Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cars: Hot Rod Lincoln

For me, one of the best parts of music blogging is having a chance to present the history and evolution of songs that have become a part of the mythology of modern day Pop Culture. Hot Rod Race/Hot Rod Lincoln was the first of the car race songs, it opened the door for tunes like Gene Vincent's Race With The Devil and Jan & Dean Dead Man's Curve. While researching Hot Rod Lincoln, I was amazed on the amount of documentation that can be found about it on the Internet, so detailed that my own words couldn't do it the same justice. Below you'll find text I took from some fantastic sites I came across: BlackCat Rockabilly Europe & The Rockabilly Hall Of Fame's A Short History & Evolution of "Hot Rod Lincoln". Enjoy!

Arkie Shibley & His Mountain Dew Boys: Hot Rod Race

Arkie Shibley was a hillbilly singer who recorded the original "Hot Rod Race" in 1950, in Los Angeles. ("Arkie" was a common nickname for Arkansas immigrants to California.) The importance of this song, according to Jim Dawson and Steve Propes (in "What Was the First Rock 'n' Roll Record?"), lies in the fact that "it introduced automobile racing into popular music and underscored the car's relevance to American culture, particularly youth culture."

The writing credit for "Hot Rod Race" goes to George Wilson, which is probably Arkie Shibley's pseudonym. He offered the song to Bill McCall at 4 Star Records, but he turned it down, much to Arkie's frustration. The experience was incorporated into the lyrics of "Archie's Talking Blues":

"So I went to 4 Star with a smile on my face, I had a little tune called-a "Hot Rod Race". Bill McCall, he said it was no good, I'd be better off a-cuttin' hard wood. It hurt my feelings, he slammed the door, I went up the street talkin' to myself, But we recorded it though."

Ramblin' Jimmie Dolan: Hot Rod Race

Four versions hit the charts between 1950-1951: Arkie Shibley's, Ramblin' Jimmy Dolan, Red Foley and Tiny Hill. There were uncharted versions by Bob Williams and Arthur Smith, and possibly another by Rex Turner, so it can be ascertained that perhaps seven recordings of this song were released and/or made the charts during the very early fifties.

Ramblin' Jimmie Dolan's version climbed to #7 on the Country charts. After he covered "Hot Rod Race," Arkie returned the favor with a cover of Dolan's "Playing Dominoes And Shooting Dice."

Red Foley: Hot Rod Race

Red Foley was apparently the fourth to cover this song, and he changed a few lines, possibly to attract a larger crowd.

Charlie Ryan: Hot Rod Lincoln

The most enduring of the answer records was "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Charlie Ryan & The Timberline Riders, which first saw open road in 1955, attributed to Charlie Ryan & The Livingston Brothers on Ryan's own Souviner Records. It was customary for artists to sell their records at shows, and the Souvenir label suggests that this is just what it implied, a souvenir of the show. Ryan later told Pat Ganahl, editor of Rod and Custom magazine, that he and Shibley wrote their respective songs at about the same time in 1950, when they were both touring in the same area. Ryan, who owned a real hot rod Lincoln with twelve cylinders, begins his road race in Lewiston, Idaho, going through to the top of the hill (where Chuck Berry would later catch Maybellene in her Coupe de Ville). Nick Toshes, in his book Country, wrote that "steel-guitarist Neal Livingston wrought sounds of speed, sirens, and whiplash behind Ryan's tough boogie beat and amphetamine vocal."

Johnny Bond: Hot Rod Lincoln

Although Jim Dawson & Steve Propes wrote in 1992 that Johnny Bond had recorded "Hot Rod Lincoln" prior to Charlie Ryan's version, the Ryan recording was reviewed on 26-Oct-59, while Bond's wasn't reviewed until 20-Jun-60, a full eight months later. Ryan's version debuted on the charts on 09-May-60, while Bond didn't hit until 08-Aug-60, so it is apparent that Ryan started the revival.

Johnny Bond recorded a new version - with eight cylinders instead of twelve - for Gene Autry's Republic label. With West Coast airplay, it charted as both a country and pop hit. 4 Star Records got Ryan and his band back in the studio to re-record "Hot Rod Lincoln" and released it to compete with Bond. The two Lincolns raced each other up Billboard's Hot 100.

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: Hot Rod Lincoln

Commander Cody & The Lost Planet Airmen were one of the first bands to combine elements of Western Swing, Rockabilly and truck-drivin' Country and get results over to a mass audience. Their 1972 version of "Hot Rod Lincoln" proved that they were no staid purists when it came to putting a little drive in their brand of Country. With the advent of MTV, "Hot Rod Lincoln" was put to video. Their version begins with a re-write of the Charlie Ryan/Johnny Bond final line: "My pappy said, 'son, you're gonna drive me to drinkin, if you don't stop drivin' that hot rod Lincoln'"

For the most part, the lyrics stayed pretty close to Ryan's, with a minor alteration here and there. This song may never die, perhaps reincarnated once again unto a new generation of Rockers as yet undefined - perhaps a Rap version? It is documented here in hopes that it will be remembered by those who have enjoyed it through the near sixty years it has so far survived.

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