A fascination with cars – buying one, driving one, wanting one, loving one – has fueled tons of songs over the years, ranging from huge pop hits to obscure deep cuts. Some of these are purely and simply about a car; many others use the car as a metaphor.
Here, we look at some famous tunes that feature cars as their central theme. What are they really about? That’s a good topic for discussion while you’re on the road with friends.
Little Deuce Coupe (The Beach Boys)
This hit from 1963 is, we’re pretty sure, actually about a car. In their trademark gorgeous harmonies, the Beach Boys praise a beloved Deuce Coupe and the speeds it attains: “Just a little Deuce Coupe with a flathead mill/But she’ll walk a Thunderbird like she’s standin’ still.” Car lovers might especially appreciate the insider lingo in the lyrics, such as, “She’s got a competition clutch with four on floor/And she purrs like a kitten till the lake pipes roar.” But pretty much anyone who loves music will be drawn in by the sound on this track – as warm and uplifting as a road trip to the beach on a cloudless summer day.
Cadillac Ranch (Bruce Springsteen)
The song, released in 1980, opens with what appear to be words of appreciation for an attractive and trusty Cadillac: “Well there she sits, buddy, just a-gleaming in the sun/There to greet a working man when his day is done.” From that point, though, it switches quickly into a metaphorical lane. What is the “Cadillac Ranch,” anyway? Bruce tells us we’re all going there, eventually; though in the end, he admits he’d really rather not. Whatever you decide this destination is, at least we have songs like this to enjoy on the way there.
Pink Cadillac (Natalie Cole)
Bruce Springsteen, who has obviously enjoyed using Cadillacs as a muse, recorded the original of this tune in 1984; Natalie Cole released the cover a few years later (1987). Here again, it’s fair to wonder how much of this song is about an automobile. What we know for sure is that whatever the Pink Cadillac might represent, it holds appeal: “Well, honey it ain’t your money/’Cause I got plenty of that/I love you for your pink Cadillac,” Natalie croons.
Meanwhile, back on the road: You may have seen the Cadillacs in a cheery pink shade that are leased by cosmetics company Mary Kay to some of its consultants. But not every Mary Kay rep gets one; the pink-hued honor is reserved for those who sell at least $100,000 worth of the company’s product in a year.
Cars (Gary Numan)
Nothing says “classic of its genre” more clearly than this 1979 New Wave hit, which seems to be about some of the things cars can bring us, such as privacy, boundaries, and the possibility of escape from anything we want to leave behind.
Cars were a ready symbol for the New Wave era, in which this song debuted, and its musings on connection vs. isolation. Here, Mr. Numan – singing in a robotic tone – wants to keep the doors to his vehicle resolutely locked…until he doesn’t: “Will you visit me please,” he asks, “if I open my door/In cars…”
Mercedes Benz (Janis Joplin)
Counterculture genius Janis Joplin requests, in this 1970 track, some gifts from God: In addition to a Mercedes, she wants a color TV and a splashy night out. Her laughter at the end of the recording, of course, represents the absurdity of praying for any such things.
In real life, Janis did not have a Mercedes; but she did have a 1964 Porsche that was painted with psychedelic designs. She bought the car in 1968 for $3,500; its most recent sale price, at a 2015 auction, was $1.76 million.