Fu Manchu is one of the most loved and revered four-piece bands in the Stoner Rock world. Formed in 1985, they have released 12 studio albums, with their debut No One Rides for Free hitting the shelves in 1994. Fu Manchu has a loyal and devoted fan base that is drawn to them for their aggressive yet laid-back Fuzz Rock sound. The fans love the fun and simplicity of their songs, which are an excellent throwback to the instrumentation of ’70s Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult while incorporating elements of modern Punk. Their fans consist of Rock ‘N’ Roll aficionados, Heavy Metal fans, skateboarders, and people from all walks of life.
If you are reading this article, you’re likely already a fan of Fu Manchu, and you know what they sound like. What we want to know is whether or not people know the high-octane meanings behind Fu Manchu’s songs.
As a whole, Stoner Rock typically focuses on instrumentation, with lyrics tending to be more cryptic. There are some exceptions, such as Mastodon, who tell wild fantasy-inspired stories. But most Stoner bands put instruments first and lyrics second. Fu Manchu are unique as their lyrics tell stories but are typically based around drag racing, off-roading, skateboarding, and BMX. And although desert highways and muscle cars are Stoner Rock clichés, Fu Manchu takes it to another level.
I’m sure the average Stoner Rock fan knows that Fu Manchu has some interest in cars. Their album covers feature muscle cars, dune buggies, and rocker vans. But do they know what their songs are about? Lyrical penner and vocalist Scott Hill is a true Southern California boy. He grew up around surfing, hot rods, and skateboarding. All of these things have influenced Fu Manchu’s sound and philosophy.
As a seasoned automotive journalist and a huge Fu Manchu fan, I can safely say that a large portion of Fu Manchu’s songs are about cars. In fact, I would argue that Fu Manchu are the biggest gearhead musicians of all time. I would even argue that they have the largest percentage of car songs in their musical cannon. Ahead of Bruce Springsteen, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, and Jan & Dean. A large portion of Fu Manchu’s songs are written to be cryptic and vague but contain several references and easter eggs that only gearheads would understand, kind of like a secret handshake à la the Aristocrats. There are references to muscle cars, drag racing, street racing, spectator drags, circle track racing, and off-roading.
No One Rides for Free
The most famous song on the band’s debut album No One Rides for Free is the track “Superbird.” The track describes a “spectator drag race” involving the narrator’s Plymouth Superbird. The song describes the narrator’s Superbird racing a Camaro at the local track. The Camaro has transmission issues (his gears were stuck) and the Superbird crosses the finish line.
On Daredevil, Fu’s sophomore effort saw even more songs about cars. The tracks “Coyote Duster,” “Gathering Speed,” and “Push Button Magic” are all automotive heavy.
“Coyote Duster” is a pun. “Coyote” refers to a performance package of a Mustang and “Duster” could be understood as to beat someone at something or refer to a Plymouth Duster, a popular muscle car. In other words, the song could be about the narrator beating a Mustang in his Plymouth Duster.
In Search Of…
On perhaps the band’s most gearhead-centric album, “Asphalt Risin’” is a high-octane thrill ride from start to finish. The cover art greets the listener with an All-American drag race between a Ford Mustang and a Chevy Chevelle.
The album itself is iconic among fans of the band, and It has a strong following among the desert rock fandom. Many Desert Rock fans cite the album as one of the best of the genre. Fans love its fuzzy guitars, high-speed drumming, and Scott Hill’s chill vocals. However, many fans don’t know that every song on the album references cars.
Many of the songs on the album reference drag racing, building hot rods, street racing, high-speed driving, and chopper motorcycles. The album opens with the high-speed driving inspired “Regal Begal,” while it continues into the long haul 18-wheelin’ inspired “Missing Link.”
The album’s single “Asphalt Risin’” describes building a drag car or a hot rod. The opening verse, “I got a full board on a frame in the yard” references building a hot rod from the ground up. “With a Hurst shift… getting me into four.” Hurst is a popular brand of aftermarket shifters that allow for quicker shifters while drag racing—getting into four means shifting into fourth gear.
The chorus is the most confusing. Neither the CD nor the vinyl release of In Search Of… contains a lyrics sheet. The chorus is typically written as “A Super Sea is what I need.” As an automotive journalist, I believe the chorus is “A Super C is what I need,” with “Super C” meaning Supercharger, a popular power adder used in drag racing.
