It’s no coincidence that there have been hundreds upon hundreds of songs written about cars and driving. Rock ‘n Roll and hot rods were almost invented at exactly the same point in history — both were the culmination of a long march toward progress powered by electricity and V8 engine power. The great youth movements of the 20th century in the post-war era were fueled by hot rods and Rock music, and so it’s only fitting that we honor both timeless institutions. Since the list of car songs is so infinite, we’re focusing only on the cream of the crop. We also tried to include songs that aren’t on most ordinary lists dealing with the same subject. Hopefully there will be a surprise or two. The song also has to prominently feature cars or driving. This means songs mentioning cars only in passing don’t count. So don’t look for “American Pie” and the Chevys at the levy, or “Summertime Blues” where you can’t use the car “cuz you didn’t work late!” You will also not see “Born to be Wild.” It’s one of the greatest songs about driving, but it’s a song about motorcycles….this is a list about cars. One final guideline we adhered to was that only one entry was listed per artist. No one is listed twice. So without further ado, (and in no particular order) here’s the playlist for the 20 Greatest Rock Songs about Cars & Driving:
1. Rocket 88 — Jackie Brenston & Ike Turner
Often cited as the first Rock ‘n Roll song ever, “Rocket 88” was recorded in 1949 by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner. Basing its sound on Jump Blues and Swing, Brenston and Turner sang the praises of the Oldsmobile “Rocket” 88 — the precursor to the “muscle car” with its light body and loaded V8 engine. The Rocket 88 engine catapulted Oldsmobile to the forefront of the NASCAR speedway as the #1 roadster in the country for the next four years. It’s only fitting that the first Rock song celebrated the first hot rod — it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
2. No Particular Place to Go — Chuck Berry
John Lennon once said if you could give Rock ‘n Roll another name it would be “Chuck Berry.” With his signature guitar licks and a gift for lyrics way ahead of his time, Berry is the guitar hero archetype and “No Particular Place to Go” is the perhaps the definitive Rock song about cars. Youth culture in the ‘50s revolved around cars and this song encapsulates the movement in all of its bright chrome glory. Don’t worry about us — me and my baby are just cruising along in our automobile with the radio blazing that wild electric jukebox music.
3. Hey Little Cobra — The Rip Chords
I know this was the first record for many of you Baby Boomers out there. This novelty song from 1963 celebrates the hot sports car of the day, the Ford/Shelby AC Cobra! British manufactured with an American engine, the Cobra was the definitive sports car of the ’60s with the only original models made between 1962 to 1967. Ford wanted a speedster that could compete with the Corvette, and the Cobra was their answer. The Rip Chords capture the “surf & drive” sound of the post-Chuck Berry, pre-Beatles American Rock/Pop landscape. The AC Cobra also inspired another great song, “The Car Was the One” from Mark Knopfler’s 2009 album Get Lucky.
4. GTO — Ronnie & the Daytonas
This happy little song is a tribute to what is considered the first official “muscle car” — Pontiac’s GTO. Originally manufactured between 1964 and 1974, the GTO was revived again from 2004 to 2006. “Come on and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out — GTO!
5. Fun, Fun, Fun — The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys are the sound of summer driven by the genius of Brian Wilson. Before the sonic and spiritual masterpiece of Pet Sounds, the Wilson brothers lent their ethereal harmonies to songs about surfing and driving in Southern California. The opening riff is lifted from Chuck Berry but the rest is pure Beach Boys synergy about a girl who’s so hot-to-trot that she’s gone missing on a carefree joyride. “She drives like an ace now” rains down the sun-drenched chorus, but she better enjoy it while she can before her daddy takes her T-Bird away. If this list wasn’t regulated to one song per artist, the Beach Boys would’ve also had “I Get Around,” “Little Duece Coupe,” and “Don’t Worry Baby.” What can we say — the boys loved their cars almost as much they loved surfing.
6. Drive My Car — The Beatles
Exhausted by the insanity of ‘Beatlemania’ which made them prisoners of their own fame, the Beatles were pushing their music into new mind-bending directions starting with their 1965 album Rubber Soul. But before musical experimentation took full reign, the mop-tops took a classic page out of the Rock n’ Roll handbook and did a song about cars. On Rubber Soul’s opening track, the Beatles put the car genre on its head by slyly asking the fan-girl to be their chauffer: “Baby, you can drive my car” and by the way, “Baby, I love you! Beep, beep ‘n beep, beep! Yeah!” You can almost hear the sound of millions of teenyboppers screaming over George Harrison’s biting guitar solo.
