Roll of the Dice: Pink Cadillac | E Street Shuffle (2024)

“This is a song about sin! According to the Bible (at least the way I was taught), way back in the Garden of Eden, Eve showed Adam the apple, Adam took a bite… and here we are tonight! That’s a little hard to believe… there had to be something more than an apple. So I got to thinking… I figured it couldn’t be an apple, so it must have been… it must have been…” –Bruce Springsteen, introducing the debut of “Pink Cadillac” in St. Paul on July 1, 1984

It’s a vagin*.

C’mon folks, it’s 2019–can we all stop puss*footing around now and just state outright that “Pink Cadillac” is a start-to-finish ode to female genitalia?

Seriously, one of the more entertaining aspects of being a Springsteen scholar has to be the knots that authors, critics, reviewers, and commentators tie themselves in to ensure that they don’t accidentally overstep the bounds of discretion.

Even Brian Hiatt, in his newStories Behind the Songs book, goes to great lengths to avoid describing what the song is about, although his hilarious quote of why Bruce withdrew his blessing for Bette Midler’s cover (“I mean, it’s just in your face!”) has to be my favorite line in the book.

So let’s end that here and now.

I know that some music historians will point to Elvis Presley’s legendary pink Cadillac as the inspiration for this song and argue that it’s a symbol of success or something. To which I reply, go listen to Elvis’ song, “Baby Let’s Play House.” Recorded five months prior to his famous car purchase, it’s a cover of Arthur Gunter’s 1954 original, but with a key lyric change.

Gunter’s version:

Well, you may go to college
You may go to school
You may get religion
But don’t you be nobody’s fool

Elvis’ version:

Well, you may go to college
You may go to school
You may have a pink Cadillac
But don’t you be nobody’s fool

So the first mention of a “pink Cadillac” in a rock song is in a song about a boy who’s scared to death of his girl going off to college and having sex with other guys. Yeah, that pink Cadillac is definitely a pudendal metaphor. (Don’t even bring up the Mary Kay connection, please.)

And that’s not the only time a pink Caddy shows up as a sexual stand-in. No less than Aretha Franklin gave Bruce a run for his money in most blatant use of the famous car as a vagin*l metaphor in her hit, “Freeway of Love.”

Knew you’d be a vision in white
How’d you get your pants so tight?
Don’t know what you’re doin’
But you must be livin’ right, yeah

Oh, we got some places to see
I brought all the maps with me
So jump right in, it ain’t no sin
Take a ride in my machine

We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love
In my pink Cadillac

But I digress.

Bruce’s “Pink Cadillac” traces its origins to theNebraskasessions in 1982. Recording at home, alone, with just his acoustic guitar and a flat, detached vocal, the original demo of “Pink Cadillac” sounds a lot creepier than the released version–at times it’s almost sinister.

It’s also even more overt than the finished version, which you might not have thought possible. But check out the couplet in the recording below that Bruce dropped from the final version:

They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple
Ain’t no way the poor fool went for that
Can you imagine what would have happened if she’d just stepped back
And showed him her pink Cadillac

There’s also another section toward the end of the song where Bruce makes it clear that he’s not exactly thinking beyond the here and now:

Now I ain’t getting married in no church
‘Cause to me a church ain’t nothing but a shack
I want it in your pink Cadillac

Obviously, “Pink Cadillac” never made it ontoNebraska despite its inclusion in the original sessions. And even though it was one of the fewNebraska holdouts to successfully translate to a full-band arrangement, it didn’t makeBorn in the U.S.A.either.

Still, Bruce couldn’t keep “Pink Cadillac” in the garage. Despite it not making his destined-to-be-a-blockbuster album, Bruce actually released “Pink Cadillac” a full month before the album as the B-side to the single for “Dancing in the Dark” (making “Pink Cadillac” one of two vagin* songs to get radio airplay in 1984–Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls” was the other).

So when Bruce debuted it at the second show of the Born in the U.S.A. tour, the crowd might have had an inkling of what to expect when Bruce teed it up with the introduction that leads off this article.

Take a listen to that very first live performance below. Once the song begins in proper, “Pink Cadillac” struts and sashays, with the Professor going to town on the piano and the Big Man debuting what his perhaps his raunchiest sax solo.

As the tour progressed, “Pink Cadillac” grew and evolved into a comedic centerpiece, with Bruce’s shaggy dog story quickly becoming a favorite nightly highlight for both performer and audience.

Even at its last outing (to date, at least) in Virginia Beach in 2016, Bruce employed his classic shtick in setting up the song:

As you can see in the clips above, Bruce clearly enjoys stepping up to and back from the line of propriety during his introductions. And that’s as good a segue as any for us to delve into the way he walks that line in the lyrics.

