Vintage cars and classic tunes- they go together like burgers and milkshakes or pizza and beer. Both are reflections of our youth, and a simpler, happier, and more innocent time. Many of the things that we see, hear, and witness during our formative adolescent years leave a permanent and indelible impression upon our psyche. Certain vehicles and popular songs are no exception.
As a teen who came of age during the latter half of the 80’s, I used to rush home after school and try to finish my homework in time to catch Video One, a local video show on KHJ-TV Channel 9. It was hosted by Richard Blade, who was also a popular DJ on alternative radio station KROQ 106.7 FM. There was also Video 22, a 3-4 hour long video show on KWHY Ch. 22. I wore out the channel selector on my parents’ old Zenith console TV constantly switching back and forth between Video 22 and Voltron.
As a car-crazy kid, one of my favorite pastimes was seeing what sort of cool vintage iron I could spot in the hottest music videos of the day. There were some that left a lasting impression- not only on me, but other car buffs as well.
My very first example is more of a show pony than a genuine CC, but I chose it because it is easily the most recognizable and iconic vintage automobile in popular music. It’s ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” ’34 Ford coupe. It appears prominently in the videos for the band’s biggest chart-topping hits, including “Gimme All Your Lovin'”, “Legs”, and “Sharp Dressed Man”.
The basic premise behind the video in those three songs is the same: some socially awkward and terminally unhip guy or gal is struggling to get along with his or her peers, when ZZ comes to the rescue to get them in touch with their inner cool. Along come three sexy vixens driving the ’34, whisking the subject away for a much needed transformation from nerd to stud / vamp.
Within a few short years, the Eliminator would be overshadowed by the spectacular Cadzilla, which would be the second vehicle built by the late Boyd Coddington for ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. Nevertheless, it’s the Eliminator that put ZZ Top on hot rodding’s road map.
Bruce Springsteen’s songs reflect his All American, blue-collar sensibilities, so it only makes sense that his music videos should showcase some of Dearborn’s finest, as they do in this case.
In the video for “I’m On Fire”, a song about the temptation of forbidden love, Bruce plays the owner of a grungy auto repair shop. One of his frequent customers is a wealthy, pampered desperate housewife who brings her prized vintage Thunderbird in every week for the most arbitrary and trivial of reasons, suggesting that she wants ol’ Bruce to tune up more than just her car. They never show the woman’s face- only her shapely legs clad in high heels and a flouncy skirt. When she hands him her car keys, her house key is attached.
After a sleepless night of wrestling with his conscience vs. his male urges, he finally hops into her car during the wee hours and heads out to her big mansion in the hills.
When Bruce finally arrives at her castle, he sees a single light on upstairs. Just as he’s about to ring the doorbell, he inexplicably chickens out. Instead he quietly drops her keys in the mail slot, and turns and walks away. How he gets back home is a mystery.
One of The Boss’ lesser hits is a tune called “One Step Up”, a sad, mournful number that deals with a once-loving relationship gone terribly sour. It was inspired by Springsteen’s own crumbling marriage at the time. As downcast as the song is, it does contain a nice shot of a ’57 Fairlane sitting at a railroad crossing.
Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway Of Love” is a vintage car spotter’s dream. It contains a generous amount of behind-the-scenes footage at Detroit auto assembly plants, as well as old highway footage. And of course, Aretha’s own ’57 Cadillac Series 62. It’s almost a tribute to the American automobile. I wonder if Aretha is a closet gearhead…
My favorite part is at the very end, where a train passes by loaded to the gills with brand new 71-73 SportsRoof Mustangs as the sun sets in the background.
From the Motor City, we move clear across the country to Southern California, where veteran New York rapper L.L. Cool J cruises past various Southern California landmarks in the video for his single “Going Back To Cali”. His ride is a sinister-looking blacked out ’68 / ’69 Corvette convertible.
Native residents of the L.A. area will probably recognize some of old landmarks shown in the video, including the long-gone Pan Pacific Auditorium in Hollywood, and the still-operating Chip’s Diner in the city of Hawthorne.
In the video for Mr. Mister’s single “Broken Wings”, the group’s lead singer takes a journey of self-discovery in his ’58-’60 Thunderbird convertible. There’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor at the very end of the video here.
The final seconds of footage show the singer taking the last swig of his canteen before throwing it on the ground. He wanders to a rail overlooking a scenic cliff, while his ride sits there with the hood up suffering from some unknown mechanical malady. Broken wings indeed.
I’ll end this first installment with the rides of another great American rock n’ roll band, Van Halen. First up is Diamond Dave’s radical custom ’51 Merc ragtop- the same one featured in the video for VH’s single “Panama”:
And who can forget the outrageous stretched T-bucket in the video for “Hot For Teacher”?
Well, that’s it for now. I don’t want to make this post too long, so I’ll end it here. I’m stuck at home recuperating from a fractured ankle, so I have plenty of time to work on Part 2. Stay tuned…