The Best Classic Car Songs

Greg Zyla
Q: Hello Greg! I remember many years ago you wrote an article about car songs and the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean that I saw in a recent issue. The article covered the best classic car songs, and I’d love if you could touch on some of these great classic car songs again. I remember you mentioned a performer by the name of Dick Dale in that article, and would love to learn more.  Janet S., Illinois.

A: Janet, I’d be glad to. Dick Dale is a recording artist that deserves praise beyond The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, as he predated these groups with his “surf sound” music about cars and surfing. A talented guitarist and musician, Dale was known as the “King of the Surf Guitar” and actually pioneered the sound utilized by The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean. Dale’s songs both solo and with his backup group “The Del-Tones” were very, very popular and ushered in the car and surfing craze tunes. Two Dick Dale albums I had were "Checkered Flag" and "Mr. Eliminator," both having lots to do with fast cars and the surf scene.

Born May 4, 1937, Dick Dale is still performing to huge crowds. He received a career recharging when his 1962 hit "Misirlou" was used in the 1994 Hollywood hit "Pulp Fiction" by Oscar winning director, producer and writer Quentin Tarantino, who won most recently for “Django.” (Interested parties or venues can contact Dick Dale by mail at Dick Dale, PO Box 1713, Twentynine Palms, Ca. 92277.) 

As for specific car songs my favorite continues to be "Don't Worry Baby," by the Beach Boys. This song, if you listen to the words, has to do with a drag race. The guy in the song was bragging up his car to his friends, and they finally challenged him to a race. He's concerned, but his girlfriend tells him "don't worry baby, everything will turn out all right." When you decipher the words of one of the groups top medleys, you realize it’s a car and love song combined, unlike the others of the day that pretty much had to do with just fast cars.

The other car group of the day (this is the early to mid 1960s) was Jan & Dean, most famous for their album “Drag City,” and hits "Dead Man's Curve," and all-time great "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena." To set the record straight, there never was a real “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.”

Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys are still well known to this day. The Beach Boys, however, had way more hits, scoring big with the flip side of "Surfin' Safari" with their legendary "409.” Add "Little Deuce Coupe," and "Shut Down," and they are at the top of the list overall.
Ronnie and the Daytonas (Little GTO) and the Rip Chords (Hey Little Cobra) were two others that made the charts. Other car songs were big, like Commander Cody's "Hot Rod Lincoln," the funny “Beep-Beep” by The Playmates, along with the teenage tragic songs like "Last Kiss" by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers and Ray Petersen's "Tell Laura I Love Her.” 

Thanks for your letter, and if you ever get a chance to hear Dick Dale in concert, make sure you do.
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