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Justin Townes Earle pens a more modern car Tune

06 Oct 17
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Singing about automobiles is nothing new for American musician Justin Townes Earle; he has been doing “automobile blues,” Of classic Samuel Lightnin’ Hopkins songs — such as I Had Been Burning Bad Gas or My Starter Won’t Start — for ages.

But lately, Earle has been asked to compose a song about a modern vehicle. “So I took the challenge of someone telling me I could not compose a Chuck Berry-style car song about a Japanese import,” says Earle before a recent show in Ann Arbor, Mich., on tour to support his new album, Children in The Street. He met the challenge with the infectious , a nod to the automobiles he grew up around in Nashville in the 1990s.

“I got this idea when I was writing this record where I was like you know, I am sick of hearing children compose songs about ’57 Chevy’s and things that they have never seen in their lifetime, except for in a magazine. Because I am willing to wager that in 1955 not everyone thought a 1955 Chevrolet was going to be a classic. They probably thought it was fairly normal looking,” says Earle.

A number of songs on Earle’s new album have a car motif. ” Perhaps a Moment, when we used to pile into a car and take off to Memphis to find shows that would not otherwise make it to Nashville when we were young,” says Earle. “And Nashville was one of these cities where if you did not have a car or knew someone who had a car, then you’re out of luck in plenty of ways.”

No surprise that a cover of Paul Simon’s Graceland is a B-side into the seven-inch single.

“The car has always played a significant part in what I do since we spend so much time in them. It is constantly on the road, and until you get to a bus, it isn’t usually that fun to maintain them. However, I do know that everyone loves when you get off the street and into your car after not driving for some time,” says Earle.

Specific vehicles and models have provided inspiration for songwriters: Bruce Springsteen’s Pink Cadillac, Prince’s Little Red Corvette, the Beach Boys 409 and Little Deuce Coupe, Jackie Brenston’s Rocket 88, Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally, and, of course, War’s Low Rider.

“Chuck Berry was the first to sort of come up with the thought of writing songs which were tailored to a generation. And one thing that was big about this generation was this romance with the new V-8 super strong cars which were being made in America,” says Earle.

But times have changed, and so have vehicles. Since Earle sees it, “These days if we are going to write about the car it can not be so much about the vehicle, but the experience you had in the car, with the car, the freedom that the automobile brought you, or something like that.”

Tunes like Copperhead Road and Hillbilly Highway by his , , might fit that bill. Same goes for Tom Waits’s (Searching for) The Heart of Saturday Night or Diamonds On My Windshield, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, and Neil Young’s Long May You Run. Young has written a book, Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life amp; Automobiles about his love affair with classic autos, such as Lincvolt: his 1959 Lincoln Continental that’s been transformed to a biomass-powered hybrid {}.

Needless to say, there has always been plenty of room for metaphor in automotive songs, such as Aretha Franklin’s Freeway Of Love, Springsteen’s Ramrod, and Bo Diddley’s Road Runner. Queen’s I’m In Love With My Car (which finishes with the revving sound of drummer Roger Taylor’s Alfa Romeo) is open to interpretation.

And lest we forget, you can find even auto songs for the innocent-at-heart, for example from Woody Guthrie’s 1956 album Nursery Days.

After spending some time with his new baby girl, Etta St. James, Earle will be back on the street. Meanwhile, his Children in The Street record and Champagne Corolla remind us that inspiration can come from virtually anywhere.


Best 10 Car Songs

1. — Chuck Berry

2. — Bo Diddley

3. — Lightnin’ Hopkins

4. — The Beatles

5. — Bruce Springsteen

6. — Robert Johnson

7. — Tom Waits

8. — Queen

9. — Janis Joplin

10. — Jackie Brenston

Bonus track:

11. — Commander Cody

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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