Motorcycles and rock ‘n’ roll. Ever since The King threw his leg over his ’56 Harley-Davidson and the Black Rebels rolled into Carbonville, the combination of motorcycles and rock have been as combustible as gas and spark.
Early moto-rock lived for the most part on the fringes of pop music, in the pomped-up rockabilly of guys like Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. In the ’60s, clean-cut Beach Boy-knockoff bands such as The Kickstands and The Hondells flirted with the mainstream using a tasty blend of surf rock and motorsickle lyrics on tracks like “Death Valley Run.” Parents, for some reason, didn’t find these pretty harmonies and catchy melodies about drag racing and outrunning cops nearly as offensive as the pretty harmonies and catchy melodies sung by British lads in daring moptops. “Da Do Run Run” was the theme of the day; motorcycles and rock cruised alongside Gidget and Frankie Avalon, and life was all Incense and Peppermints.
Then, as everybody knows, the stupid hippies went and screwed everything up.
Despite their roots in hot rod culture, choppers – lionized in films like Born Losers, The Wild Angels and, of course, Easy Rider – became an unwitting icon of the Woodstock generation. But even by the time these counterculture flicks successfully frightened the living crap out of the establishment and made the chopper a symbol of everything wrong with America, FM radio had begun to nudge the bubblegum out of rock ‘n’ roll. Long-playing “record albums” – large, flat discs made of “vinyl” that one would spin on a “record player” – allowed musicians to pop the three-minute bubble and explore darker, more adult themes like sex, drugs and civil rights. Songs (and hair) got longer and dirtier, and rock (and bikes) got louder and faster.
Vietnam, equal rights, peace and love – rock ‘n’ roll was the soundtrack to an era in discord, and Captain America and his stars-and-stripes motif embodied the authority-questioning, pot-smoking hippie culture parents hated. “Build Me Up, Buttercup” had segued into “Born to be Wild,” and by the time the ’70s arrived, everything was all In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
Ever since, motorcycles have ridden on the edge of the mainstream. It’s not hard to understand the bond: cool, sleek, hard and fast, the two art forms share many of the same qualities. Danger. Rebellion. Leather. Hell, volume – everyone knows, the louder they are, the better both sound. They’ve got a lot in common, motorcycles and rock ‘n’ roll, and as a result they’re forever inextricable. Mods and rockers, biker gangs and heavy metal, Prince and Purple Rain – well, you get the picture.
Submitted for your approval: The top 10 motorcycle-related rock ‘n’ roll album covers. We can’t wait to read your comments; bonus points for identifying the bikes.