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The Best Cars in Music Videos

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Published September 24th 2017
Did Katy Perry ever make you wanna burn rubber?
You may have noticed that many pop videos you see on YouTube often have a nice car or two in them. Well, I started to wonder if this could be a child's first exposure to some of the most gorgeous steel available? My first exposure to the most delectable of Detroit's finest was watching American Graffiti and seeing John Milner'd Deuce coupe with its bobbed fenders and chopped roof when I was eight years old. It permeated my unconscious mind until a decisive moment when I was in my teens - it was tough looking, low and American.

Let's consider few examples of pop videos where your children might be awed by visions in steel. The bands I hated as a kid featured some gorgeous heavy metal, even though they're boy bands. The best example was Take That's 'Back For Good', where the true stars were a chopped 1951 Mercury and a 1958 Chevy Impala were used as the backdrop in a video that pastiches 1950s and early 60s teen movies, but in the most cliched manner. Moody black and white photography, rain on chrome, five hunks alluringly looking angsty. If this didn't turn teenage boys on to the work of customisers like Sam Barris, Harry Westergaard and Gene Winfield, and the archetypes this video evokes, then nothing will.

Since gearheaddom has its origins in California, the image of the winding roads and sunshine with the top down, sells pop music. What better proof is there than Katy Perry's 'Teenage Dream'? You have two convertibles, a BMW 2002 and a late 1960s Plymouth, ostensible teenagers heading to the beach on a sunny day. These romanticised tropes of adolescent abandon and escapism date back to when youth culture was invented by the Don Drapers of this world, fifteen years after the teenager was invented in 1941, to sell consumer goods like cars. Even the cinematography is straight out of the teen films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the cars are a teen film motif that has been used since the 1950s to symbolise independence from parental authority and defiance, which this video capitalises on. Interestingly, the BMW 2002 in the video could be seen as a metaphor for defying the American dream, as most top selling cars are now Japanese. The Plymouth is dilapidated and could be seen as a metaphor for America's decline, being in need of a rebuild.

What could it be rebuilt into? Perhaps something more like Cadzilla, one of the most groundbreaking and influential customs ever built. So influential, it spawned many imitators and it was magnified when Billy Gibbons put his car in the video to Doubleback, the song for the final instalment of the Back To The Future Trilogy.

Although Cadzilla is plonked incongruously into the California of the late 19th century, thanks to clever editing, its blend of traditional 50s custom and futuristic styling really lends itself to the video. Cadzilla's a futuristic vehicle for the Western setting, much like the ironclads you see in films about the American civil war, pointing the way to America's industrial greatness.

I wouldn't be surprised if many children were overawed by the mega long suicide doors (girls love them too) and the radically reworked bodywork by Boyd Coddington. Being ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons hot rod and custom collection is the embodiment of both Americana and the American dream. Here, an archetypal image of the American dream is reborn as something that points the way to a future that can only be dreamed of. It was up to the children to build it, but did they?

Although Cadzilla pointed to a possible future, Lush's adorable 500 ( Shake, Baby, Shake) pointed to preserving the past. I remember Asian Dub Foundation saying that Britpop was reactionary, but I can't help notice that its nostalgia might have been more about preserving a culture subsumed by the forces of globalisation and homogenisation. We listen to the same stuff in Kinshasa as we do in Kirby, with the same interchangeable beats and BPM, only in a different order. As In Birmingham, so in Beijing.

Being that the song's a celebration of a super cute car that's got more character than anything on the road now, its video about unity. A super cute little Fiat 500 brings together a priest, a sexy widow and some dude who locked his keys in his bland econobox. In being offered a lift, they are brought together by circumstance and the characters realise what they have in common. The twist is that it drives off without them, driver included, as an teen version of Brum off to spread joy and happiness on the highways of the United Kingdom.

As you can see, children have different influences that get them into cars. Pop videos are the most influential, especially when they're three minutes of bliss that point the way to the great highway beyond the horizon. A place where imagination is the limit, only dictated by your drive to get there.
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