She's real fine my 409
Well I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes
(Giddy up giddy up 409)
‘For I knew there would be a time
(Giddy up giddy up 409)
When I would buy a brand new 409
Giddy up giddy up giddy up 409
Giddy up 409
Giddy up 409
Giddy up 40…
Nothing can catch her
Nothing can touch my 409
(Giddy up giddy up oooo)
(Giddy up giddy up oooo)
(Giddy up giddy up oooo)
(Giddy up giddy up)
My four speed, dual quad, Positraction 409.
The result of a random discussion between Brian Wilson and Gary Usher about cars and joking about the 409 being based on a truck engine block, a song and possibly a whole new song craze (often described as a sub-genre of the surfing genre) was born. California culture was praised and worshipped by all of us in the other 49 states. To a teenager in love with surf boards (all right — skate boards) and cars, these songs filled my head with dreams of California life, cars, girls — the standard teenage angst and desires.
Sure there had been car songs before "409." “Beep, Beep” by The Playmates in 1958 told the story of a little Nash Rambler that surprised the big boy ("I’ll show him that a Cadillac is not a car to scorn"). Or the original “Hot Rod Lincoln” ("son you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’") by Charley Ryan recorded in 1955, but more familiar now due to the cover by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen on the album Lost in the Ozone released in 1971. (And many others stretching back to the Ford Model T), but “409” added cars to surf boards, beaches, and sun as the way blond haired kids enjoyed the California way-of-life.
"409" was written by Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Gary Usher for the Beach Boys. The song features Mike Love singing lead vocals. It was originally released as the B-side of their second single, "Surfin' Safari" (1962). It was later released on their 1962 album, Surfin’ Safari and appeared again on their 1963 album, Little Deuce Coupe.
The song is credited with initiating the hot rod music craze of the 1960s.
"409" was inspired by Gary Usher's obsession with hot rods. The title refers to an automobile fitted with Chevrolet's 409-cubic-inch-displacement "big block" V8 engine. The song's narrator concludes with the description: "My four speed, dual-quad, Positraction four-oh-nine." This version of the engine — at 409 horse power, achieving 1 hp per cubic inch — featured twin "D" series Carter AFB (Aluminum Four Barrel) carburetors ("dual-quads"). It was offered in new vehicles Impala SS (“Super Sport”), Bel Air, Biscayne and as replacement units in the 1962 model year.
The group's treatment of this song, one of their first major releases recorded April 1962 (released June 4), reflects the influence of black R&B acts popular on Los Angeles radio stations at the time and shows a more raw approach to rock and roll than their much more polished releases continuing in 1963. It stayed one week on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 76 in October 1962.
This song describes the Chevrolet 409, named because of its huge 409 cubic-inch engine. Dubbed "Turbo-Fire," production began in January 1961. The engine had a single Carter four-barrel carburetor that supplied enough fuel-air mixture to generate up to 360 horsepower. With a bit of hot-rodding such as adding a second four-barrel carburetor and headers, more than 400 horsepower was easily available, making the car a big hit among street racers.
Chevy produced a later SS version with two, four-barrel carbs standard and advertised it at a conservative 425 HP in ’63. Look for the “QB” suffix code used by GM to ID 409 blocks that were to get the high performance 425 HP package of dual carbs, including high performance heads and manual transmission. Replace the stock exhaust manifolds with tuned headers plus some cam and lifter modifications and horse power could reach 460.
This full-size family car with a 409 did the quarter mile in 13.58 seconds at 105.88 miles per hour. It could go from zero to 60 mph in under 6 seconds. This song describes the Bel-Air sport coupe version of the car equipped with the "4-speed, dual-quad, Positraction" (Chevrolet and GM brand name for a limited slip differential rear end) equipment. It could do a 12.22-second quarter mile at 115 miles per hour. Zero to 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds flat.
An early Beach Boys release and their first on Capital records preceded only by their first hit, “Surfin’,” Brian Wilson wrote this with his early collaborator Gary Usher. Wilson knew very little about things like surfing or cars, but Usher did, and he was able to help Wilson tap into the California culture. In 1971, Usher said in an interview, "Dennis Wilson was the first Beach Boy to pick up on surfing. Brian was aware of Dick Dale [King of the Surf Guitar, the Del-Tones, and motivation for the Fender Showman amp with JBL 15” speaker], the Pendleton jackets, and that whole shot. It just rubbed off. I never surfed. I was a hot rod freak. I loved the 409. One day we were driving up to Los Angeles looking for a part for my car, and I said 'Let's write a song called ‘409.’ We'll do a thing ‘giddy up, giddy up,’ meaning horses for horsepower, just kidding around. We came back and put it to three simple chords in five minutes, and it developed into a million-dollar car craze."
