BIRMINGHAM RECORD COLLECTORS
DEDICATED TO THE COLLECTING OF MUSIC, ITS PRESERVATION AND LASTING FRIENDSHIP
THIS MONTH’S MEETING
As the Homewood Library is still closed to the public we will meet again this Sunday, September 13 at the same location we have been using, Fultondale First Baptist Church. We will begin at 1:00 (NOT OUR USUAL 2:00 START TIME). The address of the church is 409 Main Street, Fultondale, AL 35068. Bring your mask and continue the social distancing as well. Music, fellowship and some fun to be had by all. Earlier this year before things went crazy, Joe Reddick presented a program about LP’s that were recorded in Muscle Shoals, AL. This month he will be presenting Part 2. As with Part 1, I am sure you will be surprised at some of the LP’s that have a Muscle Shoals connection. At this time we plan on our October meeting same place, same time on Oct 11, the second Sunday. Many thanks to Fultondale First Baptist Church for the use of their building and to John McQuirk for setting this up for us.
CELEBRATING THE AUTOMOBILE IN MUSIC
One of my favorite sub-genres of the rock genre is songs about cars. Songs about hitting the road were used in true rock, doo wop, a few ballads, especially tragedy songs, C/W, and other styles as well. Some of these songs specifically talk about the car and some talk about being in a car while enjoying the ride, cruising on a weekend night or maybe chasing down your girlfriend, boyfriend and of course racing is also an important part of many car songs. If I were to be asked what was the first car song I remember hearing growing up I guess my answer would be Chuck Berry’s ‘Maybellene’. That song charted in 1955, long before the Beach Boys made car songs a major part of the national music scene. Now there were many good car songs before Chuck’s but many didn’t get airplay nationally or weren’t played on stations my parents were listening to which is where all our early music listening started. Now for some of you who are older than me you may not have thought about it but one of the first songs you heard that was about cars would have been when Dinah Shore was singing ‘See The USA In Your Chevrolet’. I know she was singing that as early as 1952 on her TV show and on radio ads. The song has a copyright of 1950. Just thought I’d throw that song in for you to consider as your first even if you don’t thing of it as a car song from the radio.
The first known recording about a car was made in 1905. The song, ‘In My Merry Oldsmobile’ was recorded by Billy Murray. One writer says the song was about Murray’s own car but the melody and lyrics were not written by him so I am not sure about that. It was a popular song at the time. With the advent of the car becoming popular I guess the song replaced ‘Bicycle Built For Two’ which was written in 1892. If you are a MAS*H fan you might remember an episode when Hawkeye is singing a song while driving a Jeep. Billy Murrray’s song was what Hawkeye was singing.
One of the more influential car songs recorded between 1905-1950 was Robert Johnson’s ‘Terraplane Blues’ recorded in 1936. A song with lyrics being very sexually suggestive. This song by Johnson became influential later to many artists, especially the British who were soon to pick up guitars and change music history. This was Johnson’s first single selling about 5,000 copies. The Terraplane was built by the Hudson Motor Company between 1932-38. Covers versions were done by Eric Clapton, Canned Heat, Foghat, Peter Green, John Lee Hooker and Roy Rogers (No not that one. This one is a white blues guitarist/singer). Led Zeppelin’s, ‘Trampled Under Foot’ uses car parts in their lyrics the way Johnson did. Johnson’s side-kick, Johnny Shines recorded the song using the title, ‘Fishtail’ and ‘Dynaflow Blues’. But one thing for sure the 50’s put the car into songs where it stayed for a long time.
ROBERT JOHNSON__TERRAPLANE BLUES
(click to play)
Another care song recorded before the 1950’s craze was ‘Going To Your Funeral In A Vee Eight Ford’. Those of you who are into rockers and rockabilly know about Joyce Green’s, ‘Black Cadillac’, a great female rocker recorded in 1959. Although Joyce is credited on the label as the writer it comes from this song that was written and recorded somewhere between 1935-40 by Bluesman Buddy Moss. But boy did Joyce do a great job of making it into an all-time rocker.
