What ever happened to songs about cars?
Why have songs about cars gone the way of the Oldsmobile and Plymouth?
They sure don't make 'em like they used to. Car songs, that is.
It used to be that tunes lauding the merits of automobiles were pop music staples. "Boy gets car" was right up there with "boy meets girl" in terms of thematic rock narratives. And why not? The automobile was (and continues to be) an object of desire as well as the ultimate personal freedom machine.
The car song trend began in earnest in the 1950s with tunes ranging from Buick 59 and Rocket 88 to Woman Driver, The Automobile Song and several others. The muscle car era of the1960s was a golden age for car songs. Jan & Dean notched big hits with The Little Old Lady from Pasadena (about a senior citizen tearing up the town behind the wheel of her souped-up Dodge) and Dead Man's Curve. Meanwhile, the Beach Boys seemed fascinated by cars, recording enough car-related songs to fill a double-album (tales ranged from that T-Bird daddy so cruelly took away to a certain little deuce coupe).
Indeed, the love affair between pop music and cars perhaps reached a surreal climax with the 1963 Beach Boys tune 409 - a song that lauded a car part (Chevrolet's 409 cubic-inch V8 motor) as opposed to an actual automobile.
However, by the 1970s, it was increasingly less fashionable for top bands to sing about cars and such songs began to fall out of vogue. There were some notable exceptions, though, such as Gary Numan's haunting techno anthem Cars (which was released in 1979 and became a North American Top 10 hit the following year). As well, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers scored a hit with Roadrunner which ranks at #269 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
With the emergence of new wave in the 1980s, car songs became increasingly rare. Again there were some exceptions: Prince's biggest hit to date remains Little Red Corvette. And while hardly a chart-topper, Thomas Dolby released an album entitled Aliens Ate my Buick, featuring the song, The Key to Her Ferrari.
By the time the 1990s rolled along, the idea of bands glorifying vehicles in song was a non-starter. Indeed, in 2001, General Motors launched a billboard campaign depicting a 1963 Corvette Stingray with copy that read: "They don't write songs about Volvos." But GM's copywriters were surely gazing upon the pop music scene via a rear-view mirror clouded by nostalgia. Forget about odes to Swedish-manufactured vehicles; these days "they" - which is to say, mainstream musicians - don't make songs about any cars, Corvettes included.
The question arises: Why have songs about cars gone the way of the Oldsmobile and Plymouth?