A Thunderbird is an American car which is popular among collectors, but contrary to popular belief, this song isn't about Cohn's love for the vehicle - it's about his father who died when Cohn was 12. In a 1992 interview with Q magazine, Cohn compared his father to the Willie Loman character in Death Of A Salesman, saying: "A guy out there working a seven-day week and not able to support his family. He's 'the man with the plan and the pocket comb' in the song. Only the plan never panned out. But he did have a silver Thunderbird, Yeah, that was his car. 'You can keep your Eldorados/And the foreign car's absurd.' So the story is about a man who's at the highest comfort level he ever experiences while he's driving."
Cohn wrote 15 different songs called "Silver Thunderbird" before finding the one he liked. He says that writing the song was a kind of therapy for him.
This was Cohn's second single, following up his hit "Walking In Memphis." Cohn was never able to achieve the chart success of his debut, but has remained a popular and critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter.
Marc Cohn explained during a live recording sitting at the piano that when he was two or three years old, his Dad came home with a Silver Thunderbird. The most remarkable thing about it he said was that it made his Dad look cool.
He went on to explain the song really deals with what's it like to not know your parents: "They have a kind of an awe and a mystery about them. I used to wonder where my Dad went to work, where does he go in that thing? ...I recently read in a Psychology Today article - I read that all the time by the way... (this drew laughter from the audience) ...that if you don't know where your Dad works, that if you don't have a picture of it in your mind, it leaves a permanent scar on your psyche, and that explained a hell of a lot to me."
Purists will probably prefer Cohn's original - live or otherwise - to the Jo Dee Messina cover version, which she released on her 1998 album I'm Alright.
Volker from HamburgIn a song called "Listening to Levon", Marc Cohn sings "I was sitting with Mary in my dad's blue Valiant". Now wait a minute – was it a blue Valiant or a silver Thunderbird (or both)? Later in the song Cohn sings "I might have even lied about the car" and before playing "Listening to Levon" in a concert in Eddie's Attic, Decatur, GA, 7/9/14 he explained "… in this case I lied and I called it a blue Valiant".
Volker from HamburgBesides the cover version by Jo Dee Messina you can find cover versions of "Silver Thunderbird" by Charlie Barker, The Legal Tender Band and Slizzy Bob on Spotify. A really remarkable version is the one by The Duke's Men (from their 2011 album "What a Trip", also on Spotify), because it is performed a cappella. The Duke's Men of Yale are an all-male a cappella singing group at Yale University.