7. Highway 61 Revisited — Bob Dylan — Johnny Winter
Bob Dylan has written and sung countless songs about cars and the open road: Ramblin Gamblin Willie, Stuck Inside of Mobile (with the Memphis Blues Again), From a Buick 6, Desolation Row, Only a Hobo, Rocks and Gravel, and Motherless Children (featured in the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee commercial). In his 1965 rocker “Highway 61 Revisited,” coming shortly after he controversially abandoned his acoustic guitar, Dylan uses the setting of Highway 61 as a stage for apocalyptic biblical sacrifices, welfare cases, eccentric kings, promiscuous Shakespearian maids, and outlaw gamblers starting world wars. Since Bob Dylan’s record company doesn’t allow most of his songs on YouTube, we’ve gone with Johnny Winter’s iconic cover version, which brings out the teeth of Dylan’s original.
8. Roadrunner — Bo Diddley —- The Who
Bo Diddley’s classic song “Roadrunner” about a roadster that can’t be caught while he’s burning down the blacktop has been covered hundreds of times. But no one has been able to top The Who’s high-octane version. Known for their anthems of adolescent angst, Maximum R&B and athletic performances, the Who are the perfect interpreters of Diddley’s timeless ode to hot rods. In this performance from 1975, Pete Townshend’s guitar sounds like a heavy metal engine taking off down the highway and into the stratosphere, while John Entwistle and Keith Moon’s thunderous rhythm section keep the engine roaring. Try and keep up — “Beep! Beep!” They segue into one of their early anthems “My Generation” — a generation built around Rock music and hot rods.
9. Hot Rod Honeymoon — Jeff Beck
Guitar legend Jeff Beck has a life-long obsession with guitars and custom American hot rods. He builds and collects both. His prized possession is a 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe featured in 1973’s American Graffiti. He also finds himself in regular bidding wars over cars with another former Yardbird and buddy, guitar maestro Eric Clapton. Beck has recorded countless songs dedicated to his beloved hot rods, even recording an entire album called Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop with a cover that shows a giant guitar on a car lift ready to be serviced. In “Hot Rod Honeymoon” Beck employs his unique fusion of futuristic Rock-Blues-Jazz guitar to evoke the sound of a hot rod burning down the road, while the double innuendos of the chorus “shift down” plays to the ‘honeymoon’ aspect. Boys and their toys….
10. Mercury Blues — Steve Miller Band
Steve Miller plays that slinky, bluesy, soulful Rock that’s pretty hard to beat. “Mercury Blues” is his 1977 adaptation of the song “Mercury Boogie” from 1944. It’s a celebration of the Mercury, an entry level luxury car introduced by Ford Motors that was to fall in between the regular Ford models and the Lincoln branded luxury cars. The Mercury had roadsters everywhere driving in style from 1938 until the end of the line in 2011. Even though it’s gone, the Mercury lives on in this classic song and in the hearts of auto-enthusiasts everywhere.
11. Black Limousine —- The Rolling Stones
No other English band has wrapped itself as fully in traditional American music than the Rolling Stones. Aside from a brief time in the mid-‘60s when they sang Baroque Rock for the elegantly melancholic, yet colorful sun-burst scene of Swinging London, the Stones have always been a band steeped in the purest strains of American R&B, Soul, Gospel, Country and Blues. “Black Limousine” is a Chicago-inspired blues taken from their 1981 hit album Tattoo You. The Stones were touring stadiums during this time and in the midst of transforming into the multi-media mega-beast we love today, but they never forgot their roots. Other Stones songs that would’ve made our list if rules permitted include “Moonlight Mile,” “All Down the Line” and their cover of “Route 66” which we talk about here.
12. Trampled Under Foot — Led Zeppelin
“I’m talking about Love!” screams Robert Plant. He’s also talking about Women and Cars, and Women AS Cars, and vice versa in this extremely suggestive song. We’re talking about double innuendos! Taking a break from songs about Celtic mysticism, J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth and American Blues, the Valhalla Vikings of Rock bring their sonic thunder to the car song genre. This is a live performance from 1975 and features Jimmy Page’s guitar doing a mean impersonation of an engine revving on all cylinders — “Talking about love” indeed.
13. Willie the Wimp (and His Cadillac Coffin) — Stevie Ray Vaughan
The late and great Stevie Ray Vaughan brought Blues back to the mainstream in the ’80s and revitalized the art form. Often cited as the greatest guitarist this side of Jimi Hendrix, SRV gave the Blues an injection of Texas attitude and grit. This dark yet fun song is based on a true story. Chicago mobster Willie “Flukey” Stokes threw a $200,000 funeral/party for his 28-year-old son Willie “The Wimp” Stokes Jr. who had been murdered. Willie sent the younger Stokes off in style and buried him in a Cadillac Coffin with diamond rings on his fingers and $100 bills in the casket. The elder Willie would meet his own death two years later, when he was ironically gunned down in a 1986 Cadillac along with his chauffeur.
