The other day, I was listening to some music on itunes, and The Arcade Fire’s “In the Backseat” came up on the shuffle. And I thought for a moment, “Hmm, a peanut butter cup would hit the spot right now.” Then I thought, “There’s a few songs on my itunes that share a common theme: the back seat of a car.”
Why would musicians write about back seats of cars? Maybe they all rode to gigs in their best friend’s Pinto, and simply were amazed at the amount of room they had in the back seat, right? Or, maybe it’s simply a statement about the carnal desires of horny rock stars? Or, maybe it's none of the above?
So I did some research and here’s the three songs and some thoughts:
Song #1: “The Back Seat Of My Car” by Paul McCartney
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The final track on McCartney’s second album, “Ram,” is a bit of a mini-suite: It’s slightly bombastic and a bit over-the-top with the orchestra and McCartney-wailing at the end, but I think that’s partially what appeals to me. (Criticize McCartney all you want for being a bit sugary during his solo years, but despite "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," “Ram” is damn good album that isn't too sweet or sappy!)
We all know that McCartney has a bit of a weird history with cars and sex (please see: “Road?, Why Don’t We Do It In The”), so it’s a bit telling that McCartney appears to be re-visiting the subject. Maybe he’s telling us that he’s got a fetish for back seat sex? Should I now go back and look at every McCartney lyric and assume that he’s thinking about making love in the back seat of a car. This means you should substitute "back seat of a car" for the “end” in the line “And in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take." Dude, that totally ruins Abbey Road!
But according to allmusic's analysis of the song, “In his autobiography, ‘Many Years from Now,’ McCartney explains that all of these car songs (which he would go on to write well into the '70s, with singles like "Helen Wheels") had their genesis in the long, random road trips he and new wife Linda McCartney used to take in the waning days of the Beatles, on which they would deliberately get themselves lost.” I guess I was wrong. Whoopsie! Paul’s reading this right now and asking, “Who’s the perv now, beeyotch?”
“Ram” is McCartney’s second solo album, so the declaration of “We believe that we can’t be wrong,” seems to be a message to the rest of the world - he and Linda are on their own and giving themselves a self-affirmation, but they’re doing it in song form, as opposed to going to a counselor of some sort.
But, according to wikipedia, John Lennon believed that, “the protagonists who sing ‘we believe that we can't be wrong’ in "The Back Seat Of My Car" were directed at himself and Ono. The former song was, in fact, intended as a message to Linda McCartney's ex-husband. Nevertheless, Lennon would respond in kind later in 1971 with the searing "How Do You Sleep?" on his Imagine album.”
On a side note, Lennon also mocked McCartney on the "Imagine" album when he placed a photo inside the cover of him grabbing a pig - a straight up parody of the cover for “Ram.” I think it’s safe to say that things between the two were bitter at the time.
Song #2: “Back Of A Car” by Big Star
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We go from McCartney to a band heavily influenced by the Beatles: the great and underrated Big Star. Originally on their 1974 album “Radio City,” you can now find "Back of a Car" on the “#1 Record/Radio City” combo CD. If you don’t have it, lie to me, because it’s way too good not to have and I’ll question your taste otherwise.
Anyway, “Back Of A Car” is a pop gem that gives what McCartney didn’t deliver: a song about someone having a naked lambada party in the back seat of their AMC Pacer. Thank you, Big Star! Just read the opening lyrics and you know what’s happening:
Sitting in the back of a car
Music so loud can’t tell a thing
Thinking bout what to say
And I can’t find the lines
On the website popmatters.com, they note, “Anyone who hears this is ‘there’ at a stadium Rolling Stones show with a bottle of Jack in one hand, and a bong in the other, listening to blaring Zeppelin out of distorted Jensens. For those with a drug-free past, substitute anything very exhilarating here.” Even if your idea of getting high is overdosing on Pixie Stix and Moutnain Dew at a Yanni concert, you get the picture.
On first listen, you’d think that this is a sweet love song, but reading the lyrics, it’s more about a relationship on the ropes; a couple who probably shouldn’t have done what they just did. These two should be basking in the afterglow, but there’s some sort of tension between the protagonist and their lover. It appears that they’re in a rough spot and trying to figure out what their relationship is and if they should stay together:
You know I love you a lot
I just don’t know should I not?
Waiting for a brighter day
And I can’t find a way
I'll go on and on with you
Like to fall and lie with you
I love you too
Baby I’m too afraid
I just don’t know if its okay
Trying to get away
Why don’t you take me home
It’s gone too far inside this car
I know Ill feel a whole lot more
When I get alone.
What’s also interesting to me is that the song could be either a back-and-forth between the couple or just purely from the woman’s perspective.
Wow, I’ve never been so bummed after two fake people had fake sex in a car.
Song #3: "In The Backseat” by The Arcade Fire
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But leave it to “The Arcade Fire” to take sexuality out of the backseat entirely and make a beautiful and haunting song about people dying. I guess between 1971 and 2004, a lot of things happened.
So The Arcade Fire were the darlings of the music world two years ago when “Funeral” came out, but I half-ignored it for about a year, and even then, I didn’t really get into it until a few months ago. Silly me for ignoring "Funeral" – it’s pretty damn good.
“In the Backseat” is the album closer, and, it’s a bit of a comedown from the rest of the album, kind of a like a nice glass of Grand Marnier after one hell of a meal and dessert. In their review of the album, allmusic says that the protagonist “dissects her love of riding ‘In the Backseat’ with the radio on, despite her desperate fear of driving.” I think that’s safe to say, but there’s a bit more to it. She sings:
I like the peace
in the backseat,
I don't have to drive,
I don't have to speak,
I can watch the country side,
and I can fall asleep.
Despite taking lead vocals on the track, it’s obvious, that someone (the lead singer on this song) is not a leader. She’s much like Buster Bluth, who learned to blend into the background of any situation from the Milford Academy, the school that excels in teaching kids to be neither seen, nor heard.
My family tree's
losing all its leaves,
crashing towards the driver's seat,
the lightning bolt made enough heat
to melt the street beneath your feet.
in the night,
I've been learning to drive.
My whole life,
I've been learning.
On an album named “Funeral,” you expect to get some talk of death, and the Arcade Fire certainly does oblige here. Taken literally, I guess our narrator doesn’t have pleasant memories of driving since she’s killed Alice when she learned to drive. It's probably a bit deeper than that, but I just don't have the energy to try to analyze this any further.
But, I do have advice for any budding/aspiring rock stars: If you're writing about cars, you should stick to sexual themes when writing about the back seat because it's got much more potential to be uplifting, although that appears to have it’s problems as well. (See: “Star, Big”)
Maybe just stay away from the backseat altogether and sing about your 22" rims. I like it when they spin.