Songs about Wheels from Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, the Who + others: Odd Couples

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KISS, “DETROIT ROCK CITY” vs. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, “WRECK ON THE HIGHWAY”: On first thought, how is this even a fair fight? The usual Kiss schlock pitted against a sensitive meditation of now and eternity by the Boss himself?

Not quite so easy though. By this point in his career, Bruce’s exploration of the dichotomy between life’s joy and drudgery was starting to exhaust itself.

Meanwhile, in “Detroit Rock City,” Kiss turns what sounds like a typical “rock and roll all night” anthem on its head when the young rocker in the song dies in a car accident on his way to a rock concert. Perhaps this is the same crash Springsteen comes across in “Wreck On the Highway?” Only the powers that be could say for sure.

Winner: It’s a split decision, but I’m going with Bruce Springsteen. What tips it here is sequencing, a skill at with Bruce is a highly ranked master. He puts “Wreck On the Highway” at the end of the double album The River, where it sums up all the songs that precede it. Kiss however, uses “Detroit Rock City” to open Destroyer, and then follow it with … the usual Kiss schlock.

THE SHANGI-LAS, “LEADER OF THE PACK” vs. SLADE, “BORN TO BE WILD”: The Shangri-Las’ overwrought tale of love on the wrong side of the tracks benefits from a pretty good bike engine roar and tire-squeal special effects. However, Slade’s version of the Steppenwolf biker classic has a two-minute long section in the middle that sounds like a prison break, ambulance brigade, and slow motion semis overturning on the freeway all rolled into one.

Winner: Slade, hands down. Why settle for a girl pining for the leader of the pack and one motorcycle spill when you can have Noddy Holder’s industrial strength sandpaper voice and an Interstate pile up?

THE WHO, “MAGIC BUS” vs. “THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS THEME SONG”: In the ‘60s, part of being hip meant being tuned in to all the code words of the emerging counterculture. As such, knowing the true meaning behind a song like the Who’s 1968 single “Magic Bus” was kind of like knowing the secret handshake to get into the club house. Sure, it’s a one chord Bo Diddley rip-off, but still: All squares keep out: We’re listening to a song about gettin’ high, man.

Fast forward some 20 odd years (40 if you count re-runs), and sit through the intro and theme song of the public television science show for kids called The Magic School Bus. Notice: 1) the visuals are the flat screen equivalent of a 60s psychedelic light show; 2) the bus driver/teacher looks like an aging Janis Joplin, complete with stray hair and big earrings; and 3) the bus drives through some scenarios possible only to those experiencing altered consciousness.

One might be tempted to think that it’s just a cartoon. But check out the lyrics themselves: “Crusin’ on down Main Street / You’re relaxed and feeling good” – like, maybe feeling mellow, as in “mellow yellow.” (Look it up if you need to.) Or the last line of the second verse: “You might get baked into a pie.” “You might get baked?” Don’t even bother with the Urban Dictionary for that one. What are they teaching kids these days anyway?

Winner: “The Magic School Bus Theme.” KO punch – Turns out, it’s sung by that poster boy of theology school education, Little Richard.

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at
JC Mosquito
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