JOYCE GREEN__BLACK CADILLAC
(click to play)
Of course Jackie Brenston’s, ‘Rocket 88’ is one of the best known car song among record collectors. It is from 1951, recorded in Memphis, TN by Sam Phillips. The song topped the R&B charts in the summer of 1951 and stayed there for two weeks. Although Brenston was the vocalist and the label has Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats as the group, it is really Ike Turner and His Kings of Rhythm playing. Brenston was the lead vocalist. The song has been credited as a very influential and important song to the coming rock era. The same year, Sonny Boy Williamson II recorded ‘Pontiac Blues’. It wasn’t long before more car songs would make the scene.
Of course ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’ by Charlie Ryan is one of the best known car songs. The original Charlie Ryan version came out in 1955 but the second version, which isn’t much different is the one that hit the pop charts going to #33. Johnny Bond released his version of the song about three months after Ryan’s with his version going to #26. Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen covered Ryan’s song in 1972 and it made it to #9 on the pop charts.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. Even before, ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’ and ‘Rocket 88’, Arkie Shibley And His Mountain Dew Boys had a song that charted on the C/W charts in 1950 (#5) entitled ‘Hot Rod Race’. Many people either don’t know about this song, don’t want to mention it or just overlook it when talking about important songs leading to R&R. Yes, it has a C/W sound but the guitar licks give it a good pre-rock sound. Written by George Wilson, which some say is Arkie Shibley, it is where Charlie Ryan got his idea no doubt. In 1951 there were about seven versions of this song released. Four of them charted including Red Foley and Jimmie Dolan. The recorded covers did make one change in the lyrics. Shibley’s version had the lyrics ‘ripping along like white folks might’. The other versions used lyrics such as ‘like rich folks might’, ‘like poor folks might’, ‘like plain folks might’. You can see it was a very popular song and did play a role in the upcoming music style and the use of cars in the lyrics.
ARKIE SHIBLE__HOT ROD RACE
(click to play)
And one more piece of credit needs to go to blues-man, K.C. Douglas. He recorded a song entitled ‘Mercury Boogie’ in 1948 which was released on the Down Town Recording label. Great lyrics about needing to but a Mercury to impress and get his girl back. She is the one who loves ‘her a Mercury’ and he even lost her to a guy who ‘she knowed he had a Mercury Ford’. In 1952 Douglas reissued another version calling it ‘Mercury Blues’. Alan Jackson covered the song and on the C/W charts it went to #2 in 1993. Other artists who covered the song include Steve Miller, Meat Loaf, and Dwight Yoakam. Finnish musician Pave Maijanen covered the song with the title ‘Pakko Saada BMW’ which means ‘Gotta Get Me A BMW’ – oh well, it kinda loses the good old USA meaning I think. Two other versions worth listening to are from Jackson Browne with David Lindley on Browne’s, “Love Is Strange’ CD from 2010 – a great bluesy version and David Lindley’s own version from his 1981 El Rayo-X LP – it’s a rocker.
DAVID LINDLEY__MERCURY BLUES
(click to play)
Shortly after Chuck Berry’s ‘Maybellenne’, car songs that charted included ‘Race With The Devil’ (Gene Vincent), ‘Transfusion’ (Nervous Norvus), ‘Ballad Of Thunder Road (Robert Mitchum) and ‘Beep Beep’ (Playmates) and then came the Beach Boys who charted six songs about cars between October, 1962 and May, 1964. Many other songs charted right after the ‘Boys’ showed how cars could make a good subject to write about and add a rock beat to. Jan & Dean who charted three of these songs in a span of six months beginning in late 1963 did have another one chart pre-Beach Boys. In 1958 ‘Gas Money’ charted. Although the record was released as by Jan & Arnie, Dean was on the recording along with Jan and a friend named Arnie. Dean left for the Army Reserve and Jan had the record released without Dean’s name on it.
After the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean’s success with car songs, there came a rash of these songs. ‘G.T.O.’ (Ronny & The Daytons), ‘Hey Litle Cobra’ (The Rip Chords), some more Chuck Berry and the tragedy songs, Doo Wop, a few girls sang about cars and…well I guess there will be a PART 2.
Don’t forget to check out all the new internet radio shows the club has on its website. Go to http://www.birminghamrecord.com/brc/ and click on ‘RADIO’. New shows added weekly.