Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Pop Culture Numerology Desk: Giddyup! The Beach Boys' '409'

Posted By on Tue, Apr 9, 2013 at 2:36 PM

There are plenty of significant dates in the ol' rock 'n' roll calendar. January 8. March 20. October 9. October 18. February 3, aka The Day the Music Died. But let's focus for a minute on April 9. Yes, 4/09, the day I spent trying to ignore how awesome it was outside until I could peace out and go, y'know, fly a kite and stuff.

Before it was an area code in southeast Texas, before it was a kitchen cleaner, "409" was a huge hunk of metal, a 409-cubic-inch Chevrolet Big-Block engine that dominated stock car racing and the hot rod market in the early 1960s. I could point out how the proliferation of said engines might have an impact on today's balmy weather, but I'd rather focus on its impact on pop music. Feast your ears on The Beach Boys' tribute to the Chevy's mean machine, aptly titled "409." This sunny li'l nugget of pop 'n' roll, drenched in classic doo-wop-inspired harmonies, was the B-side to their first smash hit, "Surfin' Safari," in 1962. As an ode to a fast car, it's nowhere near as complex as their later work (forgoing the easy target, Pet Sounds, just skip a couple tracks down the Surfin' Safari LP to "Heads You Win"), but daydreams of summer were made for these expressions of teenage exuberance. Most contemporary "teenager" songs have to do with another kind of lust, and that's all well and good, but there's a special power in the longing for independence portrayed in this song.

Find a couple of additional "409"-related gems after the jump.

First, peep this badass cover by Austin, Texas' Junior Brown, accompanied by several of The Beach Boys and his trusty guit-steel, a Fender Bullet/lap steel hybrid. The cut, first issued on the now out-of-print tribute album Stars and Stripes, Vol. 1, is a bit meatier all around, with Brown's smooth baritone in place of the reedy teenage Wilsons, to say nothing of his stellar six-string chops.

And, if you were curious about the engine in question, it was first available in the Chevy Impala and Bel-Air models, starting in 1960. I could link you to the half-hour Speed Network documentary, but I read instruction manuals for fun, and it bored me to tears. In this clip, however, a guy shows off his '62 Impala, possibly while eating a sandwich.

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