American essayist Gerald Early famously said that America will be remembered for baseball, jazz, and the Constitution, but if you ask us, the Ford Mustang must have been a close fourth. Few vehicles have had a bigger impact on pop culture than the original pony car, which has been turning heads and inspiring artists since it first hit the streets in 1964. From film and television to books and video games, the Mustang is no stranger to the limelight. Audiences have watched the Mustang speeding across the silver screen since 1964 when international man of mystery James Bond stepped behind the wheel of a first-generation model in the classic spy thriller Goldfinger. From a scene-stealing appearance from a 1968 Mustang GT fastback in Steve McQueen’s film Bullitt to the 1971 Mustang Mach 1 in Diamonds Are Forever and a Mustang model that served as the feature car in both the original 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds and the 2000 remake, the pony car is certainly at home on the silver screen.
While the Mustang’s aggressive, sporty styling and high-performance reputation make it an ideal addition to any Hollywood script, the car has also left its mark on the modern music scene. Everyone who’s ever stumbled across an oldies station has undoubtedly heard Wilson Pickett’s 1968 hit single “Mustang Sally,” but the pony car’s musical fandom goes much deeper than many realize. As Ford rolls out the new 2023 Ford Mustang and prepares for the debut of the muscle car’s seventh generation in 2024, we thought it would be the perfect time to look back on a couple of the catchier tunes to feature the iconic model.
“Wild, Wild Mustang” by Dick Dale & His Del-Tones (1964)
We’ll start with the track that started it all, 1964’s “Wild, Wild Mustang” by Dick Dale & The Del-Tones. Commonly referred to as The King Of Surf Rock, Dale is best known for the 1962 hit “Misirlou.” The name might be familiar, but this speedy, guitar-driven track should be instantly recognizable to anyone with a working set of ears.
Surf rock was having its moment in the early ’60s, with bands like the Beach Boys popularizing that uniquely West Coast sound for audiences the world over. The genre tended to focus on good times, sunshine, waves, women, and of course, American car culture, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch when Dale followed up the success of “Misirlou” with the 1964 album “Mr. Eliminator.” The album had a decidedly car-centric theme with tracks ranging from “Nitro Fuel” and “Hot Rod Alley” to “Blond in the 406”, but it was “Wild, Wild Mustang” that would first immortalize Ford’s fledgling muscle car.
Automotive jargon was commonplace in surf rock lyrics, so much so that the Mustang’s specs were a major feature of the song. “Cubes are two eighty-nine” lets us know that Dale is riding around town in a Mustang with a 289-cubic-inch, while “the bore is four” points to it having a 4-inch cylinder bore. The rest of the verse reads like a brochure for the pony car itself, with Dale admiring the “positraction and four on the floor..the four-barrel carb, dual exhaust”. The surf rock pioneer fired shots at the genre’s other biggest act, challenging an unspecified “little deuce coupe” to “drag it out” before hitting the familiar refrain of “wild, wild Mustang, go, go”.
“Mustang Sally” by Mack Rice (1965)
While Wilson Pickett might have popularized this early tribute to the Mustang, it was actually a cover of Mack Rice’s 1965 original. The legend goes that Rice was visiting singer Della Reese, who was on the hunt for a new vehicle to give to her drummer and band leader, Calvin Shields. Reese had originally suggested a Lincoln Continental, but Shields was fascinated by the newfangled Mustang, which had just been introduced a year earlier. In an age where big cars were king, Shield’s preference for the smaller Ford over the aptly-named Continental––which measured in at over 216 inches long––struck Rice as funny. The singer hit the studio, emerging with a song about a woman who wants to do little else but ride around in her new ride, and “Mustang Sally” was born.
The famous track actually borrows the “ride Sally, ride” part of its chorus from “Little Sally Walker,” a popular kid’s song at the time. Rice’s original version would climb as high as No. 15 on the U.S. R&B charts but would soon be eclipsed by the Pickett version, which hit No. 6, as well as No. 23 on the Pop charts in 1966. Immortalized as No. 434 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, the song would propel the Mustang into instant classic status, immortalizing the original pony car and giving Mustang drivers a go-to soundtrack for every ride.
