What You Need to Know About the Birth of Rock and Roll and Cars
Music And Cars Go Hand In Hand
Some people would say there is no better union than when the music and auto industries come together. In both social and physical spaces, cars can be a medium of expression for power, wealth, mobility, and speed while music represents love, thrill, pride, and other emotions we can associate with owning and driving a vehicle built as a signifier of one’s status in life.
Another thing that music and cars have in common are the stories they share with people of different backgrounds. These are the stories woven by the people who write music and those who navigate their way down a road.
In every musical experience, and in every drive, people create stories they either share or keep, but definitely remember through time. The fact that countless songs are describing or sharing a snippet of the experience that cars and driving bring is no coincidence.
A Historical Perspective of Rock ‘n Roll ‘n Cars
It was around 1940s when both Rock ‘n Roll and the old, classic hot rods were born. That was a point in history that signified the pinnacle of a new march to progress that the extensive rural electrification and industrial engines powered to some degree.
To further explain the relationship of Rock and cars, let’s take a look back in 1939 when World War II began. That was the time when the devastation that the Great Depression caused began to abate. And ironically for some, the time when the US economy found the chance to start over.
When the United States declared its participation in the war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, it immediately shifted into the nation it is today – one that actively produces industrial war machines. The production shift provided work to many Americans, with hordes employed in munitions factories working behind a common and larger cause.
The war, though it destroyed the lives of millions of people, brought new opportunities to the American economy. The IEEE History Center reported that during the time, virtually every American could get employment with longer workweeks as well as higher earnings despite the limits to wages.
People established more unions from left and right, and they gained members who were able to demand unprecedented work benefits. Even women and marginalized sectors also found economic opportunities during the war, that employment rates rose in general at the time.
Alongside the aggressive production of industrial machines used in war, the electrical industry also experienced rapid changes. As it was becoming clear that World War II was beginning to be a war of technology, electrical engineers all throughout the world, including in America, had to step up their game.
The specialty of the engineers transformed from one with well-defined applications that cover electrical power and communications to another that is turning into a source of economic strength and pervasive technological advancements.
One of the most novel and widely used technological innovation that began in the same period is wideband FM. Edwin Armstrong, who was responsible for the breakthrough, improved the performance of FM radio by reducing its bandwidth. And since 1940, when there were 150 applicants for FM broadcast stations in the USA, people continue to take advantage of the uses of audio radio transmissions.
The advancements continued in the post-war era when hot rods together with Rock music fueled some of the greatest youth movements we know of the 20th century. Industrialization continued with the reproduction of automobiles and Rock began to transmit in the ever-becoming popular FM radios and TVs, which saw a swell in number when American households in the late 1940s bought almost a million units.
After the Great Depression and the tragedies of World War II, a period of affluence, comfort, and consumerism was born in the changing American society. A time for Rock ‘n Roll and the rebound of the automobile industry was unfolding.
Mercedes in the Picture
As mentioned earlier, hot rods and Rock fueled much of the post-war era, after a rapid industrialization during the second World War. And aside from the famous image of Rock stars going around for a drive, many of the songs popularized in the early music scene mentioned in the lyrics the names and models of cars.
One of the most popular car makers that artists included in their songs is Mercedes-Benz. It’s a little bit ironic though that the luxury automobile maker comes from the State that makes up one of the Axis powers in the second world war. And now it has some mentions in songs popularized in one of the strongest Allies of World War II.
However, that is just one of the beauties that music and cars can make. The stories change, and in every song and drive is a different experience for the driver, composer, singer, and listener. Despite the tragedies of the past, we find countless other tales and memories in music and cars, both as products and producers of history.
Here are some of the well-known songs that included Mercedes-Benz in the lyrics.
New Radicals – You Get What You Give
Released in 1998, You Get What You Give is a song popularized by New Radicals, an alternative rock band that was active for only two years. Gregg Alexander wrote and produced the song which hit number one in different singles charts.
However, Alexander put more emphasis on the downside of fame, and his critique on it underscored the distaste he has for the value society put on celebrity attention and stardom. It is probably the reason why he wrote about smashing the Mercedes-Benz of “frienemies,” shattering the symbol of luxury and celebrity status.
It was only a matter of time before he decided to break away from being the band’s frontman, all while in the middle of their album cycle. But he did continue his passion for songwriting and producing songs for other artists, which he preferred over the burnout he experienced while trying to create a hit record.
Even though Alexander stayed away from the gaze of the public, the hit You Get What You Give remained in the mainstream even during the fifteen years that followed.
Stan Ridgway – New Blue Mercedes
Stan Ridgway is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist known for his lyrical narratives and distinct voice. In 1997, he released the song New Blue Mercedes which provides us a look into the realities of different people who are not living the American dream.