It was released as the B-side of "Surfin' Safari." The group didn't have a record deal at the time (their first label, Candix, folded), so the group's manager and Wilson trio father and band manager, Murry Wilson, made a deal with Capitol Records, selling them both sides of the single, and anther song, "Lonely Sea," for a total of $300, with the band getting a small royalty of 2.5% of the sales. After the single was released, Capitol signed the Beach Boys to a deal.
Usher stated, "My car was a 348 Chevy, but it was always my dream to have a ‘409.’ We recorded the car sounds outside the Wilson family home in Hawthorne. We (meaning Brian, Carl, Mike and me) ran a 100-foot extension cord out of the house. Driving my car, I made about four passes past the house and the tape recorder, and after the fourth, the neighborhood lights suddenly went on, and there were sirens everywhere. So I ‘decked’ my lights and got out of there."
Ironically, after the song was recorded, Gary purchased a Plymouth 426 Hemi Superstock, not a 409!
“409,” the song that launched the car craze and, in some manner, the Beach Boys, was recorded April 19, 1962. Originally released as the B-side of the single "Surfin' Safari,” their second single after the first hit: Surfin’. As the biographers often state, “The rest is history.”
A quick follow up to "409" was “Shut Down” by the Beach Boys recorded January 5, 1963 The song details a drag race between a Super-Stock 413 cu. in.-powered 1962 Dodge Dart and a fuel-injected 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray.
The car song craze was quickly followed up with many more car songs by the Beach Boys either directly or indirectly through their associations with other California artists such as Jan and Dean.
Although Jan and Dean had been in the business since 1959 originally performing as the Doo-Wop group the Barons, William Jan Berry and Dean Ormsby reached their commercial peak in 1963 and 1964, after they met Brian Wilson. The duo scored an impressive sixteen Top 40 hits on the Billboard charts, with a total of twenty-six hits over an eight-year period (1958–1966).
Jan Berry and Brian Wilson collaborated on roughly a dozen hits and album cuts for Jan and Dean, including "Surf City,” written by both Jan Berry and Brian Wilson in 1963. Ironically “Surf City” went to number 1, a feat not yet achieved by the Beach Boys with their earlier songs “Surfin’” and “Surfin’ Safari.” Brian Wilson’s father was very upset that Brian gave “Surf City” to Jan and Dean rather than recording it with the Beach Boys. The song was initially titled “Two Girls For Every Boy,” but once Jan (along with Dean) tweaked it and finished it up, it became “Surf City.” Thus was a born a songwriting partnership between Berry and Wilson.
After the success of “Surf City,” as the concept for the next Jan and Dean LP came together — thanks in no small part to the success of The Beach Boys’ hits “409” and “Little Deuce Coupe,” respectively — Berry and Torrence made a decision. They wanted to do an entire album about the car industry. Unlike the Beach Boy albums Little Deuce Coupe or Shut Down, which were just marketing, named and collected albums put together more by Capital Records than the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean wanted a true concept album, which, by the way, might be the first concept album in rock history.
Another very important element of the material that they began to compile was lyricist Roger Christian. Christian was a vital piece to the songwriting team. Of the 12 songs to appear on the Drag City LP, Christian co-wrote 10 of them, chief among them, The Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe.” With Brian Wilson, Roger Christian, Jan Berry, and Artie Kornfeld, the sessions commenced in September 1963 and wrapped in late November. As a new and innovative artist, Wilson was learning from Berry, and they were grooving on Christian’s entire car vibe. It worked to everyone’s benefit.
Roger Christian was a radio personality and lyricist who co-wrote several songs for The Beach Boys, mostly about cars, including "Ballad of Ole' Betsy,” "Car Crazy Cutie,” "Cherry, Cherry Coupe,” "Don’t Worry Baby,” "In the Parkin' Lot,” "Little Deuce Coupe,” "No-Go Showboat,” "Shut Down,” and "Spirit of America,” all with Brian Wilson. He also co-wrote many songs recorded by Jan and Dean, including "Dead Man's Curve,” "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” "Sidewalk Surfin’,” "Drag City,” "Honolulu Lulu,” "The New Girl In School,” "Ride The Wild Surf,” and "You Really Know How to Hurt a Guy.”
