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In this classic American song about girls and cars, a rebellious daughter borrows her dad's Ford Thunderbid, claiming she's going to the library to study (yeah, right). Instead, she uses it to show up other drivers. Her dad eventually finds out and takes his T-Bird back, but she retaliates by running off with someone who fell in love with her after watching her drive.
The song was written by Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, with some of the lyrics by lead singer Mike Love, as he was much more attuned to teen culture than his cousin Brian. Love told us
: "I suggested that we write a song about a girl who borrows her dad's car and goes cruising, rather than to the library, 'like she told her old man, now.' So I came up with the concept and the lyrics, and Brian went in and recorded the track. And I even told him, it's got to start like a Chuck Berry song with a guitar lead intro, which Carl Wilson supplied. And so that's how that came to pass."
Until some legal wrangling sorted out the songwriting credits in the '90s, this song was solely credited to Brian Wilson. As Love tells it, the reason he wasn't credited on this and some other Beach Boys songs he helped write was because Murry Wilson (father of band members Brian, Carl and Dennis), administrated the publishing rights and left him off the credits.
There have been many rumors about the identity of the girl in the song, but when we spoke with Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love, he said: "As far as I knew, there was no particular person that was the inspiration for that song. It was more generic. Because, what kid, when they get their driver's license, doesn't want to borrow the family car and they go cruisin' through the hamburger stand, or they say they need to go to the library, but who knows? [Laughing] Sometimes other thoughts become more attractive."
Here are the most common stories we've heard about who the girl is supposedly about:
A girl Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson was dating. She came from a rich family in Palos Verdes, Los Angeles and used to tell her father she was going to study at the library and needed his Ford Thunderbird to get there. Instead of driving to the library, she would hang out with Dennis at his apartment. Dennis would say, "We'll have fun till her daddy takes the T'bird away," and this became the hook.
Shirley Johnson England, whose father, Howard, owned the Utah radio station KNAK. Shirley claims that she used to borrow her dad's T-Bird, and one day got caught taking it to the drive-in instead of the library. The Beach Boys spent a lot of time at the station for promotional appearances, and when they heard this story, they wrote the song about Shirley.
The Wilsons' father Murray had very conservative values and felt this song was immoral. Murray served as their manager, and by many accounts was very controlling. He didn't get his way on this one, and was removed as manager a few months later. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
The Beach Boys were on tour in Australia and when they returned to the States, Beatlemania had come to town. This was the Beach Boys' next hit, and while now regarded as a classic, at the time it was almost eclipsed by the Mop Tops. (thanks, Jo - Sheffield, England)
The intro was copied from Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Goode." Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were heavily influenced by Chuck Berry. (thanks, Brandon - Seattle, WA)
In 1996 the British Rock band Status Quo did a version of the song with The Beach Boys. Despite peaking at #24 on the UK charts it wasn't played on BBC Radio 1. An angry Status Quo threatened legal proceedings against the national station, claiming they were wrong to not playlist the song in spite of it making the Top 40.
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