Monday, September 30, 2013

Motorcycle (Motor Cycle)

The only reason anyone remembers the short-lived act Tico and The Triumphs these days is that Simon was in the group... and he wasn't even Tico! That was the nickname of a guy named Marty Cooper. Sorry, Marty! (Allmusic.com has Simon as Tico. The Marc Eliot biography of Simon does not mention either the band or Cooper in its index.) 

To be fair, the band did crack the Top 100, reaching #97 with this song in 1962. 

Motorcycles had been a major part of pop culture, or perhaps counter-culture, at least since Marlon Brando rode one to fame in 1953's The Wild One. Elvis quickly followed the next year with his movie Roustabout. The next famous film focused on them was 1969's Easy Rider, also a counter-culture landmark. In 1972, Marvel Comics debuted its undead anti-hero Ghost Rider . Today, the most popular entertainment centered on motorcycle culture is TV's Sons of Anarchy. 

Still, the most famous motorcycle song has to be the Shangri-La’s cautionary tale “Leader of the Pack.” Simon beat that one by two years; it came out in 1964.

This song starts with the sound of a motorcycle zooming past, followed by that pursed-lip sound (a "raspberry," minus the tongue) often made in imitation of engines. 

As it says on the label, the song is about a motorcycle. Also, the freedom of motorcycle riding: "Every day after school I'm a motorcycle fool... From here all around to the other side of town... you can't catch a motorcycle when he wants to go."

In his song "Mercury Blues," Steve Miller wins, then loses, the affection of a woman to the driver of a Mercury car... so he promises to buy two. Here, too, the speaker's relationship seems to depend on his vehicle. The first verse has the line "Driving with my baby," and the second starts with the invitation: "Come on with me, baby, on my red motorcycle."

The bike is also the reason for the speaker's local fame: "Everywhere I go everybody's gotta know," "Everywhere I go there's a motorcycle sound," and "Don't you know me, I'm cool!" It seems more than just a part of his identity, but the source of it.

(The rest of the song is a lot of "ba-ba-ba" and "yeah, yeah, yeah"... and more than a dozen mentions of the word "motorcycle.")

The song also presaged the Beach Boys' first #1 hit, the 1964 single "I Get Around," with its driving (ahem) beat and its celebration of the teenage freedom afforded by shiny, speedy wheels. Funny how they never mention helmets...

Chicago classic rock DJ Lin Brehmer has list of 20 motorcycle songs, and Simon's isn’t on it. The Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” is, as is Allmans’ “Midnight Rider.”

Also missing is Arlo Guthrie's long shaggy-dog narrative, 1968’s "The Motorcycle Song.” While Simon is a master of rhyme, Arlo comes up with: “I don't want a pickle/ I just wanna ride on my motor-sickle.”

The after-school rider in Tico’s “Motorcycle” might sneer at the phrasing of that couplet, but he would certainly agree with its sentiment.

Next Song: I Don’t Believe Them

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