Motorcycling Music

Motorcycling and music are a natural fit. It is no wonder that virtually every motorcycle event held in venues large and small feature music as a significant part of the program. And not just any music. To personify the charged emotions and pleasures involved with motorcycling, the bands and their music must be hard driven and full of life and rhythm. Lite rock or elevator music need not apply. Motorcycling itself is akin to the granting of substance, animation, and life to music. As if it came alive and was transformed far beyond simple sound waves; something that could be enjoyed by all our senses and our deepest emotions. They're both art forms so there is no mystery as to why a person attracted to one also likely finds the other desirable and pleasurable.

Now there are those who would claim that the only motorcycle music they need is the sound of their exhaust, the roar of the engine, and the sound of the wind as they ride. And I have to agree as far as that goes. When I'm riding that's the only sounds I want to hear. It's part of the experience, after all. Why spoil it with a lot of extraneous sounds that spoil the ambiance of a motorcycle ride?
But when I'm not actually riding, I enjoy listening to songs about the two-wheeled life style. I like lyrics that deal with real life issues. I appreciate the hard driving beat of most motorcycling songs.

There are many songs about motorcycles that I get a kick out of listening to while I'm not riding. Some are on CDs that I keep in my truck and others are tunes I have only because I found them on ITunes and downloaded them to my computer and IPod. Some of these songs just aren't going to be found at your local record store (or whatever passes for a record store today).
Some of my favorites:
Roll Me Away by Bob Seger. A long time favorite for a few reasons. First, I have always liked Seger and his style of music from the time I was a teenager and his first songs out of Detroit hit the mainly Michigan market. He seemed like a real guy, who did all the things that we all did, or wanted to do, and on top of it all he is an avid motorcyclist. Roll Me Away is one of those songs that young unmarried men especially fixate on - heading out on the open road, no particular destination in mind, and you meet and pick up a girl on the way who shares the journey with you. The relationship doesn't work out, but so what? The song ends with him on his bike in the Rockies and it's all up to him (each of us) to decide what to do and where to go next. And the lyrics end with that eternally optimistic statement of "..next time we'll get it right!" What guy could resist a situation such as that?
I went to a Seger concert a few years back and he opened with Roll me Away. It was an incredible way to start the show and really had the place rocking.

In a similar vein are songs by Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run) and Billy Joel's the Motorcycle Song. Songs about finding yourself and looking for the meaning in life's many twists and turns. I've always thought that these three singers, Seger and Springsteen in particular, have a connection to the real world and sing of issues that we all can feel a very real kinship with.
Seger has some other songs that make mention of riding or motorcycles, but not to the degree where the entire song is based on a motorcycle trip.
One of the all time classics of course is Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild, part of the soundtrack for the iconic Easy Rider movie. I never tire of listening to this song and of course it also aims at the forever young and free person that lives inside all of us - no matter our real age or circumstances in life. And heaven forbid we ever lose that feeling, I think that's the beginning of the end. This movie had several other songs associated with it but none made it as big as Born to be Wild.
Going way back in time, when several of us 18 and 19-year olds rode bikes to the drive in theaters a few times in the mid to late-sixties to watch a slue of badly done movies about biker gangs and the biker lifestyle. (Movies, which along with The Wild One created a perception about motorcyclists that it took an entire generation to change.) I think the first of the series was called The Wild Angels, and a follow up called Hells Angels on Wheels, which had an instrumental theme song called Blue's Theme that I liked a lot. I actually still have the 45 somewhere, but haven't played or heard it in many years. It was basically comprised of guitar riffs and the sound of a bunch of Harleys and Triumphs being revved up in the background. These movies, and their associated sound tracks, appealed to a lot of young guys in their late teens or early 20s, and may in fact have played a part in the motorcycle boom period that occurred beginning in the late 1960s.
The concept of being on the edges of society, or even outside of proper society, played a large role in many songs and movies about motorcycling. Whether it's the teeny bopper Leader of the Pack from the early '60s, or the iconic rebel and outlaw song called 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, songs about the darker or rebellious face of motorcycling are quite common and form many of the classics. Several artists have sung 1952 Vincent Black Lightning but I think my favorite is Eddie Dattell's version. The song has a couple of my favorite lines: "Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme"; and later as the James Dean-type anti-hero lays dying: "I see angels on Arials in leather and chrome, swooping down from heaven to carry me home". Dattell has a voice that fits the tragic anti-hero lyrics.

Not all biking songs have to be serious or rebellious. Arlo Guthrie's Motorcycle Song, from his Alice's Restaurant album, is a classic from the lighthearted side of the street. "I don't want a pickle, I just wanna ride my motorsickle". And of course who can forget (unless you're too young to remember it) a group called The Hondells, with their one hit career that began and ended with Little Honda? The group, which existed only one year, had an album that contained several songs dedicated to the new class of small, lightweight, and inexpensive motorcycles that Honda, and other Japanese companies, were introducing to the American market, which had been virtually the exclusive marketplace of American and European motorcycles. The Hondells were part of the early and mid-sixties California surfing and car racing music scene, and it was in California that the Japanese motorcycle phenomenon took hold, and quickly spread across the country from there.

There are lots of other songs whose lyrics bring in motorcycling to a greater or lesser degree. Some of these song aren't particularly enjoyable listening to for pleasure unless one is really into hard core, almost punk rock, songs about death or a variety of other problems encountered by young rebels trying to find themselves in a world in which they don't seem to belong. Personally I want to listen to music for pleasure and thus don't include this genre among my favorites. Below are a few of the more 'mainstream' songs that don't fall into the hard core tragic consequences category:
Bat out of Hell by Meat Loaf.
Ghost Rider by Rush. (Neil Peart, drummer for Rush, is an active and serious motorcyclist. Ghost Rider is a very poignant song he wrote following the death of his daughter and wife in less than a year's time. He describes a multi-month motorcycle trip across North America he took seeking healing and relief in a book he authored called: Ghost Rider, Travels on the Healing Road.)
Motorcycle Mama and Unknown Legend by Neil Young. (These two are lighter and more enjoyable to listen to - and women bikers would like Unknown Legends with its story of an independent woman working hard to get by and riding her Harley when she can, her long hair flying in the wind.)
Motorcycle by Love and Rockets. (At its core this might be the quintessential motorcycling song - it's a short and simple song about the freedom and good feelings that are part and parcel to riding.)
Ballad of Easy Rider by The Byrds.

There are many more. I haven't tried to list them all, just those that I'm at least somewhat familiar with and have personal memories about.
I also enjoy listening to many of the "open road" songs whose lyrics praise the joys, or heartbreaks as the case may be, of wandering the open road, looking for whatever might be discovered or leaving behind baggage we don't wish to carry any longer. Some are well known, such as Willie Nelson's ever popular On the Road Again, to a long list of other lesser known songs of the road. Many of these have a bit of a country music twist to them, which I find fitting. In my opinion songs of the road are about themes that are often best explored from a country music angle, not a hard rock perspective. Such songs are introspective, and meditative or reflective lyrics just aren't what hard rock is all about.

I still do plan to do a CD of the best of motorcycling songs. I guess I'd better get busy and just do it so I'm not saying that I'm going to after yet another year passes by (as several already have since I first decided that I was going to do this). It sounds like a perfect winter project in the coming months; something to fill my time so I'm not fixating on the fact that the ground is snow covered and it'll likely be many weeks before I can ride again.
Now there's a depressing thought!