Planes, Trains, and Automobile Rock

During a lifetime of travel, you’ve likely discovered how music makes the journey less stressful. We’ve taken this concept and expounded on it, finding a gang of rock groups that have forms of travel in their names. Join us as we explore a handful of groups that know how to get us moving.

Gerry Rafferty grew up in Scotland and learned both Irish and Scottish folk songs as a boy; as a teenager, he was influenced by the music of The Beatles and Bob Dylan.  He joined up with the folk-pop group The Humblebums in 1969, and after they disbanded in 1971, he recorded his first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back? 

Steelers Wheel album cover

Stealers Wheel debut album

In 1972, after finding some minor airplay from his Signpost recording “Make You, Break You”, Rafferty joined Joe Egan to form Stealers Wheel. The group was entrenched in legal wranglings, but had a huge hit “Stuck in the Middle With You”, which earned critical acclaim and commercial success: a 1975 article in Sounds described it as “a sort of cross between white label Beatles and punk Dylan yet with a unique Celtic flavour that has marked all their work”.

clown and joker junction

Clown and Joker Junction!

Two decades later, the song was used in the 1992 movie Reservoir Dogs, although Rafferty decline to grant permission for its re-release.  Stealers Wheel also had a few other Top 50 hits, “Everything’ll Turn Out Fine”, then “Star”, and there were further suggestions of Rafferty’s growing antagonism in tracks such as “Outside Looking In” and “Who Cares”. After struggling to achieve any follow-up success, the duo disbanded in 1975. 

Due to legal issues after the break-up of Stealers Wheel, Rafferty was unable to release any material for three years. After the restrictions were resolved in 1978, he recorded his second solo album, City to City, with producer Hugh Murphy, which included the song with which he remains most identified, “Baker Street”.

Grand Funk Railroad Greatest Hits

Greatest Hits

If you enjoy rock on the rails, get on track with Grand Funk Railroad. Originally a trio, the band formed in 1969 with Mark Farner on guitar and vocals, drummer and vocalist Don Brewer from Terry Knight and the Pack, and, fresh from Question Mark & the Mysterians, Mel Schacher taking on the bass duties. Terry Knight soon became the band’s manager, and he is credited with naming the band as a play on words for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a well-known rail line in Michigan.

By late 1971 the band was alarmed with Knight’s managerial style and fiscal accountability. This growing upheaval led Grand Funk Railroad to get rid of Knight in early 1972. Knight sued for breach of contract, which resulted in a grueling and extended legal battle. At one point Knight repossessed the band’s gear before a gig at Madison Square Garden. In an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, Knight said that his contract would have run out in about three months and that the band would have to just wait for that to happen. But the band felt they had no choice but to continue and fight for the rights to their career and name.

In 1972 Grand Funk Railroad put Craig Frost on keyboards full-time. Initially, they had attempted to attract Peter Frampton, however, Frampton was unavailable after signing a recording offer from A&M Records. With the addition of Frost, there was a shift in style from Grand Funk’s original garage-band based rock roots to a rhythm and blues/pop-rock format. With the new lineup in place, Grand Funk released Phoenix, its sixth album, in 1972.

To fine-tune Grand Funk’s sound, the band recruited veteran musician Todd Rundgren to step in as a producer. The result: two of their most successful albums and two Number One hit singles: “We’re an American Band” and “The Loco-Motion”. The album We’re an American Band made it into second place on the hit list. “We’re an American Band” was the group’s first single to top the charts, and Brewer’s “Walk Like a Man” got as high as spot 19. In 1974 “The Loco-Motion” became Grand Funk’s second chart-topping single, followed by Brewer’s number 11 hit “Shinin’ On”. The American Band is alive and well today and for the more recent information, you can check the group’s activities via the Internet.

jefferson-airplane-got-a-revolution

Go buy the book!

When it comes toFirst in Flight” for rock and roll, look no further than Jefferson Airplane, the pioneers of psychedelic rock. Formed in 1965, the group epitomized the San Francisco Sound and was the first from the Bay Area to achieve widespread commercial success. The ‘Plane’ were headliners at the three of the most famous American rock festivals: Monterey in 1967 and the festivals at Woodstock and Altamont in 1969. They also appeared at the very first Isle of Wight Festival in 1968. The 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow is foremost on the list of the most significant recordings during the “Summer of Love”. Two singles from the album, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”, are found on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

jefferson-airplane-t-shirt

Jefferson Airplane tye-dyed tee

The “classic” lineup of Jefferson Airplane, from 1966 to 1970, was Grace Slick on vocals, guitarists Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, and Jorma Kaukonen. The four-string duties came from Jack Casady, and Spencer Dryden kept it all together in the drummer position. The group broke up in 1972 and the aftermath revealed two bands: Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship. Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and was presented with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

ufo-strangers-in-the-night-album

UFO Strangers In The Night

There are even more stories about UFO than they’ve composed songs. Any group who has been in the music game for over 40 years are bound to have encountered difficult times, but also fantastic successes and spectacular events. UFO began in London way back in 1969, when vocalist Phil Mogg, drummer Andy Parker, guitarist Mick Bolton and bassist Pete Way formed the group. In the Seventies, the guys established themselves with their very own style, finding a bond with their growing followers.

