Home » Car Terms I Learned From Song Lyrics: Charabanc

Car Terms I Learned From Song Lyrics: Charabanc

Char Top
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Would you like to hear something positive about the world? I know things often seem grim and social media is a firehose of bad shit right into your brain, but there’s a silver – or at least chrome – lining under there. And that’s the fact that the automobile is so deeply embedded in human culture that sometimes you can learn something entirely new about cars from places you never expected. Like lyrics from songs that really have nothing to do with cars! I have an example of this for you, and if, somehow, I come up with more, this will become a series! Or you can send in ones you find! I’m not picky!

So the automotive term I learned from a song lyric was a nice French-sounding term: charabanc or char-à-banc. Literally, the name means “carriage with benches” in French, and that’s pretty much what it is: a whole bunch of benches on wheels.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Essentially, the charabanc was the world’s first party bus, being used to take large groups of people on short drives (because they were said to be pretty uncomfortable) to recreation or sporting events. Early horse-drawn ones were sometimes used as mobile bleachers for people watching races or a hunt or whatever. Later motorized ones, appearing in the early 20th century, were used for outings for work events or short trips for clubs, stuff like that.

Char 1

In design, they were always open-topped, but had a fairly crude convertible top that could be clumsily erected in case of rain or other things falling from the sky. Lacking a roof and being heavily overloaded with many people, usually sitting quite high up, was also a recipe for rolling over and killing people, which was just the sort of thing that tended to take the fun out of a club outing or whatever. That’s a big part of why they were eventually replaced with more conventional and fully-enclosed buses.

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Now, what was the song that I heard this strange word in? It was this song, The Legionnaire’s Lament by the Decemberists:

If you give it a listen, you’ll hear this line:

“On the old left bankMy baby in a charabancRiding up the width and lengthOf the Champs Elysees”

I heard that word and didn’t really know what it was, and then was researching some unrelated automotive something, I came across the word again, and some pictures of these strange sorts of massive convertibles, full of people.

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These were common enough that there are comics about them, too:

Char Toon

There’s another song that references charabancs as well: Peaches, by ’70s punk rockers The Stranglers:

Oh shit, there goes the charabanc!Looks like I’m gonna be stuck here the whole summerWell, what a bummerI can think of a lot worse places to beLike down in the streets or down in the sewerOr even on the end of a skewer

This time, it’s the missing of a charabanc, and getting stuck at the beach, which is, of course, better than a sewer or skewer.

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Look at that! Thanks to music, you now know some obscure new car thing! What a glorious world this is!

 

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Jnnythndrs
Jnnythndrs
1 day ago

Love me some Stranglers – the filthy bassline is glorious.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
22 days ago

Well man… now I want a big convertible bus like that. Charabancs just look like a good time. How hard could it be to chop the roof off an old school bus and make oneself a new charabanc? Official Autopian Charabanc road trip when?

Strangek
Strangek
23 days ago

That’s my favorite song on that Decemberists album. I always sing along, but definitely never knew what word they were using there. I just make some noise that sounds like that word while singing along. I guess they use a lot of old timey sounding words that I’m unfamiliar with, so I never thought much of it LOL.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
23 days ago

Meanwhile, there’s an even earlier use of charabanc in a rock song: “Wond’ring Again” by Jethro Tull, recorded in 1970:

Incestuous ancestry’s charabanc ride

Spawning new millions throws the world on its side

Supporting their far-flung illusion, the national curse

And those with no sandwiches please get off the bus

It’s a lament about overpopulation, in case that’s not totally obvious from the lyric.

AssMatt
AssMatt
23 days ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

I know very little about or by Jethro Tull, but somehow these lyrics seems like the Tulliest Jethro of all.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
23 days ago
Reply to  AssMatt

Honestly, the lyrics go very hard for a tune that’s pretty light relative to the guitar-crunchers on “Aqualung”:

The excrement bubbles

The century’s slime decays

And the brainwashing government lackeys

Would have us say

It’s under control and we’ll soon be on our way

To a grand year for babies and quiz panel games

Of the hot hungry millions you’ll be sure to remain

The natural resources are dwindling and no one grows old

And those with no homes to go to, please dig yourself holes

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
22 days ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

Shit I’d never actually paid attention to those lyrics. Thanks for the reminder to dust off Aqualung and Passion Play.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
22 days ago

I love Passion Play.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
22 days ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

Isn’t it wond’ring aloud?

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
22 days ago

The brief track on Aqualung is “Aloud”, but the longer one on Living in the Past (the 2-disc compilation) is “Again”. On the 2016 Aqualung re-release, there’s a single take that combines both into one longer song.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
21 days ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

I sit educated!

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
23 days ago

I like the Decemberists, but sometimes it’s like Schoolhouse Rocks for millenials.

