she says "top down" - this phrase is a common cliche of 90's rap. Though convertibles are probably far more common today than in years past, they still have the aspect of a status symbol, as they had in the golden years of songs about cars.


Another shared theme in these first two quotes is making noise - be it yelling or just blasting your music ("And then I heard boom from the amplifiers" - from Still Fly by the Big Tymers, which I will come back to later).
This is all part of the idea that the trappings of wealth is the way to privilege - that if you've got a great car and look like you're loaded, you cut loose, fill the neighborhood with sound, do whatever you want to have fun.


"If you wanna go and get high wit' me
Smoke an L in the back of the Benzy-ey"
-Nelly, Ride Wit Me

Here, the car's identity again does not matter as much, since it's just a symbol; but here it's less a symbol of wealth, and almost totally one of privilege, and the ability that wealth or the suggestion of wealth confers on a person. In your luxury car behind your tinted windows, you can drive around all night smoking up with impunity.
Displaying wealth for the sake of image and actually getting pleasure from possessions are two sides of the same coin, though, as both spring from the common rap theme of having something that's better than what you used to.


The Big Tymers, in the two tracks of theirs that I'm familiar with (unfortunately, I only know their hits), use a daunting amount of automobile references. Whether bragging about their own luxuries, or skewering young would-be gangstas who can't afford what they flaunt, the Big Tymers just can't stop talking about cars.

From Still Fly:

"Got a quarter tank of gas
In my new E-Class (In my E-Class Benz)
But that's alright
Cause I'm gon' ride"

And Still Fly goes on to mention Benzes three more times, the Escalade and three other Caddy references, two models of Lex, and the Plymouth Prowler.

This could be dismissed as a mockery of the "hood rich" tendency to mention one's car at any opportunity, but in their earlier track "Get Your Roll On" (which does not seem to be satirical), they refer to "Benzes, Vettes, Hummers, jets" and mention buying five Bentleys as soon as they finish touring... and then they give us this gem of conspicuous bling-blinging:

"Leavin stickers on the Bentley to show the price
Arm out the window just to floss my ice"

...So, taking all that into account, the Big Tymers are just obsessed with their rides, like many of us (especially rappers) are. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but the fact remains that among some modern musicians, the habit of singing about one's cars is nearly ubiquitous.


Any particularly meaningful, relevant or important car references in modern music? Message me or write them up, please. I've got a little overview of the presence and use of such just in rap here, but it's by no means comprehensive, and I just know I'm missing out on some angles.

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