ufo-t-shirt

UFO 2015 Tour T-shirt

Their international breakthrough arrived when German guitarist, Michael Schenker, joined the outfit in 1973, having left the Scorpions to accept an invitation from Phil Mogg and Pete Way. UFO released three consecutive rock classics with Schenker: Phenomenon was released in 1974, Force It came out the following year, and No Heavy Pettin’ from 1976. After adding Paul Raymond on keyboards and rhythm guitar, UFO released Lights Out in 1977 and Obsession a year later. Hit singles ‘Too Hot To Handle’, ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ gave the band exposure and increased their fan base. Their live cut Strangers In The Night from 1979 is acknowledged by the press to this day as one of the best live releases of all time, while also signaling the end of the Mogg, Way, Schenker, Parker & Raymond line-up.

The band has a reputation for featuring extremely provocative and explicit album covers, with nudity on some of their releases. Today the group keeps on flying and maintains a busy touring schedule. Catch up with the latest buzz at their official website.

Fabulous Thunderbirds Triple album

Thunderbirds Triple CD set

In 1979 the Fabulous Thunderbirds released their eponymous debut on the Takoma label. The album attracted the attention of several major labels, and Chrysalis signed the band the following year. What’s the Word, their second album, was in record stores in 1980 and Butt Rockin’ hit the streets the following year. When the Thunderbirds produced the 1982 release T-Bird Rhythm, Fran Christina had replaced Mike Buck on drums.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds were favored by fellow musicians — they had stints opening shows for the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton — and had been well-received by critics, however, their records didn’t sell particularly well. When Chrysalis dropped the band following T-Bird Rhythm, the band was left without a record contract for four years. During this period they continued to play concerts across the country, and bassist Keith Ferguson left the band to be replaced by Preston Hubbard, a former member of Roomful of Blues. In 1985, they signed a deal with the Epic/Associated label.

fabulous-thunderbirds-womens-t-shirt

Women’s T-shirt

After the deal was finished, the T-Birds recorded their fifth album with the guidance of producer Dave Edmunds. The resulting album, Tuff Enuff, from the spring of 1986, became a major crossover success. The title track was produced as a single and its accompanying video found heavy airplay on MTV, helping the song reach the Top Ten. The popularity of the single moved the album into the lucky number 13 on the charts, and Tuff Enuff would eventually receive a platinum record. “Wrap It Up,” a Sam & Dave cover song, was the album’s second single that became a Top Ten album rock track.

In 1986, the T-Birds won the W.C. Handy Award for the best blues band. These days the band also still fly along, making records and hitting the tours to keep in touch with their fans. According to co-founder Kim Wilson, “The thing about the T-Birds is that we can play both blues festival and rock venues. We’re a diversified band now and everybody’s on the same page.” 

reo-speedwagon-box-set

 REO Speedwagon Box Set

There was a time when, with their equipment hauled to dates in a friend’s station wagon, REO Speedwagon played bars and clubs all up and down the Midwest. The band’s first album, R.E.O. Speedwagon was released on Epic Records in 1971. The track “157 Riverside Avenue” refers to the Westport, Connecticut address, where the band stayed while recording. The tune remains a constant in-concert favorite.

Although most of the band’s line-up remained stable, the band switched lead vocalists three times for their first three albums. Kevin Cronin recorded one album with the band, 1972’s R.E.O. – T.W.O. but left the band during track sessions for 1973’s Ridin’ the Storm Out. The album was finished with Michael Bryan Murphy on lead vocals. Murphy stayed on for Lost in a Dream and This Time We Mean It before Cronin returned in January 1976 and recorded R.E.O., which was released that same year.

In 1977 REO convinced Epic Records that their live performances were their greatest asset. Epic agreed to let them produce their first live album, Live: You Get What You Play For, which eventually earned a Platinum Album award. That year the band moved to Los Angeles, California to record You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish. The album was released in 1978 and received significant FM airplay. The album was REO’s first to make the Top 40, peaking at spot 29. The album went on to sell over 2 million copies in the U.S. and over time achieved double Platinum Album status.

Over the course of its career, the band has sold more than 40 million records and has charted thirteen Top 40 hits, including the number ones “Keep On Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling”. REO Speedwagon’s mainstream popularity dissipated in the 1990s but the band continues to travel and remains a popular live act. Test drive the current model of REO at Mach speed right here!

Time to put the brakes on this vehicle for rock in motion, however, there are more groups that belong here: Motorhead, The Cars, Traffic, Pantera, Wings, and other moving music outfits, but our time and space have limits. We urge you to “Keep Pushin'” in your quest for more great mobile music!



