Saturday, 17 January 2015

My Top Ten Motorcycle Songs

I'm all revved up, with nowhere to go...

Special mention to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. 

And for anyone who might be wondering... much as I love it, I couldn't include Motorcycle Emptiness by the Manics as it's not about bikes at all. It's, like, a metaphor, man.

10. Chris Spedding - Motorbikin' 

70s one hit wonder in the vein of Kung Fu Fighting, although Spedding made a pretty good career for himself as a session musician afterwards, working with everyone from Roxy Music to The Wombles. He also produced the very first Sex Pistols demos and ground his axe on Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds.

9. Mick Harvey - Harley Davidson 

An old Serge Gainsbourg number, updated and translated by the Bad Seed and Anita Lane. I was kinda surprised that this was the only Harley song I could find.

See also the fantastic Girl On A Motorcycle by Cinerama which has a similar vibe, but much more David Gedge.

8. The Rumblestrips - Motorcycle 

A joyously upbeat ska-tinged indie-pop song about a young lad with a pushbike who wishes he had something a bit more powerful between his legs. Like Dexys meets the Supernaturals. Great "one take" video too.  

7. Richard Hawley - Motorcycle Song

Forget the hard rock romanticism of motorcycling - trust Richard Hawley to get lost on an old bike full of holes, somewhere off the road to Scarborough. 

6. The Icicle Works - Motorcycle Rider

And this is where we start to rock. From the final Icicle Works album, released in 1990, although it's actually closer to a solo album since Ian McNabb had booted the rest of the band out by then.

5. Montrose - Bad Motor Scooter

Long before he took over from David Lee Roth in Van Halen (imagine filling those shoes!), Sammy Hagar was leader singer of another band named after its lead guitarist, (Ronnie) Montrose. You may laugh at the idea of a rock song about a scooter... but this one rocks harder than most Harleys. 

4. Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild

The most obvious song on the list, from the most acclaimed motorcycle movie ever.

It is, of course, always worth mentioning that this song was written by Mars Bonfire. Out rock 'n' roll that, if you can!

And in case you were wondering, I had to disqualify Born To Run despite Bruce's irresistible invitation to "wrap your legs round these velvet rims and strap your hands cross my engine". Because if I included BTR every time I wanted to shoehorn it in, it'd be Number One every week. And that wouldn't be fair on everybody else.

3. Richard Thompson - 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

The best motorcycle songs all involve some kind of tragedy, and even though the hero of Richard Thompson's masterpiece doesn't meet his end on the back of his beloved bike (instead, he takes a shotgun blast to the chest), he still leaves the titular VBL to the love of his life: Red Molly.
Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do
They don't have a soul like a Vincent 52
He reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
He said I've got no further use for these
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride
2. The Shangri-Las - Leader of the Pack 

The ultimate 60s teenage death disc. (If only somebody like Taylor Swift would revive that genre!) Leader of the Pack has been much covered and/or parodied over the years, from The Detergents' "tragic" Leader of the Laundromat to the hilariously camp Julian Clary (Joan Collins Fan Club) version ("Is he picking you up after school today?" "No, I don't go to school anymore... I'm 28 now.") and the even camper Twisted Sister cover. And let's not forget Terry by Twinkle, which tells the same story, without the tune.

But that's not to say the Shangri-Las got there first: indeed, the very first teenage motorcycle tragedy hit came courtesy of Lieber & Stoller back in the mid-50s... Black Denim Trousers & Motorcycle Boots by The Cheers.

1. Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell

What's left to say about Bat Out Of Hell? I've been reading Meat's autobiography recently, and also watched the BBC4 documentary on his career. I never knew he'd released a record prior to this, a Motown album of duets with a female singer called Stoney. Sadly it's not available on either CD or download or I'd check it out. I'm sure it'd be interesting, though disappointing as most of his non-Steinman recordings inevitably are. (Rumours of a Jim & Meat reunion record to be released later this year have me drooling like a puppy.) 

Meat Loaf + Jim Steinman = sheer alchemy. There's nothing else like Jim Steinman's songwriting anywhere in the solar system. It's the place where rock 'n' roll genius meets pure batshit insanity. And although there have been some fine Steinman records NOT sung by Meat, the two go together like Jonathan & Jennifer Hart: when they meet... it's moidah! Far smarter musicologists than I have written copious amounts on what makes this their masterpiece, so there's not much else I can add. But if I ever were to hit the highway on a silver Black Phantom bike, this would be playing in my head. If you don't get revved up by its power, you're missing out on one hell of a ride...

So... which one gets your motor running?


  1. Silver Dream Machine by David Essex. 'Ee's such a star.

  2. Good call. That might knock Chris Spedding off his bike.

  3. What about this?

    1. Not on the one Pete & The Pirates record I own... although that may have to change very soon.

  4. An unimpeachable list..don't take up Steve's suggestion of David Essex...I mean really. Now I'm going to toss in Soho's Girl on a Motorbike from the Goddess album...although truth be told it probably works best as part of an album rather than a stand alone song. For sheer quirkiness I'll throw in Mark Ronson's Bike Song, but it's not a top ten contender even if I quite like it (and given their are bells, he may just be singing about a bicycle, although he does talk about pedal to the metal...)

    1. I have a love/hate relationship with Mark Ronson. On the one hand, Back To Black was a very well-produced recorded... On the other, his crimes against The Smiths (and other awful cover versions) are beyond forgiveness! That said, Uptown Funk is a pretty clever way of selling 80s music to Radio 1, so at their moment he's getting a reprieve.

  5. Arlo Guthrie-the motorcycle song


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