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The Automobile: Revving Up Car Culture In The 1950s

1076 words - 5 pages

As James Flink points out in The Automobile Age, the village store and the local banks were the businesses most vulnerable to the new competition (47). Robert E. Wood, former vice president of Sears, explains how businesses moved to the suburbs, "When the automobile reached the masses, it changed this condition [the funneling of consumers into the town centre] and made shopping mobile. In the great cities Sears located its stores well outside the main shopping districts, on cheap land, usually on arterial highways, with ample parking space (Wollen 13)." Thus city centers came to be seen as sites of congestion, whereas the surrounding areas were regarded as accessible and convenient. The ...view middle of the document...

It comes as no surprise that any art form in the twentieth century would portray the automobile as the car has become a fixture in the everyday lives of Americans. Films, music, and art have always been a large part of popular culture, and during the post-war era, they joined America in its love affair with the car. Perhaps no form of art has glorified the automobile more than music and its performers. Rock and roll especially seems to be tied to the automobile as both the car and rock and roll gained immense popularity at the same time in the 1950s. Performers such as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles all reference cars in their lyrics. Some of these artists such as Elvis also became associated with car culture because of their own personal car collections. Elvis owned a particularly iconic pink Cadillac that became a significant part of his image. Musicians and others in the public eye bought into the notion that the car you drive is a reflection of you and can be used to enhance your public image. Rock stars also lived life on the road, so it comes as no surprise that car culture is so prevalent in the lyrics of rock and roll.
In no other song is this relationship between rock and roll and car culture more evident than in Chuck Berry's 1955 hit, "Maybellene." The song was one of the first successful syntheses of blues and country-western styles and helped pioneer the genre. The song is about a man going out for a cruise in his V-8 Ford when he sees his unfaithful girlfriend's Cadillac Coupe de Ville. A high speed pursuit leads to the Ford overheating and Maybellene gets away. A timely rainstorm helps cool down the Ford and the protagonist is able to track down the Cadillac after a long chase. The lyrics obviously connect the car to rock and roll, but the first line of the first verse, "As I was motivatin' over the hill," reveals much about car culture in the 1950s as Warren Belasco points out The Automobile and American Culture. Motive, in this case meaning goal, comes from the Latin word movere,...

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