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10 Best Car Songs of the 1980s

Home > Everywhere > Lists | Music | Performing Arts | Quirky
by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published August 5th 2020
If we can't drive, the music is still there
And we're back with the third of the car lists. After the 1960s list and then the 1970s list, we reach the 1980s! My teenaged years laid bare! Truth be told, there were not as many car songs in this ten year stretch as I would have thought, but a few still missed out (like one by Billy Ocean). The biggest issue with some tracks was that the video clips seemed to feature a lot of cars or were based on cars, but the lyrics of the songs did not reflect that. This did mean more lyric reading, but not as much as for the 1970s; further, there were a lot less songs where the car was a metaphor for sex in the 80s. Still, as before, the car or driving has to be the main focus of the song.

Same rules as the past two columns apply here. One song per artist. No songs about motorbikes or trucks. No car death songs. New rule: no covers of songs that appeared in the previous two lists. But, apart from that, same as we had before.

So, finally, as we are seeing some sections of the world – including my pleasant rural surrounds – opening up to driving, here are a final series of songs to add to that ever-growing driving playlist. Take yourself back to the time when I first learnt to drive and hit the open road. And, for what it's worth, the final track on this list is, in my opinion, the finest driving song ever written.

That song, at least, should help you pretend you're driving to the holiday of your dreams

In chronological order (and there is a small chunk of years missing, I know).

'Cadillac Ranch' by Bruce Springsteen (1980)

One of my favourite tracks from Springsteen, and on the triple live set from 1985, the live version is even better. This is a bragging song about owning a Caddy, and it comes from a position of love. Yes, really. This is not a metaphor for anything else – a man really likes his car.

'On The Road Again' by Willie Nelson (1980)

Yes, a country song, but when this track came out, I was 9 and even I knew it was everywhere. My father even liked this song. It is sort of about touring; however, it was written for the film Honeysuckle Rose, so it could be about driving from partner to partner. Whatever it is, it's about going down the road and travelling from town to town on the roads of the country. This sort of breaks my rules, but I couldn't help myself – this song always makes me smile.

'Driving In My Car' by Madness (1982)

A man has a car, it's not great, but he has a car. I really liked Madness, and have a couple of their albums, and this is one of their bigger singles in Australia. This is a song that I think more people could relate to – this car is not a great, incredible piece of construction, it is simply a thing to get you from point A to point B… and that was most people's cars. I guess.

'Little Red Corvette' by Prince (1983)

The girl with the titular car goes too fast and the singer wants her to slow down. Too fast in everything. This is one of Prince's better-known earlier tracks and it has a groove about it that just makes you want to dance. Prince was such an incredible artist, and that was obvious from the word go.

'Keep Driving' by Meat Loaf (1983)

From the first Meat Loaf album not written by Jim Steinman, this track is actually one of my favourite Meat Loaf songs, and on the album (Midnight At The Lost And Found) it merges seamlessly into Chuck Berry's 'The Promised Land'. The song is, I think, about driving to find someone special. And, more than that, with references to a "meter", I think he might be in a taxi. Still, a great song.

'Panama' by Van Halen (1984)

Yes, this is about a car. It was not until David Lee Roth left the band and I saw him interviewed that I discovered the song was named after a racing car, which was good, because when I got the album (1984) and read the lyrics and saw it was about a car, I had no idea why it was named after a country. Or a canal. And yet it is still a great track off one of Van Halen's very best albums.

'I Can't Drive 55' by Sammy Hagar (1984)

A protest song against the lowering of the speed limit! No, seriously. From the singer who would go on to join Van Halen by the end of the decade, this track is about wanting to drive fast and not being allowed to, doing it anyway, being caught and not caring. But that voice, those guitar licks, all of it was already there. And now he has The Circle who have been producing some of the best lockdown music out there.

'Drive' by The Cars (1984)

And we slow right down to the first truly depressing car song in three lists. It might be sad, but – wow! – The Cars deliver a powerful track here. "Who's gonna drive you home… tonight?" Driving is what he wants to do, but does she want it? Such a brilliant song.

'I Drove All Night' by Cyndi Lauper (1989)

So many people dismiss Cyndi Lauper as an artist with one hit album and nothing else. But that is so very wrong. This track was originally recorded by Roy Orbison, but his death saw its completion and release delayed until 1992, after Lauper's version came out. I like them both, but there is something about the raw emotion in Lauper that suits the lyrics. She drove to get to her man. Simple. And glorious.

'Wide Open Road' by The Triffids (1989)

One of the best songs about Australia, this break-up song involves the metaphor of driving on that wide open road to get away, to escape the past. I love this song. One of the best produced in Australia. There is very little else I can say. This is the perfect driving song. It is so wonderful. David McComb was taken from us too early.

Ten songs about cars from the 1980s. As was the won't for the 1980s, the musical styles are a little more eclectic, showing that now cars were just vehicles to get from point A to point B. That need for escape and freedom had disappeared from the music for a while, but the 1980s were more about owning things (in general). Cars are now status symbols. But, even with that, as the Triffids tell us, there is still something about hitting that "wide open road…" to get away. Some things never change.

And I hope you enjoyed this third list as well!
1980s, cars, songs, music

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Why? Car songs really are everywhere
Where: Everywhere
Your Comment
I'd have put Flame Trees in this list, although not strictly about driving, but because it is such a bloody brilliant song.
by May Cross (score: 3|7972) 356 days ago
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