Top 10 Oldies Songs About Cars

Classic Top 40 Hits About Cars

In its heyday, Detroit was the automotive capital of the world and a symbol of American pride. Detroit was dubbed "Motor City," for its historical legacy and crowning achievement of  the industrial era. The city was also dubbed "Motown" for the music that would come out of this working-class capital, and a lot of that music centered around cars or included cars in the theme.

Americans have long had an obsession or love affair with cars. Cars are symbols of pride, prowess, and purchasing power. A car gives can give you a standard of luxury and help you attain fast speeds in just seconds. Here are the ten best classic "oldies" hits about cars and car culture.

Hardly the first R&B hit about a car—"Rocket 88" borrows heavily from Jimmy Liggins' 1947 smash "Cadillac Boogie." Arguably, this is the first song to match the sleek power of its subject, in this case, an Oldsmobile. The song's loud, clean, urbane, smooth-yet-distorted sound creates a basic formula for rock and roll. The song was credited to Jackie Brenston, who was Ike Turner's saxophonist, even though it was Turner and the Kings of Rhythm who played the song. Some say this was the first true rock 'n' roll record. 

Chuck Berry's genius lay at least in part in his uncanny ability to read the mind of the typical affluent adolescent, and the song that first hit for him had it all: a story, a girl, and an epic battle between a Cadillac Coupe de Ville and a plainer, older, but more powerful "flathead" V8 Ford. As always with great storytellers, the details are what make it, in this case, the deus ex machina of a last-minute rainstorm which cools the motor off just in time for him to catch that Caddy and rescue his fickle girl. This song is as silly and thrilling a sonic chase as you would find in any silent movie.

A steadily accelerating mini-opera of a novelty sung by a trio of collegiate cut-ups, this No. 4 hit was torn squarely from the trade headlines of 1958: a Cadillac, the epitome of Cold War class and comfort, being taken over on the road by a Nash Rambler, the first of the lighter, speedier, more fuel-efficient compacts. This song is like foreshadowing for what Japan would soon do to Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s. In the end, it turns out in the big reveal, that the Rambler hasn't even left second gear yet. It apparently had a tendency to get stuck in overdrive.

The Beach Boys were a surf band first, but hot rod culture went hand-in-hand with riding the waves in sunny California, so when Capitol ordered a whole album of car songs, the boys were bound to comply. "409" was fast enough for hot rod music enthusiasts, but this is the real boss model, mainly because Brian Wilson's showroom gleam is all over it. The Deuce in question here is a 1932 Ford Model B, another flathead engine tricked out in this case with a "competition clutch" and "four on the floor" (a four-speed transmission with a floor shifter). It's "ported and relieved" and "stroked and bored," meaning the engine's been altered to take in more air and move faster. No wonder it does 140 mph!

The GTO (which stands for "Gran Turismo Omologato") was an Italian sports car concept that Pontiac happily applied to their new line, although it had little in common with "touring cars" other than a larger-than-usual V8 engine. The result was arguably the first affordable mass-produced muscle car, a specialty line far more powerful than anything actually needed on the street. Ronny and the Daytonas, despite being from all the way over in Nashville, took Brian Wilson's lessons to heart right down to the "yeah yeahs" and "wah wah wahs," but the lyrics are the most impressive option, giving the kind of explicit detail only a "ho dad" could appreciate.

Songwriter Sir Mack Rice, as he was actually known, originally fell into the Cadillac mythos when he decided the time was right for a newer car song. But by the time he started to write it, sports cars had overtaken luxury ones in the public mind. Undaunted, he switched over to the first "pony car," the Ford Mustang, creating a sex-as-vehicle metaphor that would be emulated by everyone from Led Zeppelin to Prince. Fast girls now wanted fast cars, and the wicked Pickett, who covered Mack's song the following year, certainly had the kind of voice to make that comparison obvious.

Reed had already realized country-funk and novelty lyrics would get him over on pop radio ("Amos Moses" and "When You're Hot, You're Hot" had already scaled the charts), but this clockwork-tight little number was something else, a statement on the entire auto industry and the way it helped the American gas-guzzling dream get out of hand. It's all here, and all hilarious: the smog, the traffic, the payments, the upkeep, and the assertion that if all the cars in the country were laid end to end, "some damn fool would probably pull out to pass."

Riding the early '70s retro boom, the good Commander retooled an old country boogie number about road racing and postwar style that was first recorded by Charlie Ryan and the Livingston Brothers in 1955. The song was driven by nostalgia more than anything by that point; teens were no longer dropping Ford Model A bodies on top of Lincoln-Zephyr V12 engines, which Ryan himself did. The song worked because it had a great groove and a great story: the beleaguered dad, the cops, and most of all the thrill of racing a Cadillac sedan at speeds that you can't help but get the adrenaline pumping.

It's remarkable in many ways, mostly as a prime slice of blaxploitation-era funk lite, but Vaughn—not Curtis Mayfield, despite the sonic similarities—failed at his primary object, which was to remind inner-city youths that possessions didn't buy self-respect. Listeners were too beguiled by the very concept of a Cadillac with a sunroof, TV, "gangster whitewalls," and a "diamond in the back," which referred to the early '70s model with a private, diamond-shaped rear window.

"One Piece at a Time" was a hit the Man in Black needed badly since he was in the middle of a 70s music slump. The song was every workingman's revenge fantasy, not to mention the first place anyone heard the word "psychobilly." Can't afford a Cadillac? Just grab a car piece bit by bit from the assembly line over three decades. Trouble is, like Detroit's own prototypes, the brilliant plan results in one unwieldy and rather an ugly status symbol. After the song became a hit, several (non-functioning) prototypes of the car were built. You can see the psychobilly Cadillac from the music video at the Storytellers Museum in Bon Aqua, Tennessee.