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.
Motorcycle Mama – Neil Young
Ostensibly just a song about a woman who rides a motorcycle, "Motorcycle Mama" is a jangly, simple ditty off of Neil Young's 1978 album, Comes a Time.
Over his previous few albums, Young had transitioned to a less commercially-appealing sound, making songs that were darker and more personal. Comes a Time represented a return to his earlier Folk and Country-Rock sound from the extremely successful album Harvest (1972).
Comes a Time was a much more accessible album for the casual listener; "Motorcycle Mama" is no exception. It's a very simple arrangement, largely featuring simply guitar and bass, and adding in fiddle, piano, and drums over the course of the song. The song is a duet with Nicolette Larson, who had previously worked with Young several times including on American Stars 'n Bars. It also clocks in at a very radio-friendly 3:11, again lending to its accessibility beyond some of Young's songs from the middle of the decade.
Despite its radio-friendlyness, it's ostensibly a song about a biker babe yet has underlying themes of drug use and addiction. As Rolling Stone says, "Motorcycle Mama" has to be the most amiable heroin tune ever done." Young pleads for his Motorcycle Mama to lay her "big spike down" – theoretically her needle – yet he never really seems convinced.
Then, as Larson barges in with her verse, she loudly proclaims "I'm here to deliver/I hope you can read my mail." And, just like that, Young is back in the thick of it.
Metaphors between riding and drug use abound. They both are perceived as dangerous, they both can be expensive, and they both give you feelings you can't really get elsewhere. That being said, while we are fully in favor of giving in to riding motorcycles, Flash to Open openly and unabashedly does not recommend drug use.
We do recommend listening to "Motorcycle Mama," though. Young conveys more emotion through his voice than almost any other singer, and the distorted guitar that accompanies him both compliments his singing and disorients the listener.
This song is one of pain, but also one of pleasure. It's up to you which wins out in the end.