The Soundtrack of the Ride
What gets people into riding? Is it the feeling of wind in your face, a bike beneath you, and the freedom that comes with it?
For us, part of that feeling is the sounds of a motorcycle. Of starting a bike, and feeling its engine purr to life. Of revving it, and hearing its full power at your fingertips. Your bike roars down the freeway, in a tunnel, or pulling into town announcing your presence. (Or even hearing your garage door magically open, triggered by a flick of your high-beams?)
That may not be your day-to-day ride, but that’s the mystique of the sound of a motorcycle. People know what a bike sounds like, and it may scare, inspire, or even annoy them, but they recognize it.
And, since the early days of riding, musicians have tried to capture the feeling and sound of motorcycles in their music. To some, music and motorcycles are inseparable. We want to dive into some of the more notable songs inspired by and about motorcycles.
Hell in a Bucket – The Grateful Dead
I love the Grateful Dead. I cannot speak for the rest of Flash to Open, but I, Spencer Kulow, am absolutely enamored. I wasn’t old enough to ever see Jerry, but I got to see Dead and Company at MSG on 11/14/2017 (as well as Phil and Friends, DSO, and many other cover bands). Slightly different, but incredible, and they opened that show with “Hell in a Bucket."
Hell in a Bucket was first played by the Dead in concert on May 13, 1983 at Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA. It later appeared on the 1987 studio album, In the Dark. That’s the infamous record that included “Touch of Grey,” the Grateful Dead’s only top-10 hit of their 4-decade career – leading to thousands of “Touch Heads” that many saw as causing a decline of culture around the Dead.
We won’t get into that here, but we will get into "Hell in a Bucket” itself. The opening two lines kick the biker theme off immediately:
“I was drinking last night with a biker/and I showed her a picture of you.”
Bobby continues in a few lines:
“‘Cause when he’s driving his chopper/Up and down your carpeted halls/you will think me by contrast quite proper.”
Now, I’ll be the first to admit the music video for this song is absolutely terrible, but the Dead definitely know what they’re talking about when it comes to motorcycles.
They famously hung out with bikers, especially of note the Hell’s Angels, and led to much debate among fans as to the benefit or detriment those bikers provided to the Grateful Dead “scene.” In some ways, they were a cheaper option for security – give the Hell’s Angels a few beers and a couple of bucks, and the show should run ok. But, along with that security, came shenanigans as well.
Jerry reportedly loved the HA and those shenanigans that came with them; Bobby reportedly didn’t. In fact, HA influence got so dangerous at the Altamont festival that the Grateful Dead refused to play, despite being part organizers of the concert (supposedly, the Dead ended up writing “New Speedway Boogie” about that very event).
Regardless, this song definitely seems to refer to that kind of hardcore MC rider – the “biker” rides a chopper, and makes Bobby look good by comparison.
But, Bobby is sure to make clear that no matter what happens, “at least he’s enjoying the ride.” And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
So the next time somebody grinds your gears about the many dangers associated with riding (or really any self-detrimental things you do), be sure to respond,
“I may be going to hell in a bucket, but at least I’m enjoying the ride!"