This is still my favorite Beach Boys song. When I started playing this record I was probably 6 or 7 years old, and I had no idea what 409 meant. Honestly, I still have no idea. I know nothing about cars or surfing, but the Beach Boys’ music has always been in my top 10.
All Beach Boys songs are about one or more of the following: cars, girls, surfing. It’s really fun, catchy music, and everyone can relate to it regardless of how close you are to cars, girls, or the beach. A couple years ago I bought a few Beach Boys compilations on CD, and I played nothing else in my car for weeks. Even when I was a kid I could hear the Chuck Berry, Danny and the Juniors, and other early rock and rollers in the Beach Boys’ music, but listening to hours of it at a stretch made it even more obvious. They started a few years after the first wave of rock and roll, and the themes in their music keeps in line with the originators’: school, love, driving, and rock and roll. The Beach Boys added a heavy dose of salty sea water and some waxy surf boards, and a new genre of rock music swept the nation.
Their harmonies, lyrics, and sense of fun were infectious. They were Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers rolled into one, much like The Beatles were. Chuck Berry was my first favorite rock star, so the Beach Boys’ music gave me an inkling early on of the influence he had over other musicians. His lyrics were absolutely geared toward the teenage experience, and listening to a compilation of his songs gives me a feeling similar to what I experienced listening to the Beach Boys in that I could truly understand why this music resonated with the younger crowd.
So let’s talk about the lyrics. I have always loved the line “my four-speed, dual-quad, positraction 409,” though what that meant was a mystery to me. Many years later I was excited to hear the world positraction in My Cousin Vinny, and it just happened to be the thing that proved Vinny’s cousin and his friend innocent:
Mona Lisa Vito: The car that made these two, equal-length tire marks had positraction. You can’t make those marks without positraction, which was not available on the ’64 Buick Skylark!
Vinny Gambini: And why not? What is positraction?
Mona Lisa Vito: It’s a limited slip differential which distributes power equally to both the right and left tires. The ’64 Skylark had a regular differential, which, anyone who’s been stuck in the mud in Alabama knows, you step on the gas, one tire spins, the other tire does nothing.
The song “409” is all about how fast and awesome the car is. Nothing can catch her, and nothing can touch their 409. She always turns in the fastest time, you know? They saved their pennies and their dimes to buy a brand new 409. Remember when kids could do that? That was a long motherfucking time ago.
What I love about “409” is that is shows that you don’t always have to relate to or understand lyrics to appreciate a song. I memorized every single word when I was a kid, and I never forgot a syllable. What makes music great is the feeling it creates when you listen to it. And I get nothing but good vibrations from this song.