Highway Holdups: Women, Cars and Music

Women, cars and music. The three have long been united in the minds of countless teenage boys, and there are never-ending lists of classic songs written about women and cars; but still today it’s so rare to find a great song written or performed by a woman about a car.

Do a quick google search of the ‘top driving songs’ or ’20 greatest songs for the car’ or ‘road trip classics’. You’ll find lists and lists of songs that objectify women and sexualise cars, sung exclusively by male singers, nearly always from the 70s.

This seems somewhat misrepresentative especially when you consider the fact that, after conducting comparative tests amongst male and female machinery drivers, Australian mining companies would now prefer to employ a female driver. Why? Because after monitoring the wear and tear on multi-million dollar vehicles, it was found that the lighter touch of the female driver resulted in fewer onsite accidents, less damage, longer lasting wheel tread, more efficient fuel consumption and better gear box functioning. A pinch or two of irony is at work here, in that even in the mines, the last bastion of the alpha male, in the industries used to fuel the nation’s gas guzzling cars – it seems that women are the better drivers?

Cars have routinely been used as symbols for youthful freedom, carefree abandonment, spontaneity, mobility and power; and music has routinely been the vehicle (get it) by which to express these sentiments. But these things are universal, not just the preserve of washed up hairy rockers who’s views on women are stuck somewhere around 1957. For girls and guys alike, there’s something romantic and nostalgic about the car radio or a road trip playlist, so to balance out the books let’s enjoy these female driving gems and thank god that we don’t live in Saudi Arabia:

Janis Joplin ‘Mercedes Benz’

Inspired by Beat poetry, Joplin‘s husky a cappella voice yearns for a shiny Merc but ultimately rejects the consumerism that it reflects. The short song was captured in one take and was one of the last songs she ever recorded, as she sadly died three days later from a heroin overdose.

Wings ‘Helen Wheels’

‘Helen Wheels’ was co-written by Linda McCartney, and performed by Wings. The song was named after Linda and Paul’s Land Rover, which they nicknamed Helen Wheels. The song is about a road trip from Glasgow through the rolling countryside of England, and it’s a pretty good laugh.

Tina Turner ‘Steamy Windows’

Steamy windows, zero visibility/ steamy windows, coming from the body heat”. Enough said, really.

Kazinsky ‘Nightcall’

Dark, creepy, French. Written by Kavinsky and sung by Luísa Hanae Matsushita, lead singer of Brazilian band Cansei de ser Sexy (CSS) and better known by her stage name Lovefoxxx, this song was one of the stand outs from Ryan Gosling’s hit film ‘Drive’. It was later rearranged by London Grammar, with lead singer Hannah Reid‘s belting vocals lifting it up to the level of a very fine cover.

Tina & Ike Turner ‘Nutbush City Limits’

The second marital effort on this list, and the second outing for Queen Teen. Tina wrote the lyrics to this funky, hard-driving rock n roll show stopper.

Shania Twain ‘Honey, I’m Home’

Don’t judge, there was a time and place for those leather trousers and high-kicks. The time and place being last millennium. TGIF girls, we drivin’ down the freeway. *Cue shrieks and selfies*

Tracy Chapman ‘Fast Car’

The ultimate car crooner, this song tells a beautiful tale of escape and belonging and the fleeting freedom that’s provided by four wheels. Has there ever been a more romantic image than that of the poor, proud, put-upon Tracy “driving in your car, the speed so fast I felt like I was drunk, city lights lay out before us”. Uh, the drum kicks in! the voice breaks! the fast car speeds her away, full of hope!…but it crumbles to nothing. Seriously, are you crying yet?

Blondie ‘One Way or Another’

She’s gonna drive past your house to see if you’re in, and if the lights are all out then she’s gonna keep driving and she’s gonna get ya get ya get ya get ya. Seat belts on coz this one’s a nightrider.

Rihanna ‘Shut Up and Drive’

It’s 2007, things are revving up for the young Bajan singer and she’s “looking for a driver who is qualified”. Well I should hope so RiRi. This song is perhaps the text book definition of how to fetishise women and cars, gauchely plonking them together under one sexualised umbrella (ella, ella), but like, she’s singing about herself and like, reclaiming her raw energy and power, and like, it’s Rihanna, so like, it’s fine right?  Sounding like what should have been the lead song from the recent Mad Max soundtrack, Rihanna rocks out with the roof down, “coz i’m 0 to 60 in three point five” – which to be honest is what I’d give this one for marks out of ten.

Words by Katie Rowley





British. Blonde. Beach-goer. She sounds awful, doesn’t she.