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Hot Rod set's packaging better than tunes

Hot Rods & Custom Classics: Cruisin' Songs
Hot Rods & Custom Classics: Cruisin' Songs
By various artists

Rhino Records: 1999

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This review first appeared in the January 1, 2000 edition of the American Reporter.

Rhino Records is well known for the quality of its boxed sets. Invariably, each collection will feature lavishly illustrated booklets with top-flight writers, card-stock glossy paper and some of the slickest graphics around.

"Hot Rods & Custom Classics" is no different in its packaging. The four-disc set comes in a box that looks like an old Revell hot rod model kit from the '50s or '60s, and includes a pair of fuzzy dice for your rear-view mirror, MoonEyes stickers and an excerpt of Tom Wolfe's "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby."

The four disc sleeves are jam-packed with photos of classic hot rods: old Plymouths and Fords and Chryslers and Chevys.

It is, in short, one of the most impressively presented box sets Rhino has ever released – and that's saying something, given Rhino's track record as the king of the box sets.

But the music just doesn't stand up to all the great marketing and promotion. Not that the music here is bad – it's just all over the map, with few themes to tie it together. Maybe it would have worked better if it had been all old classics – you know, Beach Boys and Ventures and Jan & Dean and maybe even some Grateful Dead, but a basic guitar-based cruisin' groove.

Instead, it wanders from country stars Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to jazz/blues iconoclast Mose Allison to the punk of the Ramones to the Doobie Brothers, Golden Earring and John Hiatt.

And far too much of it is "driving music" in title only. Sure, Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place to Go" is a tune that demands you downshift and hit the fast lane, but Nelson Riddle's "Route 66 Theme" makes you long for cruise control and a late-model Olds. And what is Dinah Shore supposed to inspire? Yikes!

Still, hearing Robert Mitchum sing the title song from his movie "Thunder Road" is always a treat, and an interview where James Dean cautions young drivers to be careful on the roadways is absolutely spooky.

It's not a great collection, but it's fun enough and anyone who's a real car buff will get a kick out of it.