Y'see that big shiny thing in the sky? That means we're well into riding season, ladies and gentlemen. Time to dig out the skid lid and hit the open road. Of course, given that the shiny thing is such a frequent visitor to California, it's rarely not riding season, just the odd day when it's raining sideways and you'd probably be better off avoiding those idiots in sports cars, fishtailing along Sunset Boulevard because they have no clue how to drive in the wet.
Hell, you probably don't want to be on Sunset anyway, crawling along at the speed of smell and catching every red light. Far better to go for a blast up the PCH to Neptune's Net or get on the I-10 east and head out to the desert. Or maybe you prefer those twisty canyon roads with the sphincter-tightening drops and exciting opportunities to plummet off a cliff? Each to their own.
Whatever your preference, there's a road built just for you, and whatever your choice of cycle, there's a song to go with it, too. It seems like ever since motorcycles were invented there's been somebody singing about them. Indeed, one song in particular has become so intrinsically linked with motorcycles that it would be almost cliched to mention it. Not that the Steppenwolf classic isn't, well, a classic, but here are 10 of the best bugs-in-your-teeth tunes that aren't “Born to Be Wild.”
Motorhead, “Iron Horse/Born to Lose”
Co-written by Tramp, then London Hells Angels president, Motörhead's “Iron Horse,” from their self-titled debut album of 1977, is about as iconic as biker tunes get. Given the ferocity of most of the band's mighty arsenal, it's surprisingly slow-paced, a vicious rumble that could only come from 80 cubic inches and “an open highway, that don't have no bends.” It's also one of their few tunes that didn't get faster with age. Because sometimes the journey is better than the destination.
Chris Spedding, “Motor Bikin'”
Known primarily as a session guitarist and for his work producing early Sex Pistols demos, Spedding has managed just one hit single (in 1975) in a solo career spanning more than a dozen albums. But, hey, if you're gonna be a one-hit wonder, then it may as well be a good one, and “Motorbikin'” is a gem. Spedding looked every inch the part for his TV performances, too. Slicked-back hair, black leather jacket, motorcycle boots … The only problem was, he couldn't actually ride. Bought a bike, fell off, never rode again. Irony horse, anyone?
Montrose, “Bad Motor Scooter”
It's quite possible that this Montrose tune from 1973 is the first to ever start with a guitar sound that emulates a motorcycle engine, although doubtless someone out there in internet land knows of an earlier example. It's also possible that this is the first to give a nod to the lady riders, given that the owner of said “Bad Motor Scooter” is of the feminine persuasion. Again, some smarty pants will know otherwise. But it won't be as good a song as this, will it?
Kyuss, “Big Bikes”
Speaking of ladies on motorcycles … Kyuss were the Palm Desert band that spawned, among others, Queens of the Stone Age, and while they had yet to fully find their feet on the first album, Wretch, they were equally enamored with badass girls on, as the title suggests, big bikes. Granted, they weren't quite so subtle about it, the art of romance being rather lost in lyrics like “I want some pussy, yeah,” but maybe she doesn't want romance. Where the hell's she gonna put flowers?
Zeke, “God of GSXR”
Seattle lunatics Zeke have written entire albums pretty much dedicated to all things gasoline-fueled, so it's no surprise that they have a classic or two about motorcycles. Not least of these is the blistering “God of GSXR,” a 36-second homage to the Suzuki GSX-R series, which, as you might expect, is played rather faster than should be legal. If you've ever done 70mph and been passed as if you were parked, this is probably what was in the rider's head.
The Meatmen, “War of the Superbikes”
And speaking of lunatics of crotch rockets … Not that we're advocating packs of “kidney donors” splitting lanes at ludicrous speeds, but if you're going to do such things, then Michigan's Meatmen have just the song for you. Strangely dated by the band's choice of bikes (the Honda Interceptor, Kawasaki Ninja, Yamaha FJ1200 and Suzuki GS1150), this yobbish punk anthem of 1985 nonetheless still has great appeal to those who have no time for speed limits. It probably should be noted that one of the bikes crashes and burns.
It's fair to say that Soundgarden's desperately missed frontman Chris Cornell wasn't really known for penning carefree songs. But he was a keen biker, and one thing that lifted his heavy heart was getting out on his “Badmotorfinger” Harley and getting some wind in his hair. “Kickstand,” from the same brilliant album, Superunknown, that brought us “Fell on Black Days” and “Like Suicide,” is an ode to such simple joys. Just a shame he didn't do it more often.
The Revillos, “Motorbike Beat”
According to their advertising campaign in the 1960s, you meet the nicest people on a Honda. Which is why we're not going to include The Beach Boys “Little Honda.” But that's not to say there isn't a place for kitschy pop tunes in the world of motorcycles, and it doesn't get more kitschy than The Revillos' glorious '80s hit “Motorbike Beat,” the perfect soundtrack for pootling around Venice Beach on your garishly painted scoot.
Dumpy's Rusty Nuts, “Just for Kicks”
Another one from our oily cousins across the pond — and you'd be oily, too, if you rode one of those old Triumphs — Dumpy's Rusty Nuts are much loved on the biker scene, having played the Isle of Man TT several times along with just about ever other biker rally in Europe. And, yes, of course we could have gone with Saxon's “Motorcycle Man” or Judas Priest's “Freewheel Burning,” but DRN are more fun in a bits-keep-falling-off kinda way. Montrose's famous “revving guitar” is mimicked here with additional farting noises.
George Formby, “Riding in the TT Races”
OK, let's mellow out for a moment with our final tune; it doesn't have to be all big chords and shouting. The obvious choice here is Arlo Guthrie's “Motorcycle Song,” with his dreadful rhymes about pickles and motor-cicles, but we'll dismiss his claims of doing 150mph (in 1967? On what bike?) and instead go with a cheeky ukulele player by the name of George Formby. Featured in the 1935 movie No Limit, “Riding in the TT Races” is pretty self-explanatory, a jolly little ditty about the most dangerous road race in the world. And, yes, you read that right! 1935! The Isle of Man TT, incidentally, began in 1907 and is on every self-respecting biker's bucket list. Despite being the cause of much bucket-kicking.