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8 responses to “Planes, Trains, and Automobile Rock”

  1. Angela says:

    Your article brought back memories and I found myself singing curtain songs like Stealers Wheel, Stuck in the Middle with You, Grand Funk’s The Loco Motion, and R.E.O Speedwagon Keep on Loving You and many others that you have displayed. I have to say R.E.O is my favorite of all time and Thanks for the video. I grew up listening to these bands and got my love of rock from my mom.

    • Angela, we are happy that you found enjoyment in the ‘mobile music’ theme in the story. We had quite a few bands that fit into the category, so it was a matter of highlighting the most popular groups. But we took exception with Steelers Wheel.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the bands, it lets us know what our visitors like or dislike. We love to hear what people think of the topics and stories and hope to present a unique perspective on our journeys into Classic Rock history.

      Not that I should ask your age, but when you say that you got the rock and roll bug from your mother, that makes us smile. We think it’s neat when younger folks get into the music of our own youth. And most of the bands in the piece are still performing today. And we are always on the lookout for new story ideas, so send yours our way. We’re working on a project focused on the bands that have been together for a very long time. We’d love to hear from you and other readers about favorite groups with long histories.

      Hope you visit again!

      Regards,

      Dewey

  2. Rosa says:

    Hi Duane,

    Thanks for sharing this. You must have done a lot of research. I reminisced as I read this article and recall most of the musicians. REO is one of my favorites. Another one of my favorites not mentioned here is Boston. I also enjoy listening to Gerry Rafferty.

    Thank you for sharing. Great site!

    • Hi, Rosa! It’s really great to have you visiting our site — thanks for taking the time to read our story. We really love hearing from our readers because you are the reason we are here.

      We do spend time digging into the history and background of the artists and groups that we feature, and we learn some neat things along the way. During our initial look at the groups highlighted in the article we discovered that, at the time of his death, Gerry Rafferty was receiving nearly $100,000 a year in royalties for “Baker Street”. His talent gave us some excellent music, and he’s missed by many.

      The story concludes with REO Speedwagon, and this is the second time we’ve mentioned the band here on BoomerSwag; they were one of our playlist recommendations in ‘Road Trip Rock’ – http://boomerswag.com/2016/05/13/road-trip-rock/. They have been at it for as long as we can remember, and we plan to include REO in an upcoming piece about bands that have stayed together for a long, long time. And for more on Boston take a look back at our article about rock groups with places in their names. It’s a cool coincidence that the title we chose for that article is ‘City to City’ – http://boomerswag.com/2016/04/27/city-to-city/ – because we like to use song or album titles for our article title whenever possible.

      Thanks a bunch for letting us know what you think and, more importantly, telling us about the music you enjoy. It helps us see things from our readers’ point of view.

      Please visit again,

      Dewey

  3. Sergio says:

    Hi, thanks for this interesting article, which brought back to my mind some bands I totally forgot about. I remember I used to be a fan of Michael Shenker, although more for his solo works than for what he did with The Scorpions or UFO.
    It looks like you did not mention the supergroup Travelling Wilburys … any specific reason for that? 🙂

    • Greetings Sergio! We’re sure happy that you enjoyed the article. And it looks like we succeeded in reminding you -and hopefully other readers – about some of the groups that may be forgotten, such as Stealers Wheel.

      With regard to Michael Shenker, I remember when he went solo, even had his own group if I recall correctly. Personally, I liked it when he was in the Scorpions. When I was younger I saw them twice, once when they first started out, around 1976 I think. Then I saw the Blackout tour in San Diego. I love their early stuff but not so much when they became to ‘commercial’ for my blood.

      As far as the Wilburys, there are a couple reasons for that. Probably the first reason is the band name contains no real reference to any sort of vehicle. Although it does refer to travel, we were looking for bands that have something to do with vehicles. But they are a great band, and in the near future we’ll try to work them into one of our articles.

      Thanks for visiting and sending in your views — please keep the ideas coming.

      Regards,

      Dewey

  4. Yosef Sod says:

    I love the genre “Travel Rock”! If this isn’t already a real genre, then congratulations on inventing it!
    You have put together an amazing lineup of incredible musicians, and in small ways, they helped change the face of rock. It is interesting that you chose the transportation industry to illustrate your love of music.

    • Hi Yosef! Thanks for visiting our site and thank you for leaving us your thoughts. You know, I never thought of calling it ‘Travel Rock’ but you may have something there. We just take the names of bands or albums and see if we can find something that they may have in common – in this case, it was ‘modes of transportation. Planes, trains, automobiles, and even UFO’s.

      We are always in search of new story ideas so please send your thoughts on your favorite group, artists or albums. We love to hear from our readers. Thanks again for letting us know what you think.

      Regards,

      Dewey

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