Theme : Rivals – The Cat Takes The Bird

Some Theme Music for our Theme.

In 1964 my Dad made one of his visits to the USA and brought back with him ‘The Latest And The Greatest’ by Chuck Berry. At least that’s how I remember it but, as any Berry anorak will tell you, that album was a compilation record put together by Pye in the UK. So did they export it only for it to be returned, did my Dad become such a Berry fan on his visit that he bought it locally as soon as he came back, or is it all just a false-memory? You never can tell.

Anyway, much as I’m embarrassed to admit it now, back then I actually had no idea who Mr Berry was. I sort of knew about Elvis Presley (he ripped-off Cliff Richard didn’t he?) but I also knew that the UK had reinvented pop music in Liverpool and then a bit more in the London suburbs, so I was sort of embarrassed at us having this record by some old American geezer that neither I nor my provincial mates had ever heard of.

Despite this, I had to grudgingly concede that it had a little something. It’s a compilation spanning several years and, by virtue of Chuck’s volatile life, there are a few songs that have been recycled to order, but it is actually a pretty good testament to one of the strongest contenders for the title ‘The Father Of Rock And Roll’. He had a groundbreaking playing style, he had a sweet voice and, above all, he wrote a great lyric, putting down a story in 1’52”.

Committed Berry fans may put it down as a bit of a novelty but the standout track of the album was, for me, Jaguar and Thunderbird. By the time I heard it in 1964, I was imagining an E-Type competing against an overlarge, if rather attractive to my eyes, third generation Thunderbird, and I assumed that he was using writer’s licence. But, recorded in 1960, he was probably considering an XK 140 or 150 and a first generation Thunderbird, which might have been better matched, at least in a straight line. Whichever way, I found it an oddly exciting introduction to American driving, with its dusty towns in the middle of nowhere, arbitrary speed limits, sneaky sheriffs, and all-important county lines.

…. Slow down little Jaguar
Keep cool little Thunderbird Ford

Ten miles stretch on an Indiana road
T’was a sky blue Jaguar and a Thunderbird Ford
Jaguar setting on ninety nine
Tryin’ to beat the Bird to the county line
Just a half-a-mile from Loudonville
There had a speed sign sitting at the top of the hill
It said, “35 miles, and stay in line”
But the Jaguar and Thunderbird never read the sign

Slow down little Jaguar
Keep cool little Thunderbird Ford

Loudonville was a real small town
Had a hundred and two and nine acres of ground
Some stool pigeon put the sheriff wise
Told him “Park down in Loudonville and catch ’em guys”
Sheriff laid down, half hid in the weeds
Parked for eight days, didn’t nobody speed
All of a sudden, dust rose on the road
Said, “Here come the Jaguar and Thunderbird Ford”

Slow down little Jaguar
Keep cool little Thunderbird Ford

Sheriff doubled clutched second, put it in third
Took right after the Jaguar and Thunderbird
He knew he’d get a bonus and a big fat fine
If he caught ’em ‘fore they crossed that county line
Sheriff never drove his car a hundred and flat
But if he aimed to get ’em he’d have to do more than that
Crest of the hill, he’s about a yard behind
There wasn’t but two more miles to the county line

Slow down little Jaguar
Keep cool little Thunderbird Ford

Old Sheriff was countin’ on the downward grade
With the tall wind pushin’, he had it made
Thunderbird saw the Sheriff gainin’ speed
And waved “Goodbye, Jaguar” and pulled in the lead
Jaguar said, “You ain’t won the race yet”
And pulled back around the Bird like a Sabre Jet
Sheriff’s front bumper was a yard behind
When the T-Bird, Jaguar crossed the line

Slow down little Jaguar
Keep cool little Thunderbird Ford   

And, of course, the American Berry sportingly let the Jaguar win, which endeared me all the more to him. I’m unashamed to admit that I haven’t done much road racing but, when I was tempted, those first guitar chords always played themselves in my mind.

Photo by Jean-Marie Périer

7 thoughts on “Theme : Rivals – The Cat Takes The Bird”

  1. Fascinating piece of Fifties popular culture, Sean and love that headline image. Very evocative. I only came across this track comparatively recently, but had no idea it was a Chuck Berry number. I was more familiar with the likes of Jan & Dean’s 1964 ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ where the Jag came a decisive second best. Mind you both pale by comparison to the stellar 1960 weep-fest, ‘Tell Laura I love Her.’ Actually, that’s not really fair, Berry’s track wasn’t really novelty-fare – it’s actually a fairly decent tune.

    But it’s interesting is it not, that Jaguar, then a minnow by contemporary standards entered popular culture so conspicuously. I’d imagine Dr. Speth and his minions would commit serial atrocities for such free PR now.

    1. One of the things that really stood out was the mentioning of car brands so blatantly (in ‘Nadine’ she gets into “a coffee-coloured Cadillac”). Also, conjuring the image more clearly by mentioning its colour (in ‘You Never Can Tell’ “they bought a souped-up jitney ’twas a cherry-red 53”.

      In the UK it always seemed to be regarded as rather not done to mention a car brand “calling all cars, be on the lookout for a light blue saloon headed towards Ealing”. As a car mad kid, I was strangely grateful to Mr Berry for going to all that bother.

    2. Did you come across the Troggs’ version, which I was unaware of until I wrote this piece? It’s actually not too bad, but there was always something slightly embarrassing to me hearing Brit bands trying to evoke US culture.

  2. Nice song, Sean. Can DTW make a playlist of 50s rockabilly/surf songs about cars? Besides “The Jaguar and the Thunderbird”, there’s “Rocket 88”, “Buick 59” and so on…

    My favourite, because of the chosen car, is this one here:

    1. Thanks for this Eduardo. Never knew of the existence of this song, and to think I just spent a glorious Sunday afternoon playing oldies over at my pal’s place. He’s an avid record collector, no CDs there, but thousands upon thousands of 45s and LPs, and a dedicated mono record player with Ortofon special mono cartridge I set up for him too. System is worth about $15K. It was a Kalin Twins/Beach Boys day. He’s got all the car 45s, but not this one.

      My first car was a secondhand 544, which a plate on the firewall high under the dash said was made in July 1959. It was sold to me as a ’60! Oh well. Great old bus. Cut my twin SU tuning skills on it, useful a couple of years later in London. Who is this damn colonial who can balance those damn things, anyway?!

      I’ll get right on to my friend about this song. I need the 45! He has sources everywhere.

    2. Bill,

      you’re welcome. there are some nice cover versions of “59 Volvo” on Youtube, like this one from a contemporary Swedish rockabilly group:

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