14. Queen of the Highway —- The Doors
The Doors were the quintessential band of the Los Angeles music scene in the ‘60s. Melding Blues, Jazz, and the primal poetry of leather-clad front man Jim Morrison, the Doors both charmed and shocked audiences with their savagely unpredictable stage shows. While many of their songs such as “Riders on the Storm,” “L.A. Woman,” and “Roadhouse Blues” menacingly warn of the dangers of the open road, “Queen of the Highway” finds the band in a mellower and more romantic mood. Although the lyrics underneath the slick Jazz arrangement drip with Dionysian imagery that suggests that maybe this road trip is not as innocent as it seems.
15. The Passenger — Iggy Pop
Written and recorded in Berlin by Iggy Pop, “The Passenger” was inspired by night drives on the Autobahn with his pal and music producer David Bowie. Thirty years after World War II, Berlin still had “ripped insides” and “backsides” as Iggy Pop’s sinister driving song illustrates a midnight black as ink — a passenger “under glass” bearing witness to hollow skies in a broken post-war urban jungle that was trying to put itself back together. It was a gloomy yet electric atmosphere, and both Iggy and Bowie fed off the city’s creative energy for some of their best work: Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy (Low, Heroes, Lodger) and Iggy’s The Idiot and Lust for Life from which “The Passenger” is taken.
16. On the Road Again — Canned Heat
No, not Willie Nelson’s song of the same name. This is Canned Heat, the psyche-boogie Rockers famous for their Woodstock festival anthem “Going Up the Country.” It seems like these guys were obsessed with the open road just like all great musicians worth their salt. The harmonica and rhythm drives us forward down the road — the perfect driving song.
17. Low Rider — War
Speaking of driving songs, it doesn’t get more iconic than “Low Rider” from 1974 by the band War. The song celebrates Chicano hot rod culture in California and all the tricked out Lincolns and Cadillacs from the ‘60s to early ‘70s. War was a multi-cultural band that delved in Funk, Reggae, Latin and Blues. They were even originally fronted by legendary British lead singer Eric Burdon, formerly of the Animals. Feel that funky groove and take a “little trip” down the strip in that low rider.
18. One Headlight — The Wallflowers
Like father like son, Jakob Dylan loves his Rock and cars just as much as his dad (see #7 on this list). In their breakthrough 1996 album Bringing Down the Horse, the Wallflowers released a collection of moody and atmospheric songs that topped the charts. Although the younger Dylan’s song about cars was more about a metaphorically busted engine rather than a carefree joyride. Life isn’t always about cruising and having a good time — sometimes we’re stalled alongside the road. Maybe things aren’t quite the same and dreams get temporarily derailed but “We can drive it home with one headlight.”
19. Thunder Road — Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen has written countless songs about cars and driving, but none have the depth or scope of “Thunder Road.” In the same Folk tradition as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Springsteen is a storyteller that expresses the dreams and frustrations of the working man. “Thunder Road” is a road of blind faith and salvation — an escape route away from a dying town. The horizon is filled with “skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets,” and the only chance of redemption lies “beneath the dirty hood” of a car. There’s one last chance to make a run to the “promised land” for a life that’s real. It’s the ultimate car song about hope and fulfilling one’s dreams by simply having the courage to drive down the open road and never look back.
20. Hot Rod Heart — John Fogerty
With apologies to the Beach Boys, John Fogerty might take their crown as the un-official “voice of summer.” From his time in Creedence Clearwater Rival to his career as a solo artist, Fogerty is as American as baseball, apple pie (and Chevrolet). Whether screaming like a banshee from deep inside the haunted swamps of the bayou, or crooning like a country balladeer from the Blue Ridge Mountains, Fogerty knows how to Rock out. “Hot Rod Heart” from 1997 is the perfect driving song from the man who has already given us “Up Around the Bend” and “Sweet Hitch-Hiker.” We got a “one-way ticket to the open road….if you wanna ride, let’s go!”
And 21.….Just because we can.
I Gotsta Get Paid — ZZ Top
The lyrics have nothing to do with cars but the music sounds like a hot rod engine’s attitude and the video features some nice custom “rat rod” racing. It also has famed Johnny Cash producer Rick Rubin teamed with those Texas Blues Hounds ZZ-Top on a track from the team’s 2012 album La Futura. It’s too new to make an “all-time” list but we like it just the same.
Mustang Sally — Buddy Guy, Car Song — Woody Guthrie, Grease Monkey — Jeff Beck, Goin’ Mobile — The Who, Carefree Highway — Gordon Lightfoot
So there you go — the 20 greatest Rock songs about Cars & Driving. Burn the playlist and burn down the highway with the speakers blazing! Your favorite wasn’t included? We missed some? Well, this list isn’t meant to end the discussion but to start the debate. What are some of your favorite Rock songs about Cars & Driving and why? Sound off and let us know!