The Mercedes-Benz in the picture was in stark contrast to the community he paints, not only because it was new and blue, but because it was the symbol of affluence that the people could not attain.
Some would say the greatness of Stan Ridgway is attributable to the unique voice he uses in narrating the stories of individuals he has observed in his life. Ridgway, through his songs, has a way of drawing details of characters who live with a particular pain or suffering.
With his music, Ridgway continued to capture the diversity that the American people have. He writes down what he has observed and heard, and with excellent comprehension and skill in delivering, he shares these stories through music and metaphors like the Mercedes.
REO Speedwagon – Don’t Let Him Go
Don’t Let Him Go is a song released in 1981. REO Speedwagon performed this song that Kevin Cronin wrote. The single reached the top 25 of Billboard’s Hot 100 at the time.
Though REO Speedwagon is more popularly known for Can’t Fight This Feeling, Don’t Let Him Go is another song that brought the limelight on the American Rock band that has been in the industry since 1967.
It was Neal Doughty and Alan Gratzer who began their jam sessions when Doughty was still under the electrical engineering program at the University of Illinois. Since then, the group continued to write hit singles and entered the celebrated Rock music industry.
The single, Don’t Let Him Go, comes from the perspective of a singer, as ordinary as can be, who is only pleading with a girl on behalf of his friend. The Mercedes in the lyrics is part of the characterization of that friend as a James Dean kind of guy who can grab the attention of people because of his status.
The Dean Ween Group
Ween was an alternative rock duo formed in 1984 in America, by childhood friends Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman, better known by their stage names Gene Ween and Dean Ween. Currently, Michael “Mickey” Melchiondo, a guitarist who was also active in Moistboyz, runs the Dean Ween Group.
The newest single of Dean, Mercedes-Benz, delivers a funky tune with the right groove from horns and playful keys. It is a slick slice of rock with lyrics that shows something fun yet still gives a hint of the stratifications in society. With its line where the singer is offering his “fair-weather friend… a job cleaning the wheels of [his] Mercedes-Benz.”
Eagles – Hotel California
The Eagles’ Hotel California is probably one of the most iconic songs ever written that have shaped the rock and roll scene. Released in 1977, and winning the Grammy Record of the Year award in 1978, the song was a Billboard chart-topper with more than 16 million copies sold in America.
While there are plenty of theories that try to explain what the song is all about, the members of the celebrated American rock band has revealed multiple times in various interviews that their piece is about the excess and self-indulgence of America.
Similar to Stan Ridgway’s New Blue Mercedes, Hotel California describes the dark side of the American dream. However, this time, it’s about living the dream in excess. Elements of the song drew inspiration from the fame and success that the band was experiencing at the time.
Originally named Mexican Reggae, Hotel California made it to the list of Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all time. The classic rock song is an interpretation of life in the fast lane in L.A., again basking in the limelight and success of the band.
And just like the other songs, the luxury car was another symbol of the high life. Though the band wittingly turned the name into Mercedes bends to show to some extent a lifestyle that isn’t as smooth as the public might think.
But since the single’s release, The Eagles continued influencing the Rock and Roll industry. In 1998, they were inducted into the Hall of Fame for Rock and Roll, and it was during that time when all former, as well as present members, performed their massive single together on stage.
Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz
Mercedes Benz is an acapella that Janis Joplin performed impromptu. She wrote it in August 1970 at a bar in New York. According to Joplin, she remembered the first line of a Michael McClure song, asking God to buy the singer a Mercedes Benz.
With that in mind, she performed the song at the bar. Much of the piece was about questions of material wealth and whether that could bring anyone contentment. Unknowingly, that was the song that Joplin would ever record before she died of an accidental overdose at age 27.
The Mercedes-Benz song that Janis Joplin popularized is a blues music with tunes that evoke the loneliness that come with an illusory happiness. That kind of happiness initially appears with worldly goods, yet no one can ever attain it even after buying the product that presents itself with joy and satisfaction.
For many, the song is a rejection of a consumerist world and practices that Joplin saw and experienced as she grew up in a middle-class white family in Texas.
In the different verses, Mercedes-Benz, color TV, and a night in town were the distinct material goods that Janis Joplin saw and sang about in the piece. Joplin saw them as something that will deceive you with a kind of happiness that will never last for long. According to Joplin, neither of the three would bring her the joy and peace an individual deserves to live life well.
Much of the changes that we saw in the production of cars and music, specifically rock and roll happened swiftly during and after the second world war. A critical moment in our world history that’s marked with struggles and aggression also paved the way to an industrial advancement as well as an evolution in the music scene.
Nowadays, we can enjoy the fusion of rock and roll with cars to signify the mobility, power, and wealth that characterized an era of movements, not just in the global political scene, but in the music and automobile industries too.
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