Monday, March 31, 2008


The previous post to this was pretty short - just the video really. You may have wondered why a blog about rock and roll from the ‘50s and ‘60s was posting a song by country artist Kathy Mattea, from 1996. But then you noticed it had kind of a vintage feel about it. I’m no car expert, but I checked out the tail-lights as best I could, and I think the car in the video is about a ’59 or ’60. In searching for the year, I uncovered some little pieces of the history of cars, rock and roll, and TV commercials that I will try to pull all together here for you.

Car: Who can still sing along with this popular (and possibly very early example of product placement) song? The Oldsmobile was birthed by one Ransom E. Olds, in 1897 and the name lasted until 2004. That’s sure was a long run! Most famous along the way was the various incarnations of the Oldsmobile 88, which ran from 1949-1999. The 1949 model brought us the powerful V8 engine, and the term, Rocket 88. And that brought us the…

Song: “Rocket 88” is a bluesy little number from the Memphis studio of Sam Phillips (later to be Sun Records). The original version is variously credited to Jackie Brenston and/or Ike Turner, and extols the virtues of the Rocket 88 Olds. This famous tune is high on a short list for Very First Rock and Roll Song Ever. And, if I'm not mistaken, this vid includes some racy pin-up footage (pun practically unavoidable) of Bettie Page. Guys, am I right?? For the complete story, go rent the DVD "The Notorious Bettie Page."

TV: In the 1950s, one commercial slogan encouraged everyone to “Make a Date with a Rocket 88.” I guess that was the tame ‘50s family hour version of selling things using (gasp!) sex.
Here’s a little mini-evolution of what you could see on the small screen during the ‘50s, in black and white, and living color.


Living Color

Which brings us back to....

Song: Kathy Mattea (see previous post for video). Obviously, the action in the song has to take place sometime after 1964, because that’s when the rival Chevelle in the song was first introduced. And the Olds would already have had a few years and a few miles on her (it leaked when it rained”). That’s about as close as I can get to sorting it all out. So, here’s to the Olds Rocket with it’s honkin’ big 455 engine. Back in 1964 my license was still pretty new, and I was driving my mom’s little V6 Valiant. No proto-muscle car in our garage! But, we don’t have to own a 455 Rocket 88 to dig the history and the music, do we? And so to all of you reading this, like the Oldsmobile itself, long may you run!

photo: Wend Images

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