Midweek Music Break: The Playmates, “Beep Beep”

I’ve been thinking for a while of doing theme-type Midweek Music Breaks for a little variety, such as one on car music: songs about cars. As opposed to conventional “road trip” music, I mean, or songs by groups named after cars (like The Fleetwoods, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and, uh, The Cars). I may still do that one. But in the meantime… It’s a busy week, and this silly song was wobbling at the top of the car-music stack.

Yesterday I paid a brief routine visit to my audiologist’s office. The two-year warranty on my current hearing aids is up next month, and we wanted to send them into the manufacturer for one last checkup and tuning while they’re still covered. As always on such occasions, I went into her office with two aids, and came out shortly afterward with one — a loaner. And as always on such occasions, for the next week or so my audio world will flatten into monaural.

Except when in the car, I almost always listen to music via headphones placed over my hearing aids, which are behind-the-ear models. Selecting the headphones involved some careful searching: (a) Obviously, earplug-style headphones are out. (b) If the headphones enclose the aids too fully, you get whistling feedback. (c) Regardless of design or size, if the headphones are too tight, they squash the tops of the ears (very uncomfortably) against the aids. The ones I use both at work  and at home are made by Sennheiser, and fit all three criteria admirably. (Especially the ones at home, which include a volume-control dial on the cord.)

This sometimes leaves me feeling nostalgic for the days when everyone’s musical listening, if not their hearing, was so flattened. A time of high-fidelity sound, if that. Of refrigerators made in only one color — white. Of black-and-white television. Of car manufacturers no longer, today, in business. And of cars themselves, when the only sort of transmission available was the manual sort…

The Playmates released their one really noticeable hit in 1958. Not that it was a huge hit, for reasons which will become obvious: it got only as far as #20. But few people who’ve heard it have ever forgotten it. It’s a novelty song, a two- to three-minute joke, really — a number which doesn’t bear up under repeated listens, unless you’re trying to parse out the lyrics. (The Playmates’ seriousness about their art may perhaps be judged by the group’s first name: The Nitwits.) Worse, it’s even an esoteric joke, requiring that the listener know how to operate a standard three-speed transmission. Consequently, it never acquired a later life as a children’s song (like anything by The Chipmunks, for instance).

Aside from the joke, it demonstrates one other feature vaguely of interest: a musical technique called accelerando — a melody whose tempo gradually increases. (You won’t have to listen for long to to that opening ploddddding rhythm.)

[Below, click Play button to begin Beep Beep. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:47 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


(A casual, “I once knew a guy who claimed”-style anecdote on this page claims that the song’s story line came from an actual event, but I haven’t found any independent verification.)

I had three friends who drove used first- or second-generation Ramblers. (The body bolts on one of them had become loosened and/or sheared off; when the brakes were applied, the upper frame, including the passenger compartment, continued moving forward for a split-second longer than the wheels and undercarriage.) It’s fair to say — at least of those three cars — that any Cadillac driver would indeed be startled to find himself in a race with one.

Hard to imagine a song like “Beep Beep”‘s ever having been played as dance music, but maybe it happened. In an infinite universe, after all, there’s plenty of room for the merely improbable…


P.S. Yes, I know — only a week since the Ciara Sidine post. From the sublime to the ridiculous!

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  1. I LOVE this song! That “little Rambler” reminds me of myself :) Only you would share the musical nomenclature… I learn something every time I stop by.

  2. this song is awesome. thanks :)

  3. Okay, we now have two votes from people who are decidedly not in a serious frame of mind at the moment. :)

    [Hmm, reCaptcha playing games with geography: Falls ofSami…]

  4. The 1950’s were so unabashedly childish. I picture Rick Santorum in a sweater vest as lead singer.

  5. Well, Music Man (what is the soundtrack to you running after your hat anyway?),

    I heard this and thought of you. Perhaps you’ve heard it too, but in case not…


    • Very interesting interview! One of my oldest draft posts is on the neuroscience of music; I keep postponing finishing it because I keep finding new stuff on the subject. Now this gets added to the pile. :)

      Also an interesting question about the soundtrack… I think it would have to be something extended, rather than a single song. Something like Peter and the Wolf, maybe, or The Nutcracker, or the Beatles’ “White Album.”

  6. I can’t believe you reminded me of this! OMG! What a fun song for 4 rowdy kids to sing in the car to drive an already manic father crazy. Thanks once again for the smile John.

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