Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The 70s Made the Best Driving Music, and It Makes No Sense

The Greatest Hits of horrible hairstyles... And driving music? 
Just this past weekend, I had the opportunity to go on a road trip out of state. Just like what anyone else would do in this situation, I checked my music library to see if I needed to load up on driving songs for me to survive being tailgated on the Interstate by the one Honda CRX driver with a cracked muffler that's also missing a front wheel.

So for a couple hours on a Friday night, I went through a mental checklist of all the road trip essentials, which about consists of all the usuals.

And then it dawned on me: almost 80% of the songs in my driving playlist consist of bands from a particular era. More specifically, the 1970s -- the era of the Apple II and Ford Pinto.

I strongly believe that the 70s was the Golden Period for driving songs -- which really makes no sense, for the reasons I'll explain below.

Ever since the driving culture took off following the introduction of Interstate highways and (to a lesser extent) the American dream, the mainstream popular culture has embraced the idea of the automobile.

Cars take up a role in many songs in the 1960s, from dating ("Cruisin' and playin' the radio / With no particular place to go.") to the symbolic freedom the car represents ("Like a true nature's child / We were born, born to be wild"), these machines were slowly shaping the popular culture, firmly defined by the combination of a small block V8 and greasy hair.

It was only appropriate, because the 1960s was the holy grail in motoring. The Mustang fastback, the Stingray, the GTO, the E-Type and the gull-wing Mercedes, the jaw-droppingly beautiful Lamborghini Miura -- all of them were roaming around together on the I-5 at some point, presumably all being tailgated by an angry Honda CRX driver.

However, once the 1970s rolled around, Rock music exploded into a cultural phenomenon, In music, we saw the rise of double-necked guitars, double drumming, electric synthesizers, 10-minute guitar solos, synthesizer solos, and John Bonham, whose drumming is so ridiculously insane you'd think that he has seven arms and four legs.

John Bonham manning the drum kit. 
Look online for a list of best driving songs ever made. I bet that you wouldn't see a list that doesn't have Highway to HellRadar Love, A Horse with No Name, Highway Star, or Bat Out of Hell. If you come across a list that doesn't have any of those, then the guy who wrote it doesn't know what he is doing.
I've been drivin' all night, my hand's wet on the wheel 
There's a voice in my head that drives my heel 
It's my baby callin', says I need you here 
And it's a half past four and I'm shiftin' gear
- Golden Earring, "Radar Love", because this song is just perfect.
What do all those songs have in common? They are all written in the 1970s by the sort of people who looked like they haven't showered since the Hoover administration.

There is just something about that particular decade that made rock and roll music so insanely good, especially when you are behind the wheel. The combination of electric guitars, 12-piece drums, and keyboard solos just adds so much to the driving experience that you just couldn't help but press a little harder against the accelerator. The typical excuse back then when you are caught speeding: "Um, officer? You can't write me a ticket. I was listening to Don't Stop Me Now".

All of this is quite ironic, because 1970s was one of the worst decades for the automotive industry.

In technology, the decade gave us the launch of NASA's Voyager program. It also gave us the iconic Apple II and the Intel 4004 microprocessor.

In motoring? We got the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Chevette. See also: Cars with vinyl roof.

"Sir? Your Pinto's on fire... Oh wait." (credit: Reddit)
Essentially, the 70s was the Police Academy 2 of the car world -- it had some initial promise, but not only did it not live up to the previous era's vehicles, the '73 Oil Crisis gave us some of the worst cars we have ever seen.

It was so bad that the Ford Mustang -- the iconic American sports car -- became rivals with the AMC Gremlin.

It just made no sense that the 1970s would make such good driving music at all -- simply because the cars in the 1970s were mostly so utterly putrid and soul-suckingly horrible.

I just can't imagine driving a Pinto on a highway while rocking out to Bat Out of Hell. For one thing, the Highway Patrol would pull you over for going 30 under the speed limit in their Dodge Diplomats. It hardly makes Classic Rock material.

Despite all that, it didn't stop the artists in this decade from giving us some of the best driving music. For some reason, everyone just kept pumping out great albums that was just perfect for driving -- from Dark Side to The Captain and Me; from Rumours to Boston; from Mothership Connection to Who's Next; they were all simply sublime. Speaking as a guy who averages 24,000 miles a year behind the wheel, I am eternally grateful.

The 1960s gave us Chuck Berry, but the 1970s gave us Free Bird.

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