For most of the 20th Century, if you were poor and dreamed of wealth, you dreamed of owning a Cadillac. The Caddy was as much a part of the American dream as a three-bedroom house and a white picket fence. Look at the poor boys who struck it rich and bought themselves Cadillacs — Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and, of course, Elvis. In the 1950s and ’60s the only car that came close to the Cadillac as a status symbol was the Lincoln Continental, but it was a distant second. In the 1970s, you couldn’t be a proper pimp without a Caddy. Even in the ’80s and ’90s, Cadillacs lost little of their appeal even as General Motors produced substantially crappy cars.
Of course, as the gloss wore of Cadillacs, a new generation wanted to turn away from their parents’ status symbols and define their own. First they gravitated toward another classic brand, the Mercedes Benz, but BMW and later upshot like Lexus grabbed market share.
These new buyers seemed oblivious to the fact that as pure statements of conspicuous consumption, these other vehicles were mere imitators. Nothing could truly capture the allure of a Cadillac. Tradition won’t allow it.
You don’t think a Cadillac has allure and panache? Look at all the great songs about Cadillacs:
- Brand New Cadillac — written by Vince Taylor, revived by the Clash and covered by Bruce Springsteen, Wayne Hancock and Brian Setzer;
- Pink Cadillac — written by Springsteen, covered by the Pointer Sisters;
- Guitars, Cadillacs, etc. — Dwight Yoakam;
- Long White Cadillac — written by Dave Alvin and covered by Yoakam;
- Maybelline — Chuck Berry;
- One Piece at a Time — Johnny Cash;
- Cadillac Ranch — Nitty Gritty Dirt Band;
- Red Cadillac A Black Mustache — Warren Smith;
- Baby, Let’s Play House — which originally did not mention a Cadillac, but Elvis added the line (as well as rewriting the chorus) to “You may drive a pink Cadillac, but don’t you be nobody’s fool”).
That’s eight songs right there and I’ve got a list of another 40 I’ve collected over the years.
Sure, you have your occasional song about other cars — “Hot Rod Lincoln” (which also mentions a Cadillac) or “Mercedes Benz,” or “Mercury Blues,” but no song has played a starring role in more songs than the Cadillac. In fact, just as a test, I typed “Cadillac” into the search engine for All Music and came back with 90 different song titles that begin with “Cadillac.” No other brand of car I can think to run through the search even comes close. Mercury has 40, which ain’t bad. “Chevrolet” came back with about 90 titles, but that’s a make of car, not a brand. “Ford” got about half that — btw: who would be interested in a song about a Ford Taurus?
Granted, this unscientific search doesn’t find songs with titles that don’t begin with the car name, nor does it fine songs about a car that isn’t mentioned in the title (such as “One Piece at a Time”), but still, that’s a pretty impressive domination by Cadillac.
You would think the smart people over at General Motors would realize what a marketing bonanza they have on their hands — a ton of Cadillac songs to use in their commercials, and free CDs of Cadillac songs for people who take a test drive, etc. It seems like a natural, but they’ve never thought of it, apparently. Through the Cadillac Web site, I tried pitching the idea once, but General Motors doesn’t accept unsolicited marketing ideas.
Why am I writing this? Because tonight, on TV, I saw a new commercial for Mercedes Benz. It kicks off with Janis Joplin and then segues into two lesser Mercedes songs. After the initial excitement of the Joplin line, “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz,” the commercial peters out. But with it, so does a missed marketing opportunity for Cadillac. Sure, using Led Zeppelin to market to the younger baby boomers now reaching Cadillac buying age was a good idea, but not as good as tapping into the romantic tradition of Cadillac as evoked by so much great music.
And, FWIW, if anybody from Rhino Records happens to read this piece — you really should hire me to put together a box set (at least 6 CDs) of Cadillac songs.