Subsequent top 10 hits for Jan and Dean included "Drag City" (1964), the eerily portentous "Dead Man's Curve" (1964), and "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" (1964). On April 12, 1966, Berry received severe head injuries in an automobile accident on Whittier Drive, just a short distance from Dead Man's Curve in Beverly Hills, California, two years after the song had become a hit. He was on his way to a business meeting when he crashed his Corvette into a parked truck on Whittier Drive, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard, in Beverly Hills.
“Drag City,” recorded October 1963, written by Jan Berry, Roger Christian, and Brian Wilson; and “Deadman’s Curve” recorded on December 4, 1963 were hits for Jan and Dean. The latter song was written and composed by Brian Wilson, Artie Kornfeld, Roger Christian and Jan Berry at Brian Wilson's mother's house in Santa Monica. It was part of the teenage tragedy song phenomenon of that period, and one of the most popular such selections of all time.
“Hey Little Cobra” by The Rip Chords in 1963 was produced by Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston, who also sang vocals. Bruce was a member of the Beach Boys and Terry Melcher was a musician and record producer who was instrumental in shaping the 1960s California Sound and folk rock movements, particularly during the nascent counterculture era. Melcher is also known for his involvement with cult leader Charles Manson, being one of the targets of the Manson Family during the late 1960s.
Melcher was the son of actress/singer Doris Day. Most of his early recordings were with the vocal surf acts the Rip Chords and Bruce & Terry. Melcher's best known contributions were producing the Byrds' first two albums Mr. Tambourine Man (1965) and Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965), as well as most of the hit recordings of Paul Revere & the Raiders and Gentle Soul. In the 1960s, Melcher was acquainted with the Beach Boys, helping connect Brian Wilson to Smile lyricist Van Dyke Parks. Melcher later produced several singles for the Beach Boys in the 1980s and the 1990s, including "Kokomo" (1988), which topped U.S. record charts.
The Beach Boys recorded “Little Deuce Coupe” June 12, 1963, and Jan and Dean recorded “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” in March 21, 1964. Joining the genre were Ronny and the Daytonas with “G.T.O.” and “Bucket T” in 1964.
“Little Honda” by the Beach Boys was recorded in April, 1964, covered by the Hondels and many others that same year. Although about a motorbike rather an a car, it is also part of the California car and beach theme.
“Fun, Fun, Fun” released in 1964 is one of many by the Beach Boys that virtually defined the California myth. Its lyrics are about a teenage girl who tricks her father so she can go hot-rodding with his Ford Thunderbird. At the end, her father discovers her deception and takes the keys from her. The narrator then comes to the girl's rescue with his own car. I still remember where I was when I first heard this song, sitting at a stop sign by the county court house across from the library (where I told my folks I was going), waiting to pull onto Main Street in my blue ’59 Chevy, six-cylinder, stick shift. Sigh … the envy!
Even the Beatles joined in with “Drive My Car” recorded October 1965, and released on Rubber Soul. Not to be left out, Motown — literally Motor Town — offered “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Picket in 1966.
Not gone entirely, the car genre (or sub-genre) did pretty much die out by the end of the ‘60s, although car songs continue on including “One Piece at a Time” by Johnny Cash, a country novelty song written by Wayne Kemp and recorded by Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three in 1976. It was the last song performed by Cash to reach number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and the last of Cash's songs to reach the Billboard Hot 100, on which it peaked at number 29. The song told the story of a Detroit auto employee workin’ on the assembly line who stole car parts one part at a time and built a rather unique Cadillac from the many years of miss-matched parts.
The transmission was a '53
And the motor turned out to be a '73
And when we tried to put in the bolts all the holes were gone.
So we drilled it out so that it would fit
And with a little bit of help with an A-daptor kit
We had that engine runnin' just like a song
Now the headlight' was another sight
We had two on the left and one on the right
But when we pulled out the switch all three of 'em come on.
The back end looked kinda funny too
But we put it together and when we got through
Well, that's when we noticed that we only had one tail-fin.
Uh yow, Red Ryder, this is the cotton mouth
In the Psycho-Billy Cadillac come on, huh,
And negatory on the cost of this mow-chine there Red Ryder
You might say I went right up to the factory
And picked it up, it's cheaper that way.
Uh, what model is it?
Well, it's a '49, '50, '51, '52, '53, '54, '55, '56
'57, '58' 59' automobile
It's a '60, '61, '62, '63, '64, '65, '66, '67
'68, '69, '70 automobile.