Story of the Week

Posted: 10.22.2014
Sounds of the 1960's: Remembering great car music
By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher
Images: Courtesy of Billy D' s Record Collection.

The great music and the sensational singing groups of the 1960's remain as some of the most memorable moments in our American culture. These tunes often highlighted the popular Hot Rods and the car culture during that time period. Our society has always been fascinated with music and cars. Today, when I attend many car shows, you still can hear those great songs from the Beach Boys. You might even groove to the famous Rip Chords and their popular song “Hey Little Cobra”, which was one of the highest ranking hot rod songs of all time.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked chapters in our American culture was the role music played in influencing American style by way of the automobile. The 1960’s were an integral part of our history birthing great muscle cars and Hot Rods. These fast, powerful, and competitive cars were most often described in the lyrics of singing groups. Drag races, which were sometimes dangerous, became very popular among young adults during this time period. Drag races demonstrated a vehicle’s speed and power along with its endurance.

One of the most popular groups of the 1960's was the “Beach Boys”. The Beach Boys were an American rock band formed in Hawthorne, California in 1961. The surf music created a great new sound of vocal harmonies and had great lyrics that many people thoroughly enjoyed. The Beach Boys recorded a string of songs that related to the automobile culture and for this reason are spotlighted in this story of the week. With many great hit songs relating to fast cars and Hot Rods, this group’s music is still popular to this day. I remember when I was seven years old and watching the Ed Sullivan TV show in 1964. I watched the Beach Boys performing on stage singing “I Get Around”. In addition to their performance, they also showcased cool Hot Rods and I was so excited. That was a great moment in history.

Another popular song from the Beach Boys was “409”. Written by Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Gary Usher, the song became very popular at race tracks, specifically drag races. It was originally released as the b-side of the hit single “Surfin’ Safari”. Interestingly enough, “409” was a song about a Chevrolet with a 409 engine. The popular song was inspired by Gary Usher who had an obsession with Hot Rods. “Little Deuce Coupe” was another great song that captured the heart and soul of California style music as it relates to surf boards and cool cars. “Little Deuce Coupe was released on October 7, 1963. Hot Rods and surfing was the perfect combination for many young adults who enjoyed the thrills of both.

Another band that made popular songs and were included in the 1960's automotive-movement included the Rip Chords. The Rip Chords was an American singing duo from Inglewood, California from 1962-1965. “Hey Little Cobra” was recorded on October 15, 1963. Terry Melcher sang the lead and he and Bruce Johnson both did the background vocals helping it peak at # 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in February, 1964. When the song was released to the public, both men became overnight celebrities. The song was very popular and still is today. Ronnie & the Daytona's also had their hit single “GTO” see story of the week (1964: A Great Year For Pontiac 10/08/14). Ronnie & the Daytona's were an American surf rock group of the early 1960's and formed in Nashville, Tennessee 1964. Their 1964 debut single “GTO” reached number 4 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.

In the mid 1960's, millions of Americans had a fascination with powerful cars and Hot Rods. It was also a time when young adults helped define their generation. From the great sounds of the Beach Boys to The Rip Cords songs about Hot Rods, music of the 60’s had an enormous influence and impact on the way we expressed ourselves within our car culture.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of Billy D’s Record Collection.

(Bibliography: Hinckley Jim & Robinson G. Jon. “The Big Book of Car Culture” 2005”.)
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