untitled 1 20 Essential Motorcycle Songs

My dad, Frank Brehmer, on his 1948 Harley Panhead

Following my 2-part Lin’s Bin on the cultural impact of the motorcycle on the rock and roll generation, I needed to step back and calculate the 20 essential motorcycle songs. Some of these songs were cited in Lin’s Bin. Did anyone notice the 5 second “Bat out of Hell” motorcycle roar in today’s Part 2?

Arlo Guthrie-The Motorcycle Song. His original version is only a couple of minutes long. What you want is the long version from “Arlo.” Arlo’s fingerpickin’ is mesmerizing.

Next Song

Love and Rockets-Motorcycle. Dense and menacing. Like the arrival of the ‘Angels’ in Gimme Shelter.

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Moby Grape-Motorcycle Irene. In the late sixties, Moby Grape was going to be the next big thing. Until they weren’t.

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Steppenwolf-Born to Be Wild. The first in the Easy Rider trilogy of songs that are about motorcycles because they were in the movie that starred Peter Fonda and the beloved crazy man, Dennis Hopper. One of the most dramatic song openings in rock history.

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The Byrds-Wasn’t Born To Follow. One of the greatest songs ever written. It should be everyone’s theme song.

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The Byrds-Ballad of Easy Rider. Wistful and wonderful

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Love and Rockets-Motorcycle. What dense chrome sounds like.

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- Stop. The band name comes from Brando’s motorcycle gang in the film, The Wild One. And that’s good enough for me.

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Bob Seger-Roll Me Away. I hate this song, but it’s not always all about me.

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Merle Haggard-Motorcycle Cowboy. “I love my biker baby, she loves her guitar pickin’ pal.” True love.

Emmylou Harris-Red Dirt Girl. The red dirt girl’s brother is working on 1949 vintage Indian motorcycle. “He told her ‘Little sister, gonna ride the wind/ Up around the moon and back again.” Then he dies in Vietnam. No one does sad like Emmylou.

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J.J. Cale-Call Me the Breeze. Lynyrd Skynyrd did the famous version, but only J.J. knew how to keep the song breezy. And, geez, he wrote it.

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Yo La Tengo- Speeding motorcycles. Simple and delightful. “I love you, speeding motorcycle.”

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The Shangri-La’s- Leader of the Pack. A cautionary tale complete with revving motorbike.

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Lou Reed-New Sensations. Title track from one of Lou’s better albums. “The engine felt good between my legs.” Are we still talking about golf?

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Neil Young-Unknown Legend. You can take the girl off the Harley, but you can’t get the Harley out of the girl.

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Cruzados-Motorcycle Girl. L.A. roots rock circa 1985. Former XRT music director John Mrvos was the guy who signed The Cruzados to Arista Records.

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Allman Brothers-Midnight Rider. One of their theme songs. “The road goes on forever.”

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Steve Earle-The Other Kind. What better way to tour that Hillbilly Highway. “Yeah nowadays I got me two good wheels and I seek refuge in aluminum and steel.”

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Richard Thompson-1952 Vincent Black Lightning. A song about the essential elements of the universe: A red-headed girl, black leather, and a fine motorbike. He played this live in the studios of WXRT. His fingers are not of this world.

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Comments (14)
  1. edg says:

    Blues’ Theme by the Arrows belongs on the list.

  2. cindy says:

    yep…this one is in my list

  3. cindy says:

    oh yeah. this is one of my favorite songs..EVER

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  10. PatMac says:

    I first heard “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” on Pandora or something like that a few months ago and immediately sought it out, thinking, like Lin, it was possibly the best motorcycle song of all time. Kudos for a great list!

  11. Matt says:

    “Bad Motorscooter” by Montrose should have made the
    list, i love at the end when Ronnie Montrose recreates
    the sound of a Motorcycle shifting gears at high speed
    on his guitar.

  12. Carol Joy Farrell says:

    Bravo! As I made my way farther and farther through the list, I thought, “Bob Seger, but no Richard Thompson?!?” 1952 Vincent Black Lightning is just the very finest motorcycle song *ever*, with not only a red-headed girl, black leather, and a fine motorbike but a dying young outlaw as well. You done good.

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