The second verse, “Straight off the line… I’m better every time”—(launching during a drag racing, he has a quicker reaction time after each launch)—”Pulled a left lane…supercharged it fine”—(hooks or gets better traction in the left lane, has a supercharger further proving the Super C theory)—“Took a fourth try…to a star at right”—(4th pass of the day, he got faster/won)—”Pushed a button for…a ride into the sky”—(the button is likely either nitrous or simply starting his drag car). The song describes the joys of building a drag car and the dreams/or act of racing it.
“Cyclone Launch” describes the art of supercharging a car: “Wire-fry a belt blown drive” as superchargers are driving by a belt on the car’s engine. “Strato-Streak” is about cruising in your classic muscle car along the backroads. while “The Falcon Has Landed” describes a Ford Falcon pulling a wheel stand and landing back on the pavement.
The Action Is Go
Fu Manchu’s next album is also considered iconic in the Stoner Rock scene, their 1997 release The Action Is Go. The album saw the additions of Bob Balch on lead guitar and Kyuss alumni Brant Bjork behind the kit. While many of the songs are still about cars and racing, the lyrics matured a bit. The lyrics now contain elements of fantasy, sci-fi, skateboarding, and SoCal culture.
“Evil Eye” describes a cursed flat track motorcycle race: “Pushed through the floor / Halfway through the turn as we ride up high / The dirt starts to burn / Wheels of his heap / Hits the backstreet wall / Evil Eye has signaled / Unapproachable.”
“Strolling Astronomer” describes a late-night highway drive, while “Module Overload” is about pushing a car to its limits “Straight down… straight down / We’ll drive it right…into the ground it’s a module overload.”
Godizzla/Eatin’ Dust was an EP released in 1999. The first half of the EP saw Josh Homme play as a guest guitarist under the name of Mike Coopersmith. He played on the Godzilla side of the album that included the Blue Oyster Cult cover “Godzilla” (which includes the new line “He picks up a Camaro and throws it back down”), a new version of “Module Overload,” and “Living Legend.”
The second half of the EP includes “Eatin’ Dust,” which is likely about drag racing: “The road demon sees… spinnin’ last… four speeds says, ‘let’s roll!’” “Shift Kicker” is also about cars, while “Orbitor” is about a mountain motor Mopar race car: “Soon as the car door slammed, Hemi’s keys were in my hand!” “Mountain Motor” refers to a drag car with an engine bigger than 500 cubic inches (in this case, it’s 654), while “Mopar” is a nickname for a Chrysler. The fan-favorite “Mongoose” is a tribute to the BMX company. “Pigeon Toe” describes riding a motorcycle: “2 wheels a-rollin’” and running into a supercharged Chevy car or truck “Through many dirt rides A blown 4-O-2 Chrome shinnin mighty,” as 402 is a Big Block Chevy engine.
King of the Road
King of the Road is perhaps Fu Manchu’s second most famous album behind The Action Is Go. King of the Road, as the title states, is very car-heavy. “Hell on Wheels” describes hot-rodding a classic Camaro, “Boogie Van” is an ode to 1970s rocker vans, “King of the Road” is about street racing, “Blue Tile Fever” is about pool skateboarding, “Grasschopper” is about a style of custom choppers with long forks and high handlebars, “Drive” is self-explanatory, and “Hotdoggin’” is a term for showing off in a hot rod. In this case, “Hotdoggin’” is about doing burnouts and peeling out of parking lots. The songs on King of the Road are a little more abstract than the tracks on In Search Of and The Action Is Go, but this abstraction shows maturity in Hill’s songwriting and gives the songs broader appeal. The songs don’t have many obvious car name drops but are cryptic stories about high-octane driving.
The cover of California Crossing features lead singer Scott Hill’s personal ride. It’s a 1968 Chevy El Camino that he still owns to this day. This was an excellent personal touch by Hill and another way to show off Fu Manchu’s hot-rodding influence. The album itself strayed away from cars a bit with more songs about skateboarding and SoCal culture, but the muscle car influences are still present.
Fu Manchu continues to rock to this day, and car references can still be found in their songs. Scott Hill is a gearhead, and his hot roddin’ influence is a large part of the band’s identity.