The car-intensive music was so important it was inseparable from us, the teen-age hot-rodders. “Maybellene” and others such as "Black Denim Trousers," and "Tell Laura I love Her," were scenarios we daydreamed about.
Ahh, girls and hot rods; hot rods and girls. Nothing, absolutely nothing summed it up better than Chuck Berry’s unofficial national anthem of the time: "Maybellene!" I mean it had everything: An untrue woman who is caught by a V8 Ford, high speed on the open road, and a beat that made you want to get up and dance. The lyrics entangled a jilted lover in pursuit of his heart throb, Maybellene. His overheating hot rod loses ground to her Cadillac - until it begins to rain. After the rain cools his engine, the heartsick hot rodder finally catches the Caddy at the top of a hill where he wails the rhetorical questions of unfaithfulness.
The consensus was that a Cadillac, being the quality car that it was, would run a long way at a hundred miles per hour, but a Ford, even a V-8 Ford wouldn't. Hopping up a car for the quarter mile drag was one thing. But, it was entirely unrealistic to expect a hopped-up engine to stay cool at sustained high speed. The Ford had to have been a flat-head, as early overhead-valve mills were dogs.
Black Denim Trousers & Motorcycle Boots, a top 10 one-hit-wonder by the Cheers, tells the story of a guy who “. . . had a hopped up ‘cicle that took off like a gun.” His girl pleads and begs him not to ride, but “He loved that doggone motorcycle best.” He takes off saying he’ll ride a thousand miles before the sun sets, but, he has a slight mishap with a train “ . . . and when they cleared the wreckage, all they found, was his Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots and a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back . . .” The tough guy, outlaw type was an infatuation of all of us – girls and boys – and still is. Today, we witness the huge proliferation of Harley Davidson riders all decked out as bad-boy wannabees.
Tell Laura I love her: Here, the protagonist, desperate for money to buy his girl, Laura, a wedding ring, calls her on the phone to tell her he’ll be late. However, he can only reach her mother to whom he wails the song’s title. He enters a stock car race . . . “'Round the track they drove at a deadly pace”. The car crashes and with his dying words, again the song’s hook, Tell Laura I love her. This Ray Peterson story made it into the top ten.
These important set-of-wheels songs inspired others, including the Beach Boys, to produce the next generation of such classics as Little Deuce Coupe and Fun, Fun, Fun, one of their biggest successes. Jan & Dean’s 60s smash hits The Little Old Lady From Pasadena, Drag City and Dead Man’s Curve were all long on drag strip talk . . . “The guys come to race her from miles around, But she'll give 'em a length, then she'll shut 'em down”.
THE PEOPLE: Nineteen-Fifty-Nine was the beginning of a new age: The music, the cars and especially the people were changing. Man had escaped gravity, the variety of cars and their options was exponentially expanding, the recession was over, a new, younger and hatless President with a stylish First Lady was adding to the transformations we were about to experience. Life was as good as mom’s PBJ – only we had so much more to choose from.
Contrary to some beliefs, hot rodding and rock music didn’t begin with the Baby Boomer Generation, the crux of which has loosely been defined as those born between 1945 and 1955. Though this huge influx is most populous and produced the leaders of the open promiscuity, anti-war and drug cultures they are more noted as the kids who ushered in the Beatles era and the beginning of hard and acid rock. They were the ones flooding the tarmac at Fab-4 arrivals and over-whelming security at hotels, concerts or anywhere the invaders from Britain were rumored to be. The oldest of the Boomers didn’t turn sixteen until 1961; the youngest in 1971, well after reign of the tri-fives and less-than-strict law enforcement. With fresh money and an improved economy their daddies could buy them a factory car that was faster than anything their older siblings had built by hand.
The War Babies excluded themselves from the phenomena of the Beatles and the wave of new music. They felt more mature, as in; to embrace the new music meant mixing with and accepting the values of this younger generation - the Boomers were just kids to them. They surely didn’t see themselves bouncing up and down alongside their baby brothers and sisters. Factory muscle cars, however, didn’t deter their interest in drag racing, but marriage and all the money-consuming comes-with things surely did. Today, the War Babies have come to accept and appreciate the Beatles and many other 60s rockers.
Kinship to hot rodding and music was and still is different from education, employment and social status inasmuch as age or sex doesn’t matter. We all cheer on the racers, the builders and the tuners of fast cars regardless of their age or ours.
Teens, cars and rock & roll
Drives us into a rage
Undisciplined din and vibs
We’re all on the same page
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - By Chuck Klein