Love, lust and angst were among the most popular subjects of teen love songs back in the 1950s and early 1960s. The idols of the day — no longer your mom and pop’s crooners — commanded the radio charts. I was exposed to these songs at a very young age via cassette tapes, specifically the Cruisin’ Classics compilations sold by Shell gas stations in 1989 and 1990 for $1.99 a pop. My sister and I would sing along to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and the Dells’ “Oh, What a Night” as we trekked from California’s East Bay Area to Sacramento to visit my grandmother every weekend. This era remains one of my favorites to collect on vinyl and spin during my soul DJ nights. After all, love songs fill dance floors. They bring back memories and conjure a true feeling of tenderness from within.
So what exactly is a lowrider? It’s more than just a car that hugs the ground — it’s a history, a music, a community and an identity. For over 50 years, East Los Angeles Mexican-American owners of lowriders have sought the perfect soundtrack to complement their leisurely procession. They’ve often looked to this era of music for a certain feel: the sound of gentle harmonies declaring love, devotion and the sadness that comes with loss, all set to climactic arrangements and tough R&B rhythms. Along with neighborhood record collectors and local DJs (most famously Art Laboe), these car buffs have compiled an immeasurably deep catalog of R&B, doo-wop and soul, by and large known as “oldies.” The term “lowrider oldies,” then, is a loose, genre-agnostic catch-all phrase that describes a certain sound and tempo.
Many of these songs were compiled in the 1980s and 1990s on Thump Records’s Lowrider Oldies series and the now-classic East Side Story records, both of which feature pictures of lowriders on their covers. These series contain highly-valued soul, doo-wop, and funk songs — think the Penguins, Four Tops, the Delfonics, Barbara Mason and Brenton Wood. They continue to be widely popular even today, and feature in the upcoming documentary series The East Side Story Project, which highlights the importance of the Chicano community’s underground soul classics.
So roll down the windows of your special ride with your special Valentine, and let the timeless sound of Lowrider Oldies go to work.