Song #50: “Convoy” — C.W. McCall (1975)
OK, let’s get this out of way up front: I love novelty songs, especially when I was a kid. Of course, children have no natural defense against the novelty song but after growing up listening to Spike Jones, Alan Sherman and Monty Python, there really was no hope for me. I think “Fish Heads” is hilarious. I listened to the Dr. Demento Show for years, and still wonder what Weird Al will come up with next. That said, with one exception, none of those songs will appear on this list.
I didn’t just pick “Convoy” out of nostalgia or to stand in for all those “Disco Duck”s and “Amish Paradise”s that didn’t make the cut — it really is one of my favorite songs of all time. C.W. McCall’s paen to truckers and CB radio is as tight an epic as you will ever find, a complete cross-country story in one little pop song. (As good a director as Sam Peckinpah was, his mistake was even trying to expand that into a two-hour movie, as he did three years later.)
“Convoy” hit #1 when I was in 6th grade — so of course I was helpless to resist its charms — and was one of the last novelty songs to reach the top of the Billboard 100. Still, it was pretty sophisticated for a novelty song: from the crisp staccato drum that opens the record to the orchestral crescendo of strings as they “crashed the gate doin’ 98,” the music builds to a satisfying stick-it-to-the-man climax, as dueling voice overs lay down the tale of convoy that stretches halfway across the country. Hell, it was even educational — I learned the word “chartreuse” thanks to “Convoy.”
Come to think of it, Robert Altman probably would have been a better director for the movie version. Let them truckers roll 10-4.