Pop Life

Songs of Luxury & Materialism: Porsche's Place In Popular Music

Behind every manufactured product there's a human being who designed it. Working alone or as part of group, they create and revise until that product is out in the world available for purchase. In the case of the Porsche 911 that man was Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, who passed away recently at the age of 76.

While he didn't give the company their name -- that would be his grandfather, also named Ferdinand -- he was the designer of its most popular vehicle, the one that cemented the Porsche brand in popular culture.

Brands are a form of shorthand in pop culture, a reference point that we all understand. You may not know a thing about cars or how they work, but you know that Porsche is a desirable brand. You don't need to know the finer points of the various models to know that a 911 is a vehicle that means money and power.

F.A. didn't just give the world a car; he gave it a symbol. Like most things that become a part of our cultural fabric the Porsche brand and the 911 have worked their way into plenty of songs. Here is a handful of their greatest musical moments.

Song: "Mercedes Benz," Janis Joplin Line: "Oh Lord won't you by me a Mercedes Benz/ My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends."

Live, Joplin would introduce the song with the following statement: "I'd like to do a song of great social and political import." On the surface, the song is a plea to God for the finer things in life: A fancy car, a color TV, and a night out on the town. Here the Porsche is the subject of jealousy; her friends all have nice vehicles and she wants one of her own.

Joplin had a point to make with the song, which explains the introduction she gave it. She was making a statement on materialism: too many people think that having nice things is what makes you happy.

It's interesting that Joplin, Michael McClure, and Bob Neuwirth, the writers credited for the song, chose Mercedes-Benz to be the car of desire. Offstage Joplin owned a 1965 Porsche Cabriolet, one with a fancy paint job that transformed it in to a piece of hippie art. A replica of her whip is on display at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Joplin's hometown of Port Arthur.

Song: "Middle Aged Crazy," Jerry Lee Lewis

The Line: "Today he traded his big '98 Oldsmobile/ He got a heck of a deal on a new Porsche car."

It's a common story in pop culture: The tale of a man who turns 40 but acts like he's 20. He shaves his head, ditches his stuffy work clothes, finds himself a young girl to pal around with, and gets rid of his old car. And what kind of vehicle does a man in the middle of a mid-life crisis get?

The two lines quoted are the first lines of the song, which says all you need to know about the strength of the Porsche brand in popular culture. Things like model and color don't matter: all you need to know is that he bought a Porsche, and that tells you everything you need to know about his new vehicle.

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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia