Small Town Boys – the story behind the song

DC in Nashville studio

“Small Town Boys’

Nota bene: The song is based on personal experiences of more than 50 years ago. Explaining the references therein is approaching a treatise on social anthropology. Sheese!

To understand the story behind this song, one must hearken back to an earlier time before personal computers, before pocket calculators, before cassette tapes, before 8-track tapes, VCRs, cable TV, before personal computers, before digital anything, cell phones, CD players, Netflix… in other words just after the invention of agriculture and written language.

Well, not quite that far back but the song deals with life in the early 1960s; before the Beatles, before Dylan, before Mountain Dew and … oops, there I go again.

Small Town Boys tells the story of well… boys in a small town. To be more precise; teen-age boys in a small Midwestern town where the main weekend activity was driving around for hours on end in a car in a circle. (Think ‘American Graffiti’ but without movie stars, glamour, plot line or character arc.)

‘I’ll never forget those Friday nights’

This very mindless activity was primarily done on Friday nights. Its purpose was to provide the opportunity for teenagers to make contact with other teens doing the same thing in order to set up plans for rendezvous, trysts and assignations for Saturday night. (This was networking in a pre-Instagram world. Sad, really.)

‘Polish your Chevy ‘til it’s shiny bright’

A ‘Chevy’ was the nickname for a car made by the Chevrolet Corporation. A lucky few actually owned their own cars; rich kids and nascent wage slaves. Most teens had to wheedle the use of the family auto from their parents.  

‘Pool gas money and drive the ‘Square’’

‘Pool gas money’ meant that each of the occupants of the car in question would contribute cash to the purchase of gasoline for the automobile. The ‘Square’ was the designated route of this mindless social ritual. In some cases, the route was the four streets that bordered the center of town; the ‘town square’, often the site of the court-house or other government building.

‘We’d get some bum to buy us wine’

As most of the teens were not of legal drinking age (e.g. 21 years old in Illinois at the time of this experiential episode), teens would resort to asking an older person to purchase alcoholic beverages. These agents for alcohol were often homeless men who were derisively called ‘bums’. (Interestingly, the word became a verb, ‘to bum’ which meant ‘to borrow’ without intention to repay.)

‘Break the rules and act a fool
Play it cool, Small Town Boys’

Drinking alcohol as a teenager was illegal and, therefore, a teenager drinking while operating a motor vehicle was a double infraction. This lawlessness was fostered and reveled in; being an outlaw was considered cool. Hence movies such as ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ and ‘The Wild One’ were very popular.  This anti-hero stereotype was further characterized and neutered to the point of comic caricature in the TV show ‘Happy Days’ and the faux-rock musical ‘Grease’. 

‘I remember your sister had an ‘88’
Man, her grille looked really great.

Had a four-barrel carburetor under the hood.
That old Olds ran mighty good’

The ’88 refers to a model of automobile, the Rocket 88,manufactured by Oldsmobile. An Oldsmobile was called an ‘Olds’. The grill was the decorative covering that protected the radiator and allowed air to pass through, cooling the engine. (Here, mention of ‘her grille’ is a salacious allusion to the sister’s mammalian protuberances.) The Olds 88 was designed as a family car which had an eight-cylinder engine capable of high speeds. To increase the horse-power of the engine, an after-market alteration to the family car was the ‘4-barrel carburetor’. The ‘hood’ was the American designation for the ‘bonnet’.  (whew!)

‘In summertime, we had certain ‘perqs’.
That’s when we’d get fireworks’

In the United States, the Fourth of July sits as a summertime center-piece. The Fourth means fireworks; firecrackers (e.g.M-80’s, cherry bombs, Black Cats, lady fingers) sparklers, Roman candles and the like. Such explosives were illegal in Illinois and thus the lawlessness of having such devices was considered very cool. ‘Perq’ is an abbreviation of perquisite; a benefit, tip or bonus.

‘We’d raise a ruckus right round town
Until the police shut us down’

A ‘ruckus’ is a commotion (or ‘row’ – rhymes with ‘now’) usually a noisy one. Firecracker were often lit, and then thrown from open car windows at other cars. The larger ones – M-80s and cherry bombs – were often used to vandalize objects.  The police don’t normally tolerate this kind of ruckus.

Ah, the good ol’ days. (snark)

[ 中文歌詞翻譯 ]

快九點了, 心情覺得很好
快十點時, 我們又做了一次
永遠不要說 “從不”, 永遠不要說 “何時”
耶, 耶, 耶

分享我們的酒, 分享我們的歡樂
我記得你姐姐有一台 ‘88*
耶, 耶, 耶

分享我們的酒, 分享我們的歡樂
裝著酷酷的樣子 – 小鎮男孩們

在放暑假時我們總有一些… 特別的好處
耶, 耶, 耶

[ 備註 ]

*Chevy 雪佛蘭 – 車子的名字
*‘88 – 車子的類別

[ 此首歌的背景及故事 ]

在美國許多小鎮, 因為居住的人不多, 所以也沒有很多的娛樂活動, 小鎮的市中心可能只是一個廣場和一些零散的小店而已. 在那個時代, 一台美麗又閃亮的車子, 是許多男孩的夢想. 花很多時間在車子上裝飾點綴, 打蠟等等. 車子是男孩們交談的話題, 更是吸引女孩的最佳工具. 在星期五晚上最常見的活動就是開著汽車, 可能在城鎮廣場周圍亂晃.  年輕的男孩子們一起做一些愚蠢的事, 結交一些新朋友, 即使這個小鎮在外人的眼光看起來極為渺小, 但對他們來說卻是整個世界.

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