Adrian Bodsworth
Adrian Bodsworth
23 days ago

still used (albeit rarely) in the UK but usually shortened to Charra, such as:
“tha’s feyt are clean”
“ah, I went on Charra to Cleethorpes and gee um a wesh in sea”

Geoff Hall
Geoff Hall
23 days ago

In addition to those two songs mentioning the word “charabanc”, there’s a song about a trip in a charabanc, with a picture of the conveyance on the record cover.

Just look up “Day Trip to Bangor (Didn’t we have a lovely time)”. Bangor is on the north Wales coast, which is the traditional summer refuge for the workers of Liverpool and beyond. It does seem a bit far too for a traditional charabanc to get there and back for a day trip, but I don’t think total realism was the point. The song was something of a hit in the UK many years ago and spawned plenty of comical/satirical imitations.

“Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Bangor
A beautiful day, we had lunch on the way and all for under a pound you know
But on the way back I cuddled with Jack and we opened a bottle of cider
Singing a few of our favourite songs as the wheels went around

Do you recall the thrill of it all as we walked along the sea front
Then on the sand we heard a brass band that played the Diddelly-Bump-Terrara
Elsie and me had one cup of tea then we took a paddler boat out
Splashing away as we sat on the bay and the wheels went ’round

etc etc

Vanillasludge
Vanillasludge
23 days ago

Porche Charabanc Turbo S.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
23 days ago
Reply to  Vanillasludge

Given what marketing has done to the meanings of “turbo” and “coupe” the Porche Charabanc Turbo S is probably going to be a hardtop single seat EV. It will at least stick to the two core brand values of Porsche which are: be expensive and have parts prices at 500% of the value you expect them to be.

Neil Hall
Neil Hall
23 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

I think marketing in the 1950s and 60s changed the meaning of the word coupé, and that what we’ve seen recently is more of a return to its origins, before it was exclusively applied to 2dr vehicles. The problem is we’ve got used to the 1960s meaning, and find the return to its origins difficult to fathom.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
23 days ago
Reply to  Neil Hall

I guess as almost no one makes 2-door cars any more it doesn’t matter.

Chronometric
Chronometric
23 days ago

When I was a kid my father watched All In The Family. I think he identified with Archie Bunker. The theme song was “Those Were The Days”. One of the lines is “Gee our old LaSalle ran great” which was total gibberish to me. Fortunately my parents were antique car enthusiasts and explained that LaSalle was a short-lived sub-model of Cadillac in the 30s. Soonafter they tried it again with the Seville… with similar results.

Ham On Five
Ham On Five
23 days ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Oh my … my gibberish misinterpretation wasn’t even close!
Something about a salary ingrate

ES
ES
23 days ago
Reply to  Chronometric

i got the reference, but only because my grandfather always claimed he had to buy their house in LaSalle Gardens (behind HF Hospital in Detroit) because he drove a LaSalle. granddad jokes are worse than dad jokes. but i miss that house.

Last edited 23 days ago by ES
StillNotATony
StillNotATony
23 days ago

Torch, you are my favorite fountain of useless knowledge.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
23 days ago

Of all the people that made me aware of aortic dissections by not dying of them, you’re my favorite.

I wonder if they shouted WOOOOOOO at passersby, the DJ-driver, or for no reason at all, or if this a more modern custom.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
24 days ago

Charabanc is a very Decemberists word.

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
23 days ago

They did sneak “palanquin” into another song. They like their obscure forms of transportation.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
24 days ago

Glad you mentioned “Peaches” so I didn’t have to – that’s where I learned the term.

Paul B
Paul B
24 days ago

I can’t be the only Québécois that read that as Charbanac.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
22 days ago
Reply to  Paul B

Chabarnac?

Paul B
Paul B
22 days ago

There’s a swear word here: Tabernac (the er is pronounced a bit like an a)

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
21 days ago
Reply to  Paul B

Right, and there’s no swear word in your original spelling 🙂

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
24 days ago

As a fan of hyper-literate nerdy prog-rock with the occasional sea shanty thrown in, I highly recommend this article. Well done sir. If you haven’t listened yet check out the new Decemberists single with James Mercer(!) called “Burial Ground”. It’s what heaven must sound like all the time.

Last edited 24 days ago by DialMforMiata
AlterId
AlterId
24 days ago

I’d seen the word once or twice but never lingered long enough to gripe for a definition. Now I know.

Thanks, Torch! You should write and animate a “Schoolhouse Rock” episode on the charabanc. If you need to fill some time. you’re more than welcome to mix in phaetons, landaulets, and any other interestingly-named body styles you can think of or make up and convincingly support

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
23 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

If this episode doesn’t include “decapotable,” I’ll be sorely disappointed.

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