Kaid Benfield Archive


Little Red Corvette: the songs just aren't the same

Kaid Benfield

Posted September 11, 2008 at 2:15PM

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When was the last time you heard a really good car or truck song?  Does the 21st century have a “Six Days on the Road,” “Take It Easy,” or “Little Red Prince would be proud (by: Lynn Schnitzer, creative commons license)Corvette”?  It certainly doesn’t have a “409,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” or “I Get Around,” to name but three classic Beach Boys tunes, or the best of all American road songs, “Route 66.” 

Our decade doesn’t have any of these, writes J. Freedom du Lac in The Washington Post, because driving just isn’t the expression of freedom and "fun, fun, fun" that it was for earlier generations:

“Back before cars became utilitarian things -- Point A-to-Point B conveyances with computerized everythings powered by $4-a-gallon gas -- they were objects of lust, symbols of liberation and power, the center of the youth movement's sexual universe in post-World War II America. (What happens in the back seat stays in the back seat!)

“Cars and rock-and-roll defined youth culture, screaming power and freedom and individuality. Cars were celebrated in cinema and on TV, but they were most at home in rock-and-roll.”

Ah, but that was then.  This is now:

“Says Rockin' Down the Highway author [Paul] Grushkin: ‘It's still the American prerogative to sing about your car. The problem is, most of the songs about cars were written a while ago. back in the day (by: Epiclectic, creative commons license)So we're singing about something that now is not your primary vehicle. And with gas being so expensive now, you're not even taking that car -- probably American, hopefully a convertible -- out for a joy ride on a regular basis. It's expensive even to drive down to the Trader Joe's.’

“And besides, writing car-centric songs right now: kind of silly, says Nils Lofgren, whose old band Grin paid tribute to a ‘Heavy Chev’" on its 1972 album, All Out.

“‘Cars used to be romantic, but nothing's as romantic as it used to be, because there's so much serious stuff going down,’ says Lofgren, who has performed with Neil Young (a car buff who never really did car songs) and [Bruce] Springsteen (a car buff who did). ‘With the ominous destruction of mankind, we're all a little distracted’ . . .”

Freedom du Lac's engaging article may be found here.

For my own favorite road song, I have to go with “N17” by the Irish roots-rock band, the mighty Saw Doctors.  It was released in Ireland and the UK at the dawn of the 1990s, shortly after Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" came out in the US and a few years before Lucinda Williams's "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road."  The writing was on the wall:  none of the three celebrates driving and, in fact, all three are about leaving home (though the reasons vary). 

In the case of "N17," it's "with a wistful sigh" as the band rocks out to the "stone walls and grasses green" of the route from their County Galway home town of Tuam to Galway City and Shannon Airport.  Enjoy: