Love, lust, and angst were among the biggest subjects of teen love songs back in the 50s and early 60s at a time where the idols of the day – no longer your mom and pop’s crooners – commanded the radio charts. I was luckily exposed to these at a very young age through cassette tapes, specifically the Cruisin’ Classics compilations sold by Shell gas stations in 1989 and 1990 for $1.99 a pop. Each of the six volumes had 10 songs, and my sister and I would sing along loudly to “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye and “Oh, What A Night” by The Dells as we trekked from the East Bay to Sacramento to visit my grandma every weekend.
Lee Fields and Michelle (DJ Mexican Spitfire)
This era remains one of my favorites to collect on 45 and LP and I’ve been honored to have had the opportunity to share the love as a DJ, opening for the legendary Lee Fields and sharing the turntables at a guest DJ with some of Oakland, CA’s most illustrious soul collectives like Suavecito Souldies, Chulita Vinyl Club, B-Side Brujas, along with my own DJ collective On The Real Side. Love songs are what fill dance floors. They bring back memories and conjure a true feeling of love from within.
So what exactly is a lowrider? It’s not only a low-riding car, but it defines a history, music, art form, community, and identity. For over 50 years, East Los Angeles Mexican-American lowriders in search of the perfect soundtrack to complement their leisurely procession have looked to this era of music for a certain feel – the sound of determined and gentle harmonies declaring love, devotion, and sadness that comes with loss set to climactic arrangements and tough rhythm and blues rhythms. Along with neighborhood record collectors and local DJs (most famously Art Laboe), the culture has classified an immeasurably deep catalog of R&B, doo-wop, and harmony soul, by and large known as “oldies. The term “lowrider oldies” is a genre-agnostic loose category that describes a certain sound and tempo characteristic of songs. Many of the songs were collected in the 80s and 90s on Thump Records’ Lowrider Oldies series and the now classic vinyl records called East Side Story, both of which feature pictures of lowriders on their covers. These series compile classic and highly valued soul, doo-wop, and funk songs – think The Penguins, The Four Tops, The Delfonics, Barbara Mason, and Brenton Wood. These compilations, especially the East Side Story comps, continue to be widely popular even today, most notably with the The East Side Story Project, as it highlights the importance of the underground soul classics of the Chicano community and it being synonymous with Chicano cultural nostalgia.
So sit back, relax, roll down the windows of your special ride with that certain someone, and let the timeless sound of our Lowrider Oldies station go to work. And if you want to dig in a little deeper check out my curated playlist of b-sides, deep cuts, and familiar favorites.