Reading the Los Angeles Times this morning, I came across this headline: “Charles Ryan, 92; co-wrote pop hit ‘Hot Rod Lincoln.’”
Ryan, a country singer and songwriter, wrote this classic rockabilly tune with W.S. Stevenson and recorded it in 1955. It didn’t become a hit until Johnny Bond recorded it in 1960.
According to the AP story in the Times: “The song was inspired by Ryan’s commutes in his 1941 Lincoln from Spokane (Washington) to play gigs at the Paradise Club across the state line in Lewiston, Idaho.”
My introduction to this tune came — as yours probably did — from Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, a band out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, led by the gravel-voiced George Frayne, a/k/a Commander Cody. They launched it into the Top 10 in 1972.
Once I heard this tune, the Commander’s mix of country, swing and boogie-woogie had me hooked. I have six of their albums, all from the early to mid-’70s. I can’t say any of my friends really dug the Commander, so I’d guess you’d have to call it a guilty pleasure.
So let’s honor Charles Ryan, a Minnesota native who died last week in Spokane, and indulge.
For the record, here’s the version you know:
“Hot Rod Lincoln,” Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, from “Lost in the Ozone,” 1971.
Here’s an even better version, recorded live in England in the winter of 1976. They take some liberties with the lyrics. It starts out this way:
“My pappy said, ‘Son … you worthless hippie … you shameless drug fiend … you no-good alcoholic … you commie punk! You gonna drive me to drinkin’ if you don’t stop drivin’ that hot rod Lincoln!’”
The pursuit just gets wilder from there, especially at about 3 minutes in.
“Hot Rod Lincoln,” Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, from “We’ve Got a Live One Here!” 1976.
But wait! There’s more!
“Hot Rod Lincoln,” by Johnny Bond, 1960, available on “The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Vol. 8.”
“Hot Rod Lincoln,” by Jane Bond and the Undercover Men, 1982. Released only as a 7-inch single. Not available on CD.