30-Day Song Challenge, Day 7: A Song to Drive to
A good driving song doesn’t have to be a high-energy hard rocker — for example, I have a very fond memory of the first time I heard Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” as it filtered through the static of a low-band radio station like a pensive ghost while I scooted around the eastern rim of the Salt Lake Valley in my old VW Rabbit. But there’s something about combining a ferocious guitar attack and the sensation of acceleration, of feeling your foot on the gas pedal and your hands on the wheel, the car like an extension of your body, and the rock-and-roll a primal release of everything you carry around inside: the frustrations of that day job, the joy of a sunny day with the top rolled down, the lust for living something more than a mundane workaday existence. Especially the lust.
It helps if traffic is light so you feel like you can go anywhere. And it helps if the lyrics are vaguely naughty… as they are in Van Halen’s “Panama,” a song that might be about a car, or it might be about a girl. Or it could be about… well, who the hell knows? David Lee Roth wrote the lyrics, after all.
“Panama” was the third single from the band’s smash album 1984, the last VH album that featured Diamond Dave on vocals. It was also the first VH album to feature keyboards. Both of those factoids pointed the way toward Van Halen’s future with Sammy Hagar, which purists still argue isn’t “true” Van Halen at all. But this isn’t the place to get into that. Although “Jump” was the big hit from 1984, “Panama” came in at a respectable peak of 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video below did pretty well also, and its three minutes and 42 seconds capture everything that was grand, grandiose, spectacular and ridiculous about the first incarnation of the band.
And now I want to go for a drive…