Rock Stars, Cars and Guitars

Ever since baby boomers go their wheels, music and cars have been inextricably mixed. One needs to look no further than the popular film, American Graffiti, to get a feel for how it was back in the early ’60s.

The music acts like a Greek chorus to
comment on the events taking place.

Walter Murch, sound artist

Top 40 music buffs recall some of that era’s songs which centered on cars: Little GTO by Ronny and the Daytonas, Mustang Sally from Wilson Pickett, Hey Little Cobra by the Rip Cords, and Little Deuce Coupe, offered up by the Beach Boys. Who doesn’t know what the Little Old Lady From Pasadena drove, that “she’s real fine, my 409,” what happened at Dead Man’s Curve, or that Chuck Berry got his kicks on Route 66 (when he wasn’t holding a seat belt vendetta)? You’ll recall that the Beatles told us that their baby could drive their car and even Geronimo had a Cadillac.

On Woodward Avenue, the world’s longest eight-lane urban highway, John DeLorean and Bunky Knudsen were surreptitiously sending out Detroit’s factory muscle cars to go head-to-head. Hurst shifters aside, one also had to be quick on the radio punch buttons when an ad interrupted the soundtrack of our lives (unless it was Ray Charles’ What’d I Say promoting Connie "The Bounty Hunter" Kalitta going wheel-to-wheel with Don “Swamp Rat” Garlits at Detroit Dragway).

Since 1995, August’s Woodward Dream Cruise is the world's largest one-day celebration of classic car culture that attracts over 1 million visitors, and more than 40,000 muscle cars, street rods, custom, collector and special interest vehicles.

Over at Motown, hits were mixed to sound best when played back through the single cheap speaker mounted face up on the dashboard.

Leading us into the psychedelic era, Steppenwolf went looking for adventure by heading out on the highway, the Doobies were rockin’ down it, Deep Purple had a Highway Star, and Canned Heat was On the Road Again. George Thoroughgood spent Six Days On the Road, but Jeff Beck was stuck in a Freeway Jam and poor ol’ Jimi was frustrated with Crosstown Traffic (at least he wasn’t Running On Empty like Jackson Browne).

Now through Sept. 7 at Dearborn’s Henry Ford Museum—Get ready for a second dose of rock—more than 20 eye-popping cars and 50 iconic guitars from rock's greatest legends, and a dizzying array of rock memorabilia. Click here to download a compilation of musical hits by artists featured in the exhibit.

We all know the color of Prince’s Corvette and that Golden Earring had a strange radar fetish. Steve Miller had the Mercury Blues, the Eagles an Ol’ 55 and lived Life In the Fast Lane, while Sammy Hagar couldn’t drive 55. War cruised around in a decked-out Low Rider, Janis wanted a Benz, Broooose a Pink Cadillac, and all the while Commander Cody warned that he was going to be driven to drinkin’ if we didn’t stop driving that hot…..rod…..Lincoln!