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Album: Surfin' SafariReleased: 1962Charted:
This song describes the Chevrolet 409, named because of its huge 409 cubic-inch engine. Dubbed "Turbo-Fire," production began in January 1961. The engine had a single Carter four-barrel carburetor that supplied enough fuel-air mixture to generate up to 360 horsepower. With a bit of hot-rodding, more than 400 horsepower was easily available, making the car a big hit among street racers.
This full-size family car 409
did the quarter mile in 13.58 seconds at 105.88 miles per hour. It could go from zero to 60 mph in under six seconds. This song describes the Bel-Air sport coupe version of the car equipped with the "4-speed, dual-quad, Positraction" equipment. It could do a 12.22-second quarter mile at 115 miles per hour. Zero to 60 miles per hour in four seconds flat.
An early Beach Boys song, Brian Wilson wrote this with his early collaborator Gary Usher. Wilson knew very little about things like surfing or cars, but Usher did, and he was able to help Wilson tap into the California culture. In 1971, Usher told Gene Sculatti: "Dennis Wilson was the first Beach Boy to pick up on surfing. He was aware of Dick Dale, the Pendleton jackets and that whole shot. It just rubbed off. I never surfed. I was a hot rod freak. I had a 409. One day we were driving up to Los Angeles looking for a part for my car, and I said 'Let's write a song called '409'. We'll do a thing 'giddy up, giddy up,' meaning horses for horsepower,' just kidding around. We came back and put it to three simple chords in five minutes, and it developed into a million-dollar car craze."
In their early years, The Beach Boys wrote a lot of songs about girls, cars and surfing. Others they wrote about cars were "Little Deuce Coupe
" and "Fun, Fun, Fun," which discussed a T-Bird.
This was released as the B-side of "Surfin' Safari
." The group didn't have a record deal at the time (their first label, Candix, folded), so the group's manager, Murry Wilson made a deal with Capitol Records, selling them both sides of the single, and anther song, "Lonely Sea," for a total of $300, with the band getting a small royalty of 2.5% of the sales. After the single was released, Capitol signed the Beach Boys to a deal.