They Got Around
The Beach Boys and the influence of car culture.
Web2Carz Staff Writer
Published: August 4th, 2012
"Brian was merely reflecting on the world around him.”— Beach Boys historian Chuck Kelley
he Beach Boys are on tour this summer to commemorate their 50th anniversary and are dusting off the legendary car songs which endeared them to a generation of car fanatics.
Lyrics like: “Pedal's to the floor hear the dual quads drink” or "My Stingray is light the slicks are startin' to spin but the 413's really diggin' in," were among dozens of car-tinged cadences within the Beach Boys song catalog that spoke volumes to a generation of American hotrodders —who couldn’t tell you the first thing about a surfboard but could relate to a cubic inch W series V8 engine in a 409 Chevrolet.
But were these surf ambassadors who gave the world “I Get Around,” Car Crazy Cutie, Little Honda,’‘Little Deuce Coupe," or "Shut Down" a bunch of car experts?
Not really. Brian Wilson, the band’s principal songwriter and resident wunderkind was no more a car enthusiast than his classmates at Hawthorne High who cruised Hawthorne Blvd at night or attended the Lions Drag Strip Raceway on the weekends in nearby Wilmington.
“Brian was merely reflecting on the world around him,” said Beach Boys historian Chuck Kelley in a recent interview. “Since he stayed home and went to El Camino Community College instead of going off to school he wasn’t exactly this worldly 20-year-old. However, he could write about what he knew: surfing, love songs, and cars.”
It was, however, perhaps the greatest stroke of genius that the band would embrace their generation’s car culture and sing about it.
Their first car song, "409," the flipside to their first single, “Surfin’ Safari," was written by Wilson, Mike Love, and local surf musician and songwriter Gary Usher. Usher wrote most of the lyrics to "409" because he was obsessed with wanting to buy a 409.
“Murray Wilson didn’t like Gary Usher so he was looking for someone else to write car songs with Brian," Chuck Kelley told us. “So, he found Roger Christian, a fast talking, hip, radio DJ from KFWB in Los Angeles."
It was Christian who wrote the lyrics to some of the band’s more car-centric material like, “In the Parkin Lot," “Little Deuce Coupe," “Shut Down,” “Cherry Cherry Coupe,” and “Car Crazy Cutie.” He also co-wrote “Little Ole Lady From Pasadena" and “Dead Man’s Curve” for Jan and Dean.
In a recent interview with British journalist Barney Hoskins, Beach Boy lead singer Mike Love said, “He [Christian] was a gearhead who did all the words for our car songs, but my favourite lyric that he did was this song on Little Deuce Coupe called 'The Ballad Of Ole' Betsy.' It's like a metaphor in a sense. When you come to that part where he's saying, 'She may be rusted iron, but to me she's solid gold/I just can't hold the tears back, 'cause Betsy's growing old,' it just gets me. It's so descriptive and so beautiful.”