My pal Domenic Priore was just visiting from the left coast, promoting his grand new book Pop Surf Culture: Music, Design, Film, and Fashion from the Bohemian Surf Boom (Santa Monica Press) — and required reading, by the way.
Now with summer once again en route, we began discussing the flat-out importance of The Road in rock ‘n’ roll culture, and teenaged society in general, back during that golden age of both. That got me to virtually compiling a Dashboard Top 10, as it were, for Medleyville.
So then, with tops down and volumes all the way up …
1. “I Get Around” by The Beach Boys (1964)
Instrumentally (the arrangement and production effectively trounced all comers that summer), lyrically (though one can safely interpret “I’m gettin’ bugged drivin’ up and down the same old strip” as Brian Wilson‘s hint at the non-sun, non-hit, B. Boy phase to come) and atmospherically, it’s the hands-down, No. 1 car tune of all time. And, backed as it was on its original seven inches with “Don’t Worry Baby,” this just may be the greatest single single of all time.
2. “Cruisin’ Music” by The Raspberries (1974)
The not-lately great Eric Carmen‘s definitive Brian Wilson tribute; it’s the logical descendant of “I Get Around” (by way of “Do It Again”) and quite possibly the finest car/radio tune of its decade.
3. “I Want to Be Your Driver” by Chuck Berry (1965)
It can be argued that the great Berry not only invented not only the duck walk and the ding-a-ling but the car tune, too (eg: “Maybellene,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” et all). Yet this little-heard wonder was cruelly denied hit status – even after John Lennon and Paul McCartney gamely rewrote it as “Drive My Car.”
4. “Cycle Annie” by The Beachnuts (1965)
Another rockin’ lil’ undiscovered gem that deserves to go Top 10 even more now than it did four decades ago. Odd to ponder the author of this masterpiece, against which all other sickle-songs pale greatly, later went on to foist such wheel-less wonders as “Heroin,” “I Wanna Be Black” and “My Red Joy Stick” onto the airwaves.
5. “Schlock Rod, Parts One and Two” by Jan & Dean (1964)
The last – and funniest – word in 1960s hotrod songs: As always, give the self-styled “Laurel and Hardy of the surf crowd” a fad and they’ll wickedly yet oh-so-skillfully deflate it quicker than you can say “Dead Man’s Curve.”
6. “Dodge Veg-O-Matic” by Jonathan Richman (1977)
“Schlock Rod, Part Three” (Honorable Mention: Richman’s immortal and much-covered “Roadrunner”).
7. “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers (1964)
The automobile looms large in the annals of death rock (“Teen Angel,” the above-mentioned “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” … ). But Wilson’s morbidly moody number contains all the necessary ingredients (a railroad crossing, a stalled car, an on-coming train and your fiancée) – and then some! (ie: cheesy “Runaway” organ, sounding appropriately ominous herein). Sounds good even on CD, such is the magnitude of this timeless tone poem.
8. “Hitchin’ a Ride” by Vanity Fare (1970)
Lack of one’s own wheels at the turn of that ‘70s decade did little to dissuade the restless masses from spending their summers alongside the nation’s thoroughfares, thumbs erect, trouble afoot. As a result, a spate of hitchhikin’ ditties suddenly materialized, of which this remains my personal fave. Sure fit perfectly amongst “Yellow River,” “Going Up the Country” and, yes, “Sweet Hitch-Hiker” back in 10th grade.
9. “Highway Star” by Deep Purple (1971)
I know, I know: It’s hard to believe these machine heads made a decent record after they last raided the Neil Diamond songbook. But this here “molten slab of heavy-duty rawk, as terrestrial DJs still refer to it, picks up nicely where “Born to be Wild” left off, helping motorvate car tunes confidently into the dreaded 1970s.
10. “There’s No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car” by Elvis Presley (1963)
As always, the last word on the subject goes to The King.
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.