Here’s a look at some pedal-to-the-metal Cadillac tracks

In music mythology, the Cadillac looms. Consider the fact that the Queen of Souls, Aretha Franklin, was such a fan of the car that her family arranged to have 100 pink Cadillacs fill the streets outside Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple on the day of her 2018 funeral.

Franklin, like so many other musicians, saw the Cadillac brand not only as luxury, but also as a metaphor. Tall and graceful, with sparkling chrome and flamboyant coats of paint, these vehicles echoed their larger-than-life owners—the musicians who drove around like modern day royalty in their Fleetwoods and Coupe DeVilles.

Owning a Cadillac was an American symbol of success. Riding in one announced, by its sheer size and sometimes bizarre accessories, that you had arrived. Equally important, the Cadillac symbolized the personal freedom of rock ‘n’ roll—the spirit of adventure embodied by musicians who traveled from gig to gig.

They have also sparked the imagination of songwriters from Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash to Ariana Grande and Joni Mitchell. Here’s a look at some of those pedal-to-the-metal Cadillac songs.

‘Baby, let’s play house’

Perhaps no other rocker is as associated with the Cadillac name as Elvis Presley. From 1955 until his death in 1977, the singer bought over 200 of the iconic vehicles, saving some for his private fleet and giving others away to friends, family and sometimes complete strangers.

His love for these opulent vehicles dates back to the very beginning of his career, when the former Memphis truck driver bought a pink Fleetwood Series 60 with a powerful 6.0-liter V8 engine to take his band from gig to gig. “Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine,” Presley famously said. “There’s nowhere else in the world where you can go from driving a truck to a Cadillac at night.”

In his first national chart-topping hit, a 1955 cover of Arthur Gunter’s blues song “Baby, Let’s Play House,” Presley changed the lyrics to pay tribute to his new car. Gunter’s original line, “You may get religion,” was swapped with, “You may have a pink Cadillac.”

The original pink Caddy he owned broke down shortly after the single’s release. Presley replaced it with a 1955 Fleetwood blue that he had repainted in a color that became known as ‘Elvis Rose’.

‘Tall white Cadillac’

Hank Williams was the first bona fide poet of country music. A master of writing simple songs about complex emotions, he earned the nickname The Hillbilly Shakespeare. The writer of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” died at the age of 29 in the back seat of his 1952 Cadillac convertible while commuting between gigs on New Year’s Day in 1953. Montgomery, Ala., and has also been the subject of many songs, most notably “Long White Cadillac” by The Blasters.

Though he never mentions Williams by name, writer and guitarist Dave Alvin dedicated the 1983 song to the country singer, and the lyrics certainly convey the melancholy that Williams was known for.

night wolves moan

Winter hills are black

I’m all alone

sit in the back

From a tall white Cadillac

Country singer Dwight Yoakam, who later covered the song on his album “Just Lookin’ for a Hit,” called Alvin’s tribute to Williams: “One of the best songs ever written. A rock and roll homage to Hank Williams, who was essentially the first rock star.”

Cadillac Walk

Long before Mink DeVille rose to fame as the house band of New York City’s punk club CBGB, it was just another group looking for a name. The music brand, a mix of rock, rhythm and blues and soul, demanded an evocative name that represented the eclectic mix of music. ‘One of the guys said, ‘What about Mink DeVille?’ recalled the band’s lead singer, Willy DeVille (real name Bill Borsey). “There couldn’t be anything cooler than a fur-lined Cadillac, right?”

The Cadillac Coupe DeVille inspired the band’s name and one of its most famous songs, the brooding ‘Cadillac Walk’. Written by Moon Martin, the rockabilly artist who also wrote “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor),” made famous by Robert Palmer, it’s a story track that uses Cadillac metaphors to describe the singer’s girlfriend, a beautiful and seductive woman with “the Cadillac walk”. Others have recorded the song, but Mink DeVille’s sexy and propulsive version best captures the connection between a Cadillac’s ideal as the epitome of cool car culture and rock ‘n’ roll.

Chuck Berry's 1973 candy-apple-red Cadillac Eldorado is on display in the Musical Crossroads section of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

‘Maybells’

Chuck Berry’s first single, 1955 Maybelne, is a groundbreaking rock ‘n’ roll song and an early example of the guitarist’s obsession with Cadillacs. The story of a hot and grueling drag race between a rejected friend in a V8 Ford and his unfaithful girlfriend in a Cadillac Coupe DeVille, it practically invented the rock guitar sound and showed off Berry’s playful use of puns. In the first verse, he sings, “As I was motorvatin’ over the hill, I saw Maybele in a Coupe de Ville”, combining the words driving and motivation to create a medley of words that paint a vivid picture of his V8 feverishly trying to overtake the Cadillac.

Berry first fell in love with cars when he was seven years old and always dreamed of owning a Cadillac. He would buy a fleet of them, one of which, a 1973 apple-red Cadillac Eldorado, is on display at the Smithsonian. The extravagant cars fueled his writing fantasy and appeared in many of his hits, including “Nadine” and “No Money Down,” documenting the purchase of his first Cadillac. “It was my fascination with the roads, with driving and driving, that led me to write those songs,” Berry said.

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