“So I remember when we were driving, driving in your car / Speed so fast, I felt like I was drunk / City lights lay out before us / And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder / And I-I, had a feeling that I belonged / I-I had a feeling I could be someone”
–Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”
“Sooner or later, you’re gonna listen to Ralph Nader / I don’t wanna cause a fuss, but fast cars are so dangerous / Fast cars, fast cars, fast cars / I hate fast cars”
–Buzzcocks, “Fast Cars”
In music, as in life, a car is rarely just a car. For every song about a teen hot-rodder having fun until daddy takes their T-Bird away, there are a hundred that speak to our far more fraught love affair with the automobile—tales of economic hardship and institutional oppression (“Fast Car,” “Drive Slow”), bittersweet dreams of upward mobility (“Used Cars,” “Mercedes Benz”), anthems of freedom from the drudgery of “normal” life (“Airstream Song,” “On the Road Again”), or wildly unsubtle sexual innuendos (“Little Red Corvette,” “I’m in Love with My Car”). MoMA’s Automania exhibition paints an equally complex picture, as the sleek lines of the Porsche 911 coupé or the Jaguar E-Type Roadster appear alongside design interventions intended to mitigate the automobile’s massive environmental impact and paintings that remind us that those same sleek lines can be reduced to deadly, twisted wrecks.
In celebration of the July 4 opening of Automania, we’ve put together a selection of car songs for you to crank up on your next long drive. In the immortal words of LL Cool J, “Next time you’re in your ride pumping it up, just remember, it’s cool. Peace.”
Thanks to Paul Galloway and Andrew Gardner for their contributions to the playlist.
Automania, organized by Juliet Kinchin, former Curator, Paul Galloway, Collection Specialist, and Andrew Gardner, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, is on view at MoMA through January 2, 2022.