Wheels were made for rockin’

Our family has its share of arguments in the car. No more or less thanthe average, I guess, if the average is around three per city block.

Our family has its share of arguments in the car. No more or less than the average, I guess, if the average is around three per city block.

We parents figure this is good thing. You can’t learn sarcasm too early.

We often fight about what music to play on the stereo. I’m OK with this, because it only demonstrates that people are passionate about music, and how essential music is to the automotive experience.

Volvo once trotted out some research, that noted that many people have their most intense “musical experiences” in a vehicle. Researches cited the enclosed confines of the car, which tends to focus the experience, and that these days the times behind the wheel are simply the most convenient for music listening. Combine that with the killer sound systems in today’s cars, and you can see why a vehicle has replaced the rec-room as the prime music grooving venue.

But my theory is that car travel, especially if you’re a passenger, doesn’t require your dominating and logical side of the brain, the one you use when you fill out your income tax online.

This lets your creative brain off the leash, the one that tends to meander down various garden paths, and creates those weird but fascinating dreams — like that one where you are suddenly on the subway with a pet monkey and neither of you were wearing pants.

I think this part of your brain listens and responds to music differently ... probably more profoundly. It’s why watching the landscape roll by with Neil Young pounding away through the rear speakers is such a contemplative and satisfying experience, and one that’s hard to replicate any other way.

Then again maybe all your road tunes just have really good back beats.

Of course, the genre of music that is most tied up with the automobile is rock ’n’ roll. Teenage car culture took off in pre-war America almost simultaneously with the birth and rise of the so-called “devil’s music.” They couldn’t help but influence each other, because they essentially went to the same high school and hung out in the same parking lots.

And the first rock ’n’ roll recording is generally considered to be 1951’s Rocket 88. Introduced in 1949, the Oldsmobile Rocket combined the small, lighter body of the Olds 76, with a new powerful V8, becoming a precursor to the muscle car, and a perennial NASCAR champion.

Ike Turner and his band came up with the tune, and the legendary producer, Sam Philipps, recorded them doing the number at his legendary Sun Studio in Memphis. The recording is also one of the first to feature a distorted guitar sound, now a crucial element of rock and roll tone. Legend has it, that the sound came about because the guitar player’s amplifier was compromised on the car ride from Mississippi. The amp either fell off the roof, or suffered rain damage in the trunk. Either way, Philipps liked how it sounded.

Probably for the same reasons people liked the sound of that Rocket V8 — compelling, and a little rough around the edges.

– Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for more than 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.

 
 
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