Cars, trucks, road trips, and the like provide a common theme for country songs. Many songwriters and singers alike are fond of putting their experiences on the road with their cars or trucks into a song. “I’m A Truck,” “The Car,” “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler),” and “Riding with Private Malone” are just some of the examples of songs we can cite along this theme.
Moreover, a singer named Dave Dudley became known as The King of Trucker for his string of songs about truck driving. Here’s another classic song about different types of automobiles and the remarkable race they were involved in. First recorded and released in the mid-1950s, the song is called “Hot Rod Lincoln.” An original hit of Charlie Ryan, this narrative tune written as an answer song to Arkie Shibley’s “Hot Rod Race.”
The Origin of “Hot Rod Lincoln”
The American singer-songwriter Charlie Ryan penned “Hot Rod Lincoln” as an answer song to a 1951 hit “Hot Rod Race” that was made famous by Arkie Shibley. He was also the first to record it together with the Livingston Bros. in 1955. Four years later, Ryan re-recorded the song, this time with the Timberline Riders. At the time Ryan wrote the song, he built his own hot rod from which he based the eponymous car’s description. Specifically, the reassembled car has a body of a 1930 Ford Model “A” built from a 1948 12-cylinder Lincoln chassis.
Ryan raced the restored car against a Cadillac sedan that his friend in Lewiston, Idaho drove. The late singer took some of the details of that race and incorporated it into his song. The actual location of the race though was modified in the song to match it with that of “Hot Rod Race.” Hence, instead of putting Leviston, Idaho, Ryan changed it to Grapevine Hill.
“Hot Rod Lincoln” and “Hot Rod Race” both served as defining anthems of the hot rod community. Furthermore, these two songs formed an integral part of the car song culture in the 1950s.
Many cover versions of “Hot Rod Lincoln” have been made since its release in 1955. However, the most successful version was from the country rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Their cover was released in 1971 and appeared on their album Lost in the Ozone. Accordingly, the song charted in various music lists. It peaked at No. 9 on Hot 100 and reached No. 28 on the Adult Contemporary chart. In Canada, the song was also a Top 10 hit peaking at No. 7. “Hot Rod Lincoln” was the only hit for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
Prior to Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, another country music artist covered the song. Johnny Bond released his version in 1960 with slightly altered lyrics. That same year, Bond recorded a sequel to his cover song and called it “X-15.” Watch the group’s version of the song below.
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Arkie Shibley, Charlie Ryan, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Hot Rod Lincoln, Hot Rod Race