Car-aoke | #8

“Detroit Rock City” by Kiss.

Few other everyday objects have shaped modern music as much as the car. In this column, our editors write about songs that tell a car-related story. Some of them have even gone down in music history. But by no means all of them...

2 min reading time

by Christian Scholz, Editor
published on March 03, 2020

Stuttgart likes to call itself the birthplace of the automobile, but Detroit is without a doubt the birthplace of its mass production. It began in 1909 with the Ford Model T. Gradually other automakers also established themselves in Detroit. Foremost among them were General Motors and Chrysler. In the following decades, this region of Michigan along the Canadian border experienced an unprecedented economic upswing.

Detroit became Motor City — or Motown for short. In cities where almost the entire economy revolves around the automobile, cultural life can’t remain untouched — especially because in the United States the automobile symbolizes the self-image of an entire country: freedom. Countless songs have celebrated the myth of freedom that is associated with the automobile. And for a long time Detroit was the engine of this movement. It was a city dedicated to full employment and full speed ahead!

"Movin’ fast, doin’ ninety-five. Hit top speed but I'm still movin’ much too slow. I feel so good, I'm so alive. I hear my song playin’ on the radio," sings the band Kiss in its mind-blowing party song "Detroit Rock City" from 1976. Even though these hard rockers actually came from New York, Detroit was the city they celebrated.

 Album cover: "Destroyer" by Kiss
Album cover: "Destroyer" by Kiss

The song, from the album "Destroyer", begins appropriately enough with the sound of an engine revving up, and during its entire length of more than five minutes, it hurtles headlong in only one direction: forward. "Ten o’clock and I know I gotta hit the road. First I drink, then I smoke." At this point a listener might already be asking whether things will end well in spite of the song’s positive momentum. They don’t. The song ends in the same way as many parties: with a crash.

The end of the song might serve as a symbol of a city whose best years were already over in the mid-1970s, a very long time before the financial crisis, climate change, and battery-powered vehicles coming in from the West Coast. "You gotta lose your mind in Detroit Rock City" — at some point the city lost its mythical status and its charisma. The party was over. From then on, the rest of the world regarded American cars as too big, too gas-guzzling, and technically antiquated. They gradually faded into the background. As Neil Young lamented in his song "Motor City" from 1981, "There’s already too many Datsuns in this town" and "This commercial on TV says that Detroit can't make good cars any more."

Inevitably, individual lives were affected by the decline of this once-flourishing city. Jobs were lost, people moved elsewhere, prosperity vanished, entire blocks were abandoned to decay, and criminal activities flourished in the city’s slums. But in exactly there, in those places blighted by social problems and discrimination, anger and despair often lead to a great flowering of artistic creativity. So it’s not a coincidence that the past decline of Detroit was closely linked with the rise of a new form of street rap that was furious, accusatory, and yet empowering.

This was the birth hour of Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem. In the film "8 Mile" from 2002 he dramatized his own life, which is closely connected with the history of Detroit. He became the first rapper to receive an Oscar for Best Original Song for his signature track, "Lose Yourself" In this song there is no mention of automobiles.

Christian Scholz

used to believe that both Kiss and Eminem were born in Detroit. That turned out to be a mistake, but it didn’t change the fact that he still enjoys listening to both of them, in spite of their very different styles. That’s because he feels that music, above all, has to spark emotions.

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