by Victor Wanchena
Motorcycling has been influencing music for some time. The birth of rock and roll coincided with the birth of the outlaw image of motorcycling and the two have been cousins ever since. Riding a motorcycle is almost a prerequisite for rocker street credibility. There have been some real highs and lows in motorcycle themed music. And so, here are what in my opinion are the four best and four worst motorcycling songs.
4. “Born to be Wild”–Steppenwolf. Many will hate me for daring to say that this is not a good song. What can I say? It’s simply not a good song. “Smoking lighting” and “Explode into space”, come on. It always feels as if this song has provided non-riders with the answer to the question, “What is the soul of a biker?” Well, at least it isn’t Andy Williams singing “Born Free”.
3. “Motorcycle Song”–Arlo Guthrie. I like Arlo, but there is just something about this song that bothers me. Maybe it’s the goofy rhymes. Maybe it’s an irrational fear of pickles. I don’t know. Heard once and thought it was okay, but it has gone steadily downhill from there.
2. “Bad Motor Scooter”–Montrose. For those not familiar with the 70’s hard rock band, Montrose, they are the group that gave us Sammy Hagar, the blonde that broke up Van Halen. Not that I cared. Too much screaming, too much attempted ass kicking in a song hoping to entice a young lady to visit him. Bad 70’s rock. What else is there to say.
1. “Dead or Alive”–Bon Jovi. No doubt for me on this one. It was high school when this hit the charts and the instant those fateful words hit my ears, “I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride” I was laughing. It’s very difficult to take anyone serious who refers to their motorcycle as a “steel horse”. I must apologize to those who use this song as motivation, but a modern outlaw on the run and rocking out with a “loaded six-string” is so bad it’s the comb-over of song themes.
4. “Harley-Davidson”–Brigette Bardot. It’s in French. The only words I understand are Harley-Davidson. She just sounds so sexy saying them. I swear that if this song was playing in an H-D dealership as I entered I would probably be unable to get out of there without buying a bike or at least 8 grand in accessories.
3. “Motorcycle”–Love and Rockets. I might be alone on this one but it always comes to mind. A great song about a rider and his bike. It builds in intensity throughout the song. One of the better pure motorcycle songs.
2. “Little Honda”–The Hondells. This song was a gift from Brian Wilson to this group of essentially studio musicians. It was such a smash hit that The Beach Boys recorded their own version. A catchy little tune and a marketing department’s dream.
1. “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”–Richard Thompson. This is far and away the best motorcycle song ever written. A simple ballad about a man, a woman and a motorcycle, done with only an acoustical guitar. This sad tale is not about kickin’ ass, instead it’s about the love of a motorcycle and a woman. A worthy subject if you ask me. In the words of Richard Thompson, “There’s nothing in this world, beats a 52 Vincent and a red-headed girl.”