Friday, January 25th, 2013
Song #48: “Sausalito Summernight”—Diesel (1981)
Ahhh yes, the One-Hit Wonder. A band you’ve never heard of (and never will again) suddenly blasts out of your radio with a song made of pure earworm and instantly etches itself on a time and place. Such was “Sausalito Summernight,” which ironically peaked in the top 40 in the midst of a particularly cold winter my senior year in high school as I hauled around in a 1964 Ford Custom 500 I’d inherited from my grandfather. “The Tank” had a shitty transistor radio with speakers that blew out if you played it too loud — which was always the case when this tune came on — but I didn’t care. I had a car. I had a solid American car with a V8 engine that would go on to survive at least three crashes in a year, including the infamous drag race with Darrell Smith across the school parking lot. (A friend who was following us swears he saw the bottom of my car as I caromed off the low retaining wall that folded the right front wheel up into the engine block.) A tow job, a few replacement steering rods, and it was back in business. They don’t make them like that anymore.
They don’t make sweet, goofy songs like this any more either. Leave it to the Dutch to capture a perfectly American experience, the out-of-control road trip, with wailing rock ‘n’ roll guitar. While Diesel’s sole American hit had an infectious hook, clearly it was the lyrics that got to me, as it perfectly (and prophetically it turned out) captured my epic bad luck with cars.
Friday, January 11th, 2013
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.