The automobile has always inspired passion in its enthusiasts — and that passion has served as a muse for popular musicians for almost as long as cars have been around. Whether the high-tech ride of their lifetimes was the Tin Lizzie or the low-rider, over the decades, songwriters have immortalized their favorite wheels in song. Here’s a look at a few:
Written by Gus Edwards and Vincent Bryan
“Come away with me, Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile,” croons popular singer Billy Murray in an early version of the turn-of-the-century auto anthem, one of many songs about cars he sang in his career. Over the years, the song has been recorded by various artists, including Bing Crosby and Judy Garland. Although the song may sound a bit dated now, this slice of American car culture has outlived the car that served as its inspiration — the last Oldsmobile was produced in 2004.
Performed by Billy Murray
This song, another member of Billy Murray’s car-related repertoire, tells the story of a man who was on a Sunday drive with his sweetheart, when “something happened to the old machinery. That engine got his goat. Off went his hat and coat.” Listening 100 years later, it just goes to show that the car breakdown is an age-old problem.
Written by Walter O’Keefe
Performed by Irving Kaufman
It was the Roaring ’20s, and Henry Ford’s iconic Model T, known as the “Tin Lizzie,” had ruled the roadways since it was released in 1907 as the nation’s first affordable automobile. Twenty years later, the much-anticipated new Ford car, the Model A, finally made its debut. After decades of seeing the well-known black (and only black) Model Ts on the road, the release of a new Ford model was a major event. This novelty song, performed by Irving Kaufman, among others, touts all the new “Lizzie’s” features. “No more bruises, no more aches. Now, she’s got those four-wheel brakes. Henry’s made a lady out of Lizzie,” it says.
A car with four-wheel brakes just doesn’t seem to inspire popular songs anymore.
Written by Bobby Troup
Performed by Nat King Cole
“(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” was released during the heyday of the Mother Road, which connected Chicago with Los Angeles. It’s been recorded many times over the years, by artists as varied as Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and Depeche Mode. No matter who sings it, though, the song is a tribute to one of the most legendary highways in the world.
Performed by Chuck Berry
America had a love affair with cars in the 1950s. People did more in their cars than ever before, from watching movies at drive-in theaters to eating dinner at drive-in restaurants to racing their souped-up hot rods. “Maybellene,” Chuck Berry’s take on a traditional country song called “Ida Red,” brought together car culture and teenaged love in the decade’s quintessential rock-and-roll style. You can listen to “Maybellene” on Berry’s official website.
You can’t talk about car songs in the 1960s without bringing up the Beach Boys. In their trademark California style, the Beach Boys harmonized about some great cars: the Ford Thunderbird (“Fun, Fun, Fun”), the 1932 Ford coupe (“Little Deuce Coupe”), the Chevrolet 409 (“409”) and more.
Low rider cars became popular in the 1970s, and the band War knew about them firsthand. Drummer Harold Brown told SongFacts.com that he used to work on cars, and even lowered some himself. So, writing a song about low-riding vehicles came naturally. And, with its catchy funk beat, this 1970s tune is still a present-day earworm, thanks to classic rock stations and the soundtracks of movies, like “Dazed and Confused” and “Gone in 60 Seconds.”
Like the 1950s, the 1980s were a decade remembered for cool cars and — if you watch John Hughes movies, at least — teenage romance. This song is an ode to one of the coolest cars of the decade — but, in true Prince fashion, it’s about love, too. With the synthesizers and open-to-interpretation lyrics, it may seem like we’ve come a long way since “In My Merry Oldsmobile” — but the theme of cars and love doesn’t seem to change.
Alabama’s “Five O’Clock 500” is a country-style tribute to the nightly commute, full of all the features we’re familiar with — “pickup trucks, cars and buses all in my way.” But, on its roads are a few co-drivers you’d only see on the race track — “We’ve got Darrel, we’ve got Dale, Richard, Mark, Rusty and Jeff” (in reference to Waltrip, Earnhardt, Petty, Martin, Wallace and Gordon).
By Sheryl Crow
The 2006 animated Pixar film “Cars” was full of motor sports, American nostalgia — and, of course, car songs. In addition to classics, like the Chuck Berry cover of “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” the movie boasted a new song by Sheryl Crow called “Real Gone.” Its lyrics are about driving fast and finding the freedom of the open road: “Got my pedal to the metal, got my hands in the air. Well, look out, you take your blinders off. Everybody’s looking for a way to get real gone.”
There are obviously many, many car songs that aren’t on the list. Talk about your favorite auto odes in the comments below.