Musicians have had a love affair with the automobile since its invention. From Johnny Cash to ZZ Top, here are GG Bailey’s picks for the world’s best songs about cars.
“Little Deuce Coupe” by The Beach Boys (1963)
One of The Beach Boys first hits, “Little Deuce Coupe” is all about a suped-up Ford Model B, but it makes us think of the glamorous lifestyle of California in the sixties.
“Well, I’m not braggin’, babe, so don’t put me down / But I’ve got the fastest set of wheels in town / When something comes up to me, he don’t even try / ‘Cause if it had a set of wings, man, I know she can fly / She’s my little Deuce Coupe.”
“Built for Speed” by The Stray Cats (1982)
Most love songs don’t hold as much earnest affection as Brian Setzer holds for his ‘57 Chevy.
“Here I come in my fifty-seven / She’s a real low-rider, paint perfection / With a custom engine painted black with flames. / Ain’t nobody gonna call that hot rod tame.”
“Maybellene” by Chuck Berry (1955)
This song has everything you need in a classic car song — brand rivalry, racing, and a man pining for an elusive lady, the eponymous Maybellene. Also it’s a rockin’ great song.
“As I was motivatin’ over the hill / I saw Maybellene in a Coupe de Ville / A Cadillac a-rollin’ on the open road, / Nothin’ will outrun my V8 Ford.”
“Red Barchetta” by Rush (1981)
Set in a future where “Motor Law” prevents any sort of free-wheelin’ fun, the narrator must sneak a ride in an old sports car, a red Barchetta, to feel the freedom and danger of the open road.
“I strip away the old debris / That hides a shining car. / A brilliant red Barchetta / From a better, vanished time. / I fire up the willing engine, / Responding with a roar. / Tires spitting gravel, / I commit my weekly crime.”
“Mustang Sally” performed by Wilson Pickett (1967)
The Mustang was already revolutionary as the first “Pony car,” a sporty subcompact car that a working man could afford, but “Mustang Sally” immortalized it as the classic American muscle car. Plus, you only need hear the title and the chorus will be stuck in your head.
“All you wanna do is ride around Sally! (Ride, Sally, Ride!)”
“Eastbound and Down” by Jerry Reed (1977)
Although it’s a song about an 18-wheeler, “Eastbound and Down” still makes the cut for one of the best car songs for several reasons, including:
- It provides the theme song for one of the greatest chase scenes of all time, featuring the fantastic Burt Reynolds.
- Excellent use of banjo.
- All about hitting the road and defying the odds (and avoiding the cops).
“One Piece at a Time” performed by Johnny Cash (1976)
Would you build your dream car one piece at a time? That’s what the Detroit Cadillac assembly line worker did in this Johnny Cash song, eventually creating the car equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. What’s not to love?
“Now, up to now my plan went all right / ‘Til we tried to put it all together one night / And that’s when we noticed that something was definitely wrong. / The transmission was a ’53 / And the motor turned out to be a ’73 / And when we tried to put in the bolts all the holes were gone.”
“Cars” by Gary Numan (1979)
It took an androgynous hipster Brit and an electro song to cut to the heart of why Americans love driving.
“Here in my car / I feel safest of all / I can lock all my doors / It’s the only way to live.”
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“I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” by ZZ Top (1979)
It’s almost hard to choose which ZZ Top song to add to this list because the band loves cars, loves singin’ about cars, loves singin’ to cars.
This guy drives a Cadillac and a V8 Ford, so you know he’s bad, he’s nationwide.
“Well I was movin’ down the road in my V8 Ford, / I had a shine on my boots, I had my sideburns lowered. / With my New York brim and my gold tooth displayed, / Nobody give me trouble cause they know I got it made. / I’m bad, I’m nationwide.”
“Highway Star” by Deep Purple (1972)
While the exact car model isn’t mentioned by name in the song, we can assume it’s either a V8 Ford or a Cadillac because those are seemingly the only cars any musician has ever driven! It’s clear Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan loved this car, highlighted by the fact that they use almost the exact same words to describe his lady as his car.
“Nobody gonna take my car / I’m gonna race it to the ground / Nobody gonna beat my car / It’s gonna break the speed of sound.”
“Hot Rod Lincoln” performed by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen (1972)
Hot Rod Lincoln was written in response to another famous car song called “Hot Rod Race,” where a Ford and a Mercury race neck and neck on a highway, eventually getting blown away by a ancient Model A with a Lincoln motor. In “Hot Rod Lincoln,” the singer claims to be the boy in the Model A — and he finally gets nabbed by the cops.
“Well, they arrested me and put me in jail / I called my pop to throw my bail / He said, son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’ / If you don’t quit driving that Hot Rod Lincoln.”