The 5 Greatest Classic Car Radio Songs

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jul 09, 2014

Everything sounds great in huge studio monitors, so smart producers frequently test their latest work through cheap speakers. Former White Stripe Jack White, Mojo reports, transmits songs from his Third Man Records via FM radio, then listens to them in his car, telling the engineer “via walkie-talkie, to lower the guitar or turn the kick drum up in the mix.”

In the 1960s, radio ruled and to get on the charts songs had to cut through the static and tinny mono speakers. Few songs today would make that cut--maybe, like 'em or not, "Crazy" (Gnarls Barkley) and "Get Happy" (Daft Punk). Here are five period chart-toppers that still sound great, no matter how cruddy your car’s radio:

Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Bad Moon Rising”
From the catchy guitar intro to John Fogerty’s desperate-sounding, hellhound-on-his-trail vocal, this huge hit grabs on immediately and never lets go until the fade out. “I hear hurricanes a-blowing/I know the end is coming soon.” A perfect soundtrack for every apocalyptic movie ever made, and it was robbed by only making it to Number Two on the charts in 1969.

Mungo Jerry – “In the Summertime”
As sunny and seasonal as the Creedence song is dark and ominous, this British one-hit wonder went large in the summer of 1970, just as I was leaving for college. “When the weather’s fine/You got women, you got women on your mind.” Still a staple of oldies radio, which is probably what supports singer/songwriter Ray Dorset (who wrote it in 10 minutes).

Rolling Stones – “Satisfaction”
Another perfect marriage of killer guitar riff (Keith Richards, written in his sleep) and perfect lyric (mostly Mick Jagger) for a tumultuous era. It went to number one in both Britain and the U.S. in 1965. Listened to underwater through a snorkel, it would still sound great. Note the Ray Charles “What’d I Say” cop about halfway through. Since I’m in the camp declaring that the Stones haven’t made a good record since the late 1970s, I remain fascinated by the artistic process. Just because you had it once doesn’t mean you get to keep it. And, yes, "Jumping Jack Flash" would have worked just as well.

Chuck Berry – “Promised Land”
This just happens to be my favorite. Rolling Stone went with the more obvious choice, “Johnny B. Goode.” But this one, in addition to being as full of hooks as a tackle box, tells of an epic road trip across America; it’s the spiritual daddy of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.”  Berry wrote "Promised Land" in prison in 1964, after being jailed on a morals offense. To quote the bard, “I woke up high over Albuquerque/On a jet to the promised land.” OK, it didn’t top the charts when released in 1965, but it deserves your full attention anyway.

The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”
As commercial as it was, “Good Vibrations” was also highly experimental, build in intricate stages and making extremely creative use of the theremin (a form of early synthesizer played via hand gestures). The intro is relatively subdued, and I love the section backed by what sounds like a church organ: “Gotta keep those lovin’ good vibrations a-happening with her.” But all of it builds straight to that theremin-fueled killer chorus heard ‘round the world. “Trying to match it with the rest of the planned Smile album put Brian Wilson around the bend, but the song went to number one in 1966.

Oh and check here for 10 songs that are great for testing your car's audio system--undoubtedly a state-of-the-art infotainment center, right?

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