Well now you may think I’m foolish for the foolish things I do
You may wonder how come I love you when you get on my nerves like you do
Well baby you know you bug me, there ain’t no secret ’bout that
Well come on over here and hug me, baby I’ll spill the facts
Well honey it ain’t your money ’cause baby I got plenty of that

I love you for your pink Cadillac, crushed velvet seats
Riding in the back, oozing down the street
Waving to the girls, feeling out of sight
Spending all my money on a Saturday night
Honey I just wonder what you do there in the back
Of your pink Cadillac, pink Cadillac

Hey, at least the guy’s honest, right? He doesn’t particularly care for his girl, but who cares as long as she’s great in bed.

Let’s take a moment to note Bruce’s use of the word “oozing.” There’s really no excuse for not realizing what the song is about by the end of the chorus, but to this day, I encounter lifelong, hardcore Springsteen fans who swearto me that he’s singing “cruising” and not “oozing.” When I make them go back and listen again, their jaws drop. “Cruising” is such an obvious, natural verb to use for a car song, that we can’t help but hear it even if it’s not what Bruce is singing. But once you notice the “oozing” you’ll never unhear it, and you’ll never hear “Pink Cadillac” as a song about a car again either.

I digress again.

“Pink Cadillac” is a Bruce Springsteen song, so if it’s got sex, it’s gotta have religion, too.

Well now way back in the Bible temptation’s always come along
There’s always somebody tempting, somebody into doing something they know is wrong
Well they tempt you man with silver and they tempt you sir with gold
And they tempt you with the pleasure that the flesh does surely hold
They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple but man I ain’t going for that

I know it was her pink Cadillac, crushed velvet seats
Riding in the back, oozing down the street
Waving to the girls, feeling out of sight
Spending all my money on a Saturday night
Honey I just wonder what it feels like in the back
Of your pink Cadillac, pink Cadillac

This is the section of the song that inspired Bruce’s tour schtick, and there’s not much we can add to it that Bruce didn’t already say himself on a nightly basis.

But it’s the song’s final verse that’s my favorite. It’s a serious contender for Bruce’s funniest lyrics ever, and if he’d added on another verse or two we might have had a serious contender to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” for best song-length penis metaphor.

Now some folks say it’s too big and uses too much gas
Some folks say it’s too old and that it goes too fast
But my love is bigger than a Honda, yeah it’s bigger than a Subaru
Hey man there’s only one thing and one car that will do
Anyway we don’t have to drive it, honey we can park it out in back

And have a party in your pink Cadillac, crushed velvet seats
Riding in the back, oozing down the street
Waving to the girls, feeling out of sight
Spending all my money on a Saturday night
Honey I just wonder what you do there in the back
Of your pink Cadillac, pink Cadillac

And here we leave it, with one of the slyest references to doing it doggy style in popular music.

“Pink Cadillac” is arguably the raunchiest song in Bruce’s catalog (“Red Headed Woman” might give it a run for its money, though), and Bruce seems to instinctively know that the secret to putting the song over is to cut the raunch with shtick. When he resurrected the song with the E Street Band in 2003 after an 18-year absence, he started out tentatively, almost nervously. But around the four-minute mark below, you can almost see him remember “oh yeah… the shtick,” and he immediately loosens up.

“Pink Cadillac” has made twenty or so appearances in the sixteen years since. Bruce has fun with it whenever and wherever he plays it, even if it sometime leads to some charmingly awkward on-stage moments like this one with Joe Grushecky.

But despite a handful of terrific E Street Band concert performances, it’s at the small club gigs where “Pink Cadillac” comes alive. “Pink Cadillac” is at its lewdest best when it’s played that way, and it doesn’t get dirtier than this searingly raw performance with Clarence Clemons and the Temple of Soul from September 1, 2001. It’s my favorite performance of the song, and it’s a rarely heard one. Turn the volume up loud and enjoy.

Bonus #1:Although Bruce has occasionally recorded and released multiple studio versions of a song over time (“This Hard Land” and “The Promise” come immediately to mind), “Pink Cadillac” carries an additional distinction in that small club: Bruce recorded a new version of it in 2003, providing backing vocals and encouragement (“Come on, Killer!”) for Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee released his version of “Pink Cadillac” a few years later on his 2006 album, Last Man Standing, and I wouldn’t be the obsessive completist that I am if I ended this essay without drawing your attention to it.

Bonus #2: The officially released version of “Pink Cadillac” includes a fade-out ending, but the unfaded original track escaped into the wild some time ago. Here it is, with about ten extra seconds, so you can hear how the song actually ends. It’s not likely to add to or detract from your enjoyment of the song, but see my Bonus #1 note above.

Pink Cadillac
May 31, 1983 – original, November 2003 – Jerry Lee Lewis cover
Released:Dancing in the Dark (1984), Tracks (1998),18 Tracks (1999) – original, Last Man Standing (2006) – Jerry Lee Lewis cover
First performed: July 1, 1984 (St. Paul, MN)
Last performed: December 13, 2021 (New York City, NY)

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Roll of the Dice: Pink Cadillac | E Street Shuffle (2024)


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