One of the reasons Modes is such a strong category is the versatility of the subject matter. There’s a whole range of roles that cars and other vehicles and driving and the open road can play in songs. They can be freedom, evoke nostalgia or say something about the kind of person their driver is or wants to be. Or they can be a project to be worked on, a status symbol, a place for religious experience or high school hijinks or just a means to get to wherever Friday night is. Without driving too far down the road of Modes in the abstract which I’ll save for a more comprehensive post on the category, I got the treat of hearing I Got a Car and That Ain’t My Truck back to back on my Spotify which reminded me of what a great category Modes is.
A great commonality in both songs is how the authors channel the power of the category to convey really the entire themes of the respective songs in just a few lyrics. In I Got a Car, a George Strait song off Love is Everything (written by Tom Douglass and Keith Gattis) and I think one of Strait’s best offerings in the last 5 years, the title line is used in different contexts throughout the song as a statement of unspoken opportunity.
And she said, “where do you think all this is going?”
I said, “there ain’t no way of knowing”
I guess I hadn’t thought it through that far
“But I got a car”
The above is just the end of the first chorus and in talking to a girl for the first time Strait doesn’t need to expound on the adventure or escape the car can afford them, he just needs to state economically that he’s got a car. Ditto for when the title line is used later on as a metaphor for the start of a life spent together and then a nostalgic rekindling of love. In each case Strait in fact specifically says he doesn’t know all of the things that might happen or that the characters might do together but instead allows the simple line of having a car do the heavy lifting, allowing the listeners – plural because in this case the listener is both the girl within the song and the audience outside of the song – to envision their own possibility.
Similarly in That Ain’t My Truck, co-written by the singer Rhett Akins (alongside Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters), it’s one line that conveys the whole theme of the song, here by channeling the idea of car (or truck) as an extension of self and place in the world.
That’s my girl, my whole world
but that ain’t my truck
The image of someone else’s truck parked in front of a house where your truck should be parked efficiently captures the range of complex emotions – loneliness, betrayal, sadness, etc – explored in the rest of the song, attendant to losing the girl the narrator loves. But it’s not necessary for Akins even to verbalize that his girlfriend has chosen someone else and that he’s no longer wanted, that another truck is in his space says it all.
There’s plenty more to like in both of these songs, but I particularly appreciate the less-is-more approach both sets of songwriters took in building up the respective stories (and in I Got a Car’s case, chapters) but then deferring to the powerful associations the listener can make with “a car” in Strait’s song or “the truck” in Akins song by just putting one simple lyric out there.