The Beach Boys — "Don't Worry, Baby" (1964)
It's hard to think of a Beach Boys song that isn't about cars: There's "Little Deuce Coupe" and "409," of course — and who could forget "Fun Fun Fun"? But take a listen sometime to the B side of "I Get Around," because nothing surpasses "Don't Worry, Baby." Brian Wilson's keening falsetto conveys insecurity in every note. At first the lyrics turn his anxiety about an upcoming drag race into a metaphor for fear of sex. But then they drop any such pretense, yielding one of the finest blends ever written about sex, cars and rock 'n' roll.
Wilson Pickett — "Mustang Sally" (1966)
How's this for a change of pace? Rather than pleading with his girl for a little lovin', the singer worries that she's a little too ardent a driver, if you follow me. As Pickett admonishes her recklessness in vain, his backup singers coo encouragingly, "Ride, Sally, ride!" Guess who wins? (Intriguing trivia: The song was titled "Mustang Mama" until Aretha Franklin heard it and suggested "Sally" might flow better. Queen of Soul, is there no end to your greatness?)
The Eagles — "Ol' 55" (1974)
Songwriter Tom Waits based the lyrics of "Ol' 55" on the story of a friend who had to drive home — from what was apparently a very successful date — backward; his gearshift would go only into reverse after the long night. Tom Waits being Tom Waits, he spun that afterglow into lyrical gold: "Well, my time went so quickly, I went lickety-splitly out to my ol' 55/As I pulled away slowly, feelin' so holy, God knows I was feelin' alive."
Bob Seger — "Makin' Thunderbirds" (1982)
No metaphors here, and no girls — just a straightforward if somewhat wistful (and slightly angry) recounting of Detroit's glory days. With the mighty Silver Bullet Band backing Michigan's own Bob Seger, the song roars like the assembly line it poignantly recalls.
Bruce Springsteen — "Pink Cadillac" (1984)
No rocker is more closely associated with cars than Bruce Springsteen. From such a rich catalog, how can one possibly choose? When in doubt, go with the blues: "Pink Cadillac" is driven by an unstoppable backbeat, courtesy of the E Street Band's unerring rhythm section, and dirtied up by the late, great Clarence Clemons's honking sax. Unlike the Beach Boys, there's no fear of sex here; unlike Wilson Pickett, no one's asking anyone else to slow down; and unlike Rush or the Who, Bruce evidently doesn't feel the need for speed. Instead, he croons, "We don't have to drive it/Honey, we can park it out in back/And have a party in your pink Cadillac." Vroom, vroom.
You may also like: Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What.
Drive-in movies were great places to see movies about cars. And there's a movement afoot to make sure they don't all disappear.