Merry Christmas Everybody! Please enjoy an OP-ED by Paul Wimsett that we thought fitting for the season.
Janis Joplin first sung the song entitled Mercedes Benz in 1970, though it has been covered by Stephanie Wenger, T-Spoon and Celeste Carballo. Even Elton John performed a version of it.
The song, done in the style of a modern spiritual, seems to embrace consumerism, which creates an absolute cognitive conundrum in most listeners. The singer suggests that they deserve the Lord (God or Jesus – it’s not clear?) should deliver her a Merc after all her friends drive Porsches.
It’s also rather unclear if Porsches or Mercs are the better cars. Certainly, both vehicles seem to be aspirational items. Other things she asks for is a color TV (which kind of dates the song) and a night out on the town.
She comes across a bit down and out really. There’s an obscure reference in the song to a phone-in program called Dancing For Dollars, which allows those considered not very well off to win cash prizes. Many later versions of the song omit the verse.
The song was written by Janis Joplin, Bob Neuworth and Michael McClure, the other two names spent most of their time writing poetry. What seems to give the song added poignancy is that Janis Joplin died three days later.
The consensus among Joplin Fans is that the song is a commentary on the dissolution of the American dream (streets paved with Gold, etc.) and the reality most working class Americans face. Basically, in this land where surely everyone drives a fancy imported car, I need an even more expensive car to make up for not living the American dream so far.
It’s a clever way of expressing a sentiment that it’s a sin to be poor and no matter how hard a person works they may never shake their shameful poverty.
With that in mind, Mercedes is simply a cultural icon to represent wealth. You have to tip your hat to the songwriters for the car choice in terms of staying relevant.
It should come as no surprise that Mercedes Benz has used the song a couple of times to promote their cars: one in 1995 and another one in 2011 (aired during the Superbowl). It is not clear whether the advertisers are aware of the irony, or don’t care. Perhaps they look at a song as a background, nothing else.
Oh, Lord wasn’t the only song composed about the Mercedes Benz.
Pebbles did, “Mercedes Boy.”
Juelz Santana and Lloyd Banks created a rap called Beamer Benz and Bentley in 2010.
Mercedes Benz by Say Yes, all about following a girl in the Mercedes Benz, which seems a little stocker-ish by today’s standards.
It seems those who commit notes to paper look at Mercs as a common icon of the upper crust. There are so many songs about Mercs it would seem that a number of songwriters are just including the brand in the hopes of getting a free one!
The first official Mercedes Benz came in 1926. It was developed from the first gas-powered vehicle (created by Benz) in 1886 called the Benz Patent-Wagon.
As most of you know the inventor, Emil Jenninek, named it after his daughter, Mercedes.
Mercedes-Benz is not just about luxury cars, they also manufacture Sports Utility models in the US. Although they no longer make trucks in the US they do have several truck manufacturing plants in Mexico, Russia, and several other countries.
It’s unlikely another car will replace the Merc as the popular icon of wealth and luxury in our time. Ergo, the materialistic desire to obtain Mercedes-Benz will not be going away any time soon.
I doubt that Janis hoped to discourage anyone from buying any of the items in her song, but she did land her point about unfulfilled desire with the American consumer. We may very well feel a tinge of guilt when we drive to the dealership to buy our own luxury car, because once you ride in a Merc you kind of get hooked. Maybe, in the final analysis, that’s what makes the car worthy of singing about.
Well, there you have it. From all of us at the Kicker, we wish you a Merry Christmas (and a Merc)!
Lyrics Courtesy of https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/janisjoplin/mercedesbenz.html