“Rollin’ in My 5.0” by Vanilla Ice (1991)
We’ll skip forward a couple of decades for our next Mustang-related hit, 1991’s “Rollin’ in My 5.0” by rapper Vanilla Ice. Fresh off the success of his worldwide hit “Ice Ice Baby” a year earlier, Vanilla Ice––a.k.a. Robert Matthew Van Winkle––set out to pen an ode to his beloved 5.0-liter Fox body Mustang. Part of the Mustang’s fourth generation that spanned from 1979 to 1993, the Fox body saw the familiar muscle car dressed up in a decidedly ’80s guise, complete with the boxy design that was so popular at the time. Designed in the wake of the oil crisis that plagued the early 70s, the Fox body Mustang was 100 pounds lighter than its predecessor, improving the model’s fuel efficiency while reducing overall drag.
While the regrettable mashup of “rap-rock” had yet to begin in earnest, Vanilla Ice gave us an early example of the style by sampling the familiar “tick-tock, do, do, do, do” vocal melody from Steve Miller Band’s 1976 hit “Fly Like an Eagle.” Producer Earthquake added a traditional early ’90s hip-hop beat, and the rapper rounded out the track by recounting his time driving around south Florida and outrunning law enforcement in his Fox body Mustang. “Don’t even waste your time, see, ‘’’cause I can red-line and leave you far behind,” he raps.
Vanilla Ice goes on to recount some of the Mustang’s more impressive stats––“zero to 60, four seconds don’t play”––before falling into general rap lifestyle cliches and failing to mention the car for most of the remainder of the song. The song, along with its cheesy, greenscreen-heavy music video, would go on to become one of Vanilla Ice’s biggest hits, which doesn’t say much for the state of early ’90s hip-hop. Vanilla Ice would pay homage to the Steve Miller Band sample in 2010, appearing on stage with the band and helping to sing the chorus to the band’s most famous track.
“Black Sunshine” by White Zombie (1992)
The last, and darkest inclusion on our list comes from heavy metal band White Zombie and their 1992 track “Black Sunshine.” The title is a reference to an unspecified 400-horsepower Mustang of the same name, which isn’t specifically mentioned in the song outside of a few general automotive references and a spoken-word intro delivered by fellow rocker Iggy Pop. “The wheels of his Mustang exploding on the highway like a slug from a .45. True death: 400 horsepower of maximum performance piercing the night. This is Black Sunshine,” says Iggy Pop as White Zombie’s familiar industrial metal accompaniment starts to kick in.
The song only gets darker from there, with singer Rob Zombie crooning about moving “in silent Baltic motorway…Apocalypse is dawning action on the mile.” While we don’t know what any of that actually means, it certainly sets the mood for the groove metal track, which climbed as high as No. 39 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock charts. The song has gone on to become a fan favorite, appearing on Rob Zombie’s solo greatest hits album and even earning a feature on the beloved “Beavis & Butthead” cartoon.
The Mustang Spans Multiple Styles of Music
From breezy surf rock to grungy industrial metal and cheesy ’90s hip-hop, the Ford Mustang has left an indelible mark on the American music scene. While we picked some of our personal favorites for this list, we’ve only really scratched the surface of Mustang-inspired music. If you want to delve a little deeper, other prime picks include Chuck Berry’s “My Ford Mustang,” “Move Out Little Mustang” by The Fantastic Baggys, a.k.a. Rally-Packs, “Shelby GT 356” by The Chesterfield Kings, “Mustang Ford” by T-Rex and “My 5.0” by Power Supply. That sort of lasting relevance speaks to the Mustang’s reputation, as well as the pure originality of the industry’s first pony car. Today’s music scene is rife with braggadocious automotive references, especially in the hip-hop sphere, but the Ford Mustang was a true trailblazer for the trend, splashing its name all over album’s liner notes decades before the first M.C. took the mic.