Riding Along in My Automobile: Classic Tunes and Their Ode to Driving

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What’s a car without music to cruise to? For a long time, Americans have been in love with our cars and equally in love with the music blaring through their speakers. We invest millions of dollars every year in stereo equipment, so that on a breezy day we can roll the windows down, inviting everyone to listen to our tunes.

1950 – 1960

Maybe you were a fan of the “Tennessee Waltz” and the ever classic voice of Patti Page. You might recall parking your car by the shoreline and dancing among the waves with your loved one as Sam Cooke’s husky voice of drifted on the air singing, “You Send Me”.

It was the 50’s and everyone was talking Civil Rights, while rocking to Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” or doing “The Twist” right on into the 60’s to the sounds of Chubby Checker. If you didn’t have a car, you were a square – no doubt the classic cars of the 50’s were as groundbreaking as the era from which they derived.

The 1957 Chevy Bel Air remains the quintessential 50’s car. It defined the era of sock hops, drag racing, and back seat make-out sessions. It was a fairly lightweight car with a V-8 engine that made it optimal for drag racing. As Smokey Robinson and The Miracles crooned “Ooh Baby, Baby” the driver could use its bench seating to cuddle up to their sweetheart.  

1970 – 1980

Book Benton was singing “Rainy Night in Georgia” and the Jackson Five were topping the charts with hits like “ABC” and “I’ll Be There”.  In the 70’s the cars were as huge as the Afros.  Like Tyrone Davis, let’s “Turn Back the Hands of Time” and take check out the cars of the 70’s.

The Cadillac was in, in, in! If you had a 1970’s Cadillac Coupe de Ville you were in too. This little number was a hot seller. A total of 181,719 De Villes were sold, accounting for 76% of all Cadillacs sold. Why was it so popular? Many believe that it was the roomy interior, as well as, the sleek design. Of course the extended trunk space could have made it and obvious choice for growing families of the time.

As classic hits like “Cruisin’” by Smokey Robinson closed out the era, we cruised right on into the 80’s with a downgraded Cadillac. The body was tighter squeeze and, unlike its predecessors, the engine was downgraded from a V8 which kicked in 190 hp to a V8 that kicked in 180 hp. Why the downgrade?  It had less to do with the popularity of the vehicle and more to do with oil crisis of the 1970’s.

Gone were the days of oversized luxury vehicles. The new era of the 80’s was all about energy conservation.  However, Prince’s 1983 hit, “Little Red Corvette” was an indication that consumers of the 80’s were not willing to trade in style regardless of having to compromise size.

1990 – 2000

The Gulf War made a big impact on the one of the most popular vehicle of the 90’s. The energy crisis was over, fiscal debt was down, and gone were the days of the small efficient cars. America wanted bigger, more spacious automobiles. Once again, we wanted luxury with all the bells and whistles, including sound systems. Enter the age of the SUV.

Like L.L. Cool J’s “The Booming System” implies, Generation X’ers wanted flashiness and security all at once. Jeep came through like no other with its 95 Grand Cherokee. Not to be outdone, Ford stepped up its game with the Eddie Bauer Edition of the 98 Ford Explorer.  Songs like “Summer Time” by Will Smith – better known as The Fresh Prince and his partner D.J. Jazzy Jeff blared out of the window as they rolled by.


Times certainly are changing. If the past is any indication of music and cars we can look forward to new innovations. Maybe music by artists like Lady Gaga is what goes with today’s hybrid and electric vehicles. Concept cars of today are sure to come with a whole new set of tunes to help root it into the memories of us all tomorrow.

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