Various Artists

Pedal to the Metal

by Wilson Neate


Pedal to the Metal is brought to you in conjunction with Hot Rod magazine and, of course, the theme is music-to-drive-cars-to (big muscle cars, if the cover art is anything to go by).

I don’t currently own any wheels, so I may not be the right person to pass judgment on this CD. But rest assured, I have been sampling Pedal to the Metal on the subway in order at least to make a stab at experiencing the kind of speed appropriate for the optimal listening conditions.

cover art

Various Artists

Pedal to the Metal

(The Right Stuff)

While this collection boasts some timeless ‘70s car-related fare, it also includes quite a bit of kack that has about as much to do with driving as my childhood tricycle. Tracks by the likes of Loverboy, Pat Benatar, Eddie Money and Lunatic Fringe (who?) are textbook examples of a total inability to rock hard that was endemic to the 1980s.

You have to wonder how the compilers of Pedal to the Metal can justify such lightweight, cheesy synth-enhanced horrors on an album that is supposed to be all about kicking out the jams, motherfucker. Tracks by the above-mentioned have nothing to do with careening down the highway with the top down and the wind in your hair and everything to do with swanning around the mall and scoring some serious hair-styling products.

Bachman Turner Overdrive’s contribution is no more noteworthy. Although “Black Betty” or “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” would be the obvious choices for inclusion on a record of this kind, for some reason, the compilers chose to include the throwaway “Roll on Down the Highway.”

However, the worst-in-show prize goes to 38 Special’s “Rockin’ into the Night”—a plodding white elephant of a song that anyone could write, play and record in their sleep. If the formulaic dross of the music doesn’t get you then the lyrics—which would be only vaguely funny if they were parodic—certainly will. This is the kind of song that goes down well in bars in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. It’s so bad that it has you agreeing with your parents (and T.W. Adorno) that yes, pop music is a dreadful, mindless phenomenon. In fact, it’s enough to drive you to jazz.

But, thankfully, Pedal to the Metal does have a number of redeeming moments. The 1972 Deep Purple classic from Machine Head—“Highway Star”—is a standout. This is vintage Purple: the beat combo of Ian Paice and Roger Glover keeps clockwork time on drum ‘n’ bass respectively, Jon Lord shows us where the Charlatans got their keyboard sound, Ian Gillan wails away like there’s no tomorrow and, on guitar, Ritchie Blackmore toys with the rhythm and then warps it all up with a crowning solo. (Having said that, it’s worth noting that the live version on Made In Japan is far superior.)

Although the sexism of The Guess Who’s anti-militarist standard “American Woman” is ignorant and reprehensible, the hard-edged strut ‘n’ grind of this track remains utterly compelling. It’s great to hear it in all its glory again—not as soundtrack for a clothing commercial. And if you turn it up extra loud, you’ll also exorcise Lenny Kravitz’s hollow fratboy appropriation from your memory.

While Sammy Hagar’s post-Montrose/pre-Van Halen “Trans Am” still tears it up, Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” is the finest moment on Pedal to the Metal. This album is so much about the intersecting American mythologies of space and speed and yet it remains that the greatest driving song ever was written by a bunch of (flying) Dutchmen. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

Pedal to the Metal? Well, sort of. Half of the tracks fit the bill, but the rest are ideal soundtrack for driving golf carts, milk floats and mopeds. Still, be sure to check out the sister albums Big Boss Instrumentals, Hot Rod Cowboys, Rev it Up, Hot Rod Holiday, and, of course, Power Ballads.

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