Wrenching with tunes on – whether it’s in your garage or on the side of the road – is a time-honored tradition among gearheads of all stripes. As a result, we decided to start a playlist thread. Here are 10 of the tunes that to us define the angst, the frustration, the joy, and the glory of automobiles. Editor Elana is extremely annoyed to not see Ludacis’ “Move, B**ch” on the list because that is all she listens to while driving.
1. Ministry – Jesus Built My Hotrod
Al Jourgensen’s industrial project has released tracks in many different styles over its 30 year career, but few capture the chaotic maelstrom of sound and thunder that is drag racing quite as well as ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod.’ Whether it be the bridge three and a half minutes in where the narrator reminds you that ‘It’s no use trying to talk / No human sound can stand up to this / Loud enough to knock you down / Burnout,’ or the extended single cut that explains how ‘Nobody with a good car / Needs to be justified,’ and that heading to the track exposes you to ‘Sensations as hard to forget / As they are to ignore.’ It’s a stream of consciousness ode to the primal link between the adrenal gland and the accelerator.
2. Sir Mix-A-Lot – My Hooptie
Most rap tracks feature emcees bragging about how fly their ride is, which makes Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ode to his beater a rare treat. How many other hip hop songs contain shout-outs to ticking lifters, clicking wheels, carbon-choke carburetors, and a ‘tinted back window with a bubble in the middle?’ Not only that, but ‘My Hooptie’ also disses local sniff test regs with the line ‘Cops say the car smokes but I won’t listen / It’s a six-nine deuce, so the hell with emissions.’ Mix-A-Lot drives his hooptie when his Benz is in the shop, and even though it boasts ‘Two Vogues on the left, Uniroyal on the right,’ it gets him and his posse where they want to go. We’ve all been there.
3. Stills-Young Band – Long May You Run
What’s more Roadkill than writing a song dedicated to a 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse that gave its life by way of transmission failure in the middle of a road trip? Neil Young’s well-documented love for cars – particularly old and finicky ones – is summed up in this elegy to a wagon that ‘missed that shift / on the long decline.’
4. Johnny Cash – One Piece At A Time
Aspirational automobile ownership doesn’t have to be out of reach if you’re willing to get a little creative. That’s the message in Johnny Cash’s ‘One Piece At A Time,’ a track that describes the efforts of an assembly-line worker to smuggle out Cadillac parts at the end of every shift until he can build his own car at home. ” It’s a ’49, ’50, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’54, ’55, ’56, ’57, ’58’ 59′ automobile.” Yes. Yes it is.
5. Primus – Jerry Was a Race Car Driver
Most of us won’t ever race on the national level, but that doesn’t make our local dirt track glory any less, um, glorious. Whether you’re rooster-tailing in a figure eight or burning rubber on the quarter mile strip at the edge of town, it’s easy to relate to the titular character of Jerry in Primus’ 90s-era cautionary tale. Lighting up the rear tires on your 442 just for fun, never coming in last, and hopefully avoiding telephone poles are all in a night’s work for amateur pilots everywhere.
6. Bruce Springsteen – Racing In The Street
Slowing things down a little bit is this Springsteen song-painting of the quiet desperation that so many of us stave off by way of our automotive addictions. Specifically, for The Boss it’s a focus on building the fastest ride in the state and then racing for cash ‘from the fire roads to the interstate’ that keeps him from ‘dying little by little, piece by piece.’ Name-checking fuelie heads, Hurst, and big block Chevy engines while juxtaposing the realization that life might not always turn out how you’d planned makes this the thinking driver’s Roadkill song.
7. Metallica – Fuel
‘Fuel’ is the song Metallica’s James Hetfield no doubt wrote immediately after hearing ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod.’ Similar message, less subtext, but how subtle do you need to be when signing the praises of quenching one’s thirst with gasoline? It’s got a great hook, it’s about driving way too fast and living to tell the tale, and if you can ignore the fact that it’s become the soundtrack to every single sporting event you’ve ever attended, it’s definitely aimed at gearheads like us.
8. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen – Hot Rod Lincoln
‘Hot Rod Lincoln’ is a song with a unique history that explores the phenomenon of ‘answer’ or ‘response’ songs that first became popular in the 1950s. Originally hitting the charts in 1955, it was written as a direct reply to an earlier track about street drags by Arkie Shibley, shifting the perspective of the narrator from one car to the other and describing further high-speed exploits. The Commander Cody throwback cover from 1971 became the most popular version of the track, which, alongside songs like ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ from Jan and Dean and ‘Shut Down’ by the Beach Boys, immortalizes a very specific era of street racing (and is probably the only famous ditty out there about a Lincoln engine swap).
9. Adam Sandler – Ode To My Car
It’s profane, but it’s real. Each and every one of us has owned the car that Sandler’s singing about at least once in our lives, and we’re lucky this SNL alumnus was willing to say what was on all of our minds.
10. Jerry Reed – Eastbound and Down
An impossible road trip? Doing ‘what they say can’t be done?’ If Jerry Reed had purposely tried to write a theme song for Roadkill, he couldn’t have done much better than ‘Eastbound and Down.’ Reed may have been more focused on the track being a cheerful celebration of speeding without consequences, with a dash of trucking and Screaming Chickens thrown in for good measure, but we’re willing to let the mists of time take care of any inconsistencies.