In 29 May's opening episode of Top Gear's 23rd series, Chris Evans tore about in a brand new Dodge Viper ACR to the sound of British composer Daniel Pemberton's Take You Down. As the riffs combined loudly with the engine, the leather-jacketed Evans described the noise as "tooth-shattering".
The show's playlist also includes tracks by Deep Purple, Iggy Pop and The Gun. But while they may complement revving engines and squealing tyres, none of them actually mention car makes in their titles. There are hordes of motor-referencing songs around (hip hop is littered with Bentleys and Cadillac Escalades, just ask The Game) but, as Ben Homewood reveals, the following examples from pop history give the brands - from Corvettes to Cortinas - centre stage.
1. Little Red Corvette by Prince, 1983
Released in February 1983 and conceived after Prince fell asleep in Revolution keyboardist Lisa Coleman's Mercury Montclair Marauder, this synthy floor-filler was the Purple One's first Top 10 hit in America. While the music oozes sass and strut, the lyrics see Prince tempering excitement with concern for his companion on a one-night stand: "I guess I should've known / By the way you parked your car sideways / That it wouldn’t last." By the end he's begging her to "slow down" or risk running "right into the ground".
The metaphor clearly had an effect on Stevie Nicks, who heard the song while driving and immediately wrote Stand Back, inviting Prince into the studio to play keyboards. The track launched her Wild Heart album in May 1983.
2. Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin, 1970
This two-minute a cappella targets consumerism. Joplin grew up in Texas as a curious misfit who adored Beat poetry, and she channels that passion for arguably her best-known release. The track, which begins with a line borrowed from a song by San Franciscan poet Michael McClure, was written spontaneously during a poetry jam in a bar in Port Chester, New York that Joplin attended with her friend, folk singer Bob Neuwirth. The lyrics ask the Lord for a night out, a colour TV and a Mercedes, and were written down by Neuwirth on a napkin.
Recorded on 1 October, 1970 - just two months after that poetry session - the song would become one of the last tracks Joplin laid down on tape: she died of a heroin overdose three days later. Her body was discovered at a Hollywood Motel by tour manager John Cooke. Parked outside was Joplin's infamous car, itself something of an anti-consumerist symbol: a Porsche covered in luminous psychedelic paint.
3. Camaro by Kings of Leon, 2007
This ode to the Chevrolet muscle car features on Kings of Leon's 2007 album Because Of The Times and finds singer Caleb Followill pulling up alongside someone who "looks so cool in her new Camaro". Once he's finished admiring its paintjob, he makes eyes "through sharp sunglasses" before quickly removing his "great" shades to "make her look me in the eye". While it sounds like he'd be safer focussing on the road, this song revs and purrs in similar fashion to a Camaro itself, which is probably the whole point.
Bonus fact: the Kings weren't always such cool petrolheads. As children, their preacher father would ferry them around in a cumbersome, breakdown-prone Chrysler.
4. From a Vauxhall Velox by Billy Bragg, 1984
In which Billy Bragg shines a spotlight on the less glamorous side of driving. Set to twanging guitar, the first line goes: "She said, 'Do these seats fold down?', and I said, 'If you pull that handle.'" In the second verse, the Essex bard admits he and the object of his affections pass like ships in the night, like "cars in a contraflow system". He's actually singing about traffic. Of course, this being Billy, the everyday is wrapped in something far deeper, in this case ruminations on those who want love and want it now.
As for the car itself, it was made from 1948 to 1965 and incorporated sleek, American-style modelling. Good to know its seats were practical, too.
5. From a Buick 6 by Bob Dylan, 1965
Released as the B-side to Positively 4th Street in 1965 and featured on the same year's Highway 61 Revisited album, this dirty blues shuffle is spliced with piercing harmonica. The titular Buick was in production from 1914 to 1930, a formative period for artists like Dylan's beloved Woody Guthrie. This has led fans to suspect he chose to name the track after something synonymous with the era, but the lyrics are peppered with references to the road (junkyards, highways, dump trucks...), which form part of a story about his relations with two different women.
6. Brand New Cadillac by The Clash, 1979
Twenty years after it was released as a 12-bar blues single by Middlesex greaser Vince Taylor, The Clash covered it for 1979's double LP London Calling. Initially, the band used the song to warm up in London's Wessex Sound studio, but eventually opted to record it, citing it as "one of the first British rock 'n' roll records" and cementing its place on one of the finest albums ever made.
Joe Strummer spits the lyrics and sounds as if he shares Taylor's pain as a lover escapes in the iconic car: "C'mon, sugar, just come on back to me / She said, 'Balls to you, big daddy!' / She ain't never coming back!"
7. Bugatti by Ace Hood, 2013
A study of sports car as status symbol. Florida rapper Ace Hood (real name Antoine McColister) explained the title of his 2013 album Trials & Tribulations as a way for listeners to "understand where the hunger come from". The intro to lead single Bugatti taps directly into that idea: "One morning you wake up in the projects / The next morning you wake up in a $1.2m car/ How did I get here?"
How indeed. The explanation that follows wraps Hood's verses in screeching effects that sound frightened of the beats popping underneath. Atlanta rapper Future delivers a lysergic hook over the chorus, before Rick Ross hammers home the message: "Walk a road to riches bare feet."
8. Ford Mustang by Serge Gainsbourg, 1968
After his passionately intense relationship with Brigitte Bardot ended in 1967, Serge Gainsbourg resolved to articulate his feelings with an album. Initials B.B. (no need to ask what that stands for) followed in June 1968 and alongside the Bardot-featuring Bonnie and Clyde was this peculiar number featuring vocals from session singer Madeline Bell. Recounting a romantic drive, the lyrics poetically list objects surrounding the two lovers (a lighter, a chocolate bar, a badge emblazoned with ‘Keep Cool’...) before the payoff: "And bang! We kiss."
Fun fact: Serge pored over the car's handbook to find inspiration for the lyrics.
9. Grey Cortina by Tom Robinson Band
The Clash dismissed the Ford Cortina as a car "everyone's got" in 1977's Jenny Jones, but a year later, along came some punks who firmly disagreed. Tom Robinson's sax-filled ode to the vehicle fantasises about a fast, reliable ride with racing trim, fur-lined seats and Bruce Springsteen on the stereo. In Tom's eyes, there's no one more stylish than the guy driving a grey Cortina. Pleasingly, he considers style alongside substance, referencing a lack of parking tickets and how the car "never seems to show its age".
10. ’92 Subaru by Fountains of Wayne
From the guys who recorded a song in praise of a friend's attractive mother (2003's Stacy's Mom), comes this faintly silly tale of souping up a boxy Subaru. Every inch the pop-punk geek, Fountains Of Wayne singer Chris Collingwood buys it from "a couple o' ladies way upstate" and removes a Greenpeace sticker before setting about a total refurb. Faux-leather seats go in, as does a lime green plasma television. Cousin Gary's even fixing the transmission. Collingwood sounds so pleased with his new wheels by the end that you almost believe it's a true story. Perhaps it is?