Saturday, July 15, 2017

Shell Gasoline and the Eternal Mix-Tape

SUMMER TIME, CONVERTIBLES, music and the open road: an irresistible, iconic and quintessentially American formula for fun. Naturally it was celebrated with enduring success by a hybrid British-Dutch oil company.

'Tis true.

In the summer of 1989, the U.S. affiliate of the multinational we now know as Royal Dutch Shell Plc conceived a sure-fire way to get people to stop in and fill up. Think tunes, not tune-ups. Shell stations became music stations, offering Crusin' Classics, a series of three generationally-targeted musical smart bombs, available for $1.99 with a tank of gas.

Bottom row: volumes I, II and III. Top row: volumes VI, V and VI.
So successful was the initial public offering that the next summer, Shell did it again, releasing volumes IV, V and VI (the Roman numerals being their choice, not mine). The six cassettes, released as that linear format was being eclipsed by the compact disc, proved so popular that they exist still as fan-assembled YouTube playlists (again, not mine).

Chronologically, the tapes spanned the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s. Sonically ranging from Jerry Lee Lewis and Ricky Nelson through the Motown era of the Supremes and Marvin Gaye and all the way to REO Speedwagon and Wham.

Herewith some highlights. Want to hear 'em? Just click the "volume" links.

Volume I, the 60s & 70s box


Adorned with a chrome-trimmed, hand-tuned radio, Vol. I was aimed squarely at baby boomers, opening with the 1966 Billboard chart-topper You Can't Hurry Love by The Supremes and ending with the Byrd's timeless take on Ecclesiastes 3 via Pete Seeger, Turn Turn Turn. In between: Marvin Gaye's R&B smash I Heard it Through the Grapevine; Three Dog Night's Joy to the World and Hot Fun in the Summertime by Sly and the Family Stone.

Volume II, the 70s & 80s box


Motown.
The next installment spun the wheel forward a decade, in a box decorated with a sly reference to that modern day automotive marvel, the car radio and cassette deck. Inside: Billy Joel's ode to wife-model/model-wife Christie Brinkley, Uptown GirlLove Train by the O'Jays; Loggins & Messina's Your Momma Don't DanceRock 'n Me by the Steve Miller Band and the Allman Brothers' open road ode, Ramblin' Man.


Volume III, the 50s & 60s box


Illustrated with an AM radio, this one was back to basics. From rockabilly to rhythm & blues, Vol. III opened with Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Good, chased by Jerry Lee Lewis' Great Balls of Fire, the Everly Brothers' All I Have To Do is Dream and Rick Nelson's wanderlustful, Travelin' Man before detouring to Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill and the Four Tops' emotive Reach Out, I'll Be There.


Volume IV, The '65 Ford Mustang box


Relics.
A convertible on the beach, a blonde behind the wheel flirting with some dude holding a surf board. Time for some the Beach Boys or maybe Jan & Dean, but they're not here. Who is? Gladys Knight and the Pips singing Midnight Train to Georgia, the Foundations' Build Me Up, Buttercup, Marvin Gaye's How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and finally a nod to California from the Mommas and Pappas, (though not California Dreamin'), Monday Monday.

Volume V, The '73 Stingray Corvette box


Possibly the most musically consistent installment. The Doobie Brothers' Listen to the Music;  Linda Ronstadt's It's So Easy; Ventura Highway by America; Could it be I'm Falling In Love by the Spinners on Side One, Wham's Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, Hall and Oates' Kiss On My List and Earth Wind & Fire's September on Side Two. Listen to the music indeed.

Volume VI, The '57 Chevy Bel Air box

Bobby socks, white wall tires, poodle skirts and the drive-in restaurant. Shell's endless summer romance ended here in the 1950s and early '60s under the Marcel's Blue Moon, Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman, Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers' Why Do Fools Fall in Love and Yakety Yak by the Coasters.

Gone Cali.
CASSETTES weren't the only thing fading away in the summer of 1990. Gas station service soon followed. Forget about presidential coins, steak knives or collectible glassware, even checking the oil went from routine to relic. Want gas? Get it yourself (unless you're in New Jersey). 

But what if you could turn back time?

Gas? Check! Tunes? Check! Road atlas? Check! Put that GPS down, they don't exist where we're going.

It's time for a road trip! Next stop: San Diego, 1987.

Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

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