The top 10 classic rock songs about amusement parks come from a roster of rockers who perfectly captured the essence of what makes these entertainment venues so great. For the most part, amusement parks provide all the thrills people seek, whether it be in the form of an adrenaline rush or as a perfect place to go as a happy hangout. The roller coaster is probably the biggest attraction to amusement parks. Usually, this is the “it” ride that draws in crowds wanting to jump on a ride that gets the blood pumping and the heart racing. Other favorites include carousels, Ferris wheels, and a collection of midway attractions and games. As songs, amusement parks and some of its highlights are sometimes referenced as an actual place while others use them as metaphors.
10 Classic Rock Songs About Amusement Parks
#10 – Ferris Wheel (by Donovan)
Scottish-based Donovan Leitch began his recording career in 1964 as a musician who specialized in folk, jazz, pop, and psychedelic rock. His rise to worldwide fame began in 1965 after appearing live on a popular UK-based series, Ready Steady Go! While Donovan’s “Ferris Wheel” may not stand out as a big hit, this singer-songwriter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and then the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014. Between 1965 and 1969, he scored some of his biggest hits, such as “Sunshine Superman,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” and “Atlantis.”
“Ferris Wheel” was a song about an experience he had while riding this popular amusement park ride with a girl whose hair got stuck. The only way for her to escape this experience was to have it cut off.
# 9 – The Roller Coaster Song (by The Lilac Time)
Founded in 1986 by Nick and Stephen Duffy, The Lilac Time was a UK-based alternative folk-rock band that got its name from a line used in a Nick Drake song, “River Man.” Fans of Duran Duran may recognize Stephen Duffy as one of the founders of what became one of the most popular rock groups around the world during the 1980s. However, he left the lineup to embark on a solo career just before the Fab Five rose to fame.
For Stephen Duffy as a songwriter, “The Roller Coaster Song” described the experience of riding one of the most thrilling rides an amusement park has to offer. This upbeat track is just as speedy and fun as coasting the tracks with such an adrenaline rush. Duffy doesn’t hold back the love affair he has with roller coasters.
This song and The Lilac Time’s second studio album, Paradise Circus, were released in 1989. The reissue in 2006 featured bonus tracks that were originally intended for what was supposed to be a double album. Overall, the album was designed to be festive and upbeat. “The Roller Coaster Song,” its title track, and “Twilight Beer Hall” make an ideal combination of songs for that festive amusement park spirit.
#8 – Helter Skelter (by The Beatles)
“Helter Skelter” was a popular rock song released in 1968 by The Beatles that described a wild slide belonging to an amusement park. Written by Paul McCartney, the Fab Four wanted to create its White Album with a heavier rock sound. In 1976, this was released on the B-side of a record that had “Got to Get You into My Life” as part of a promotion by Capitol Records and its compilation album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.
The idea was for “Helter Skelter” to come across as one of the loudest and wildest Beatles songs yet as the group became inspired after hearing the Who’s Pete Townshend sing the 1967 hit single, “I Can See for Miles.” The Helter Skelter ride in the UK is a spiraling slide that winds around a tall tower. This is also a familiar term to describe chaos.
“Helter Skelter” was also metaphorical, describing the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. For McCartney, this was also his idea of letting the music critics know his songwriting talent wasn’t just limited to ballads. Since the original release, recording artists such as Motley Crue have covered versions of “Helter Skelter” as they seem to enjoy the musical ride of this song themselves.
# 7 – Cedar Point ’76 (by the Dirtbombs)
“Cedar Point ’76” was about a themed amusement park situated in Sandusky, Ohio. This was a favorite hangout for the Dirtbombs’ lead singer, Mick Collins. Sharing a piece of his past, he revealed his unsuccessful attempt to woo a girl to play pinball with him at the park, as his mother refused to give him any money to pay for it. Instead of being able to play pinball with the thirteen-year-old teen, Collins watched her ride off on the Corkscrew roller coaster that was just introduced to the park in 1976.
This was a 2000 release the Dirtbombs released to the B-side of a record while the White Stripes had “Hand Springs” on the A-side. Two thousand copies of this record were made in a pinball fanzine known as Multiball. Over time, “Cedar Point ’76” was featured on the compilation album If You Don’t Already Have a Look. It was a 2005 release by the record label In the Red. Although this song didn’t appear on any official music charts, it’s a great trip down memory lane for amusement park goers who may have shared similar experiences as Collins did.
# 6 – Big Dipper (by Jethro Tull)
“Big Dipper” was a song that came from Jethro Tull’s ninth studio album, Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! This was a 1976 release that served as Tull’s final concept album, as it featured the fictional character Ray Lomas. Unlike Tull’s previous albums of the 1970s, this one didn’t achieve gold status with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). However, it still had some great tunes, including “Big Dipper.”
The focus of the tracklist featuring Lomas was an aging rocker who realized the ever-changing music industry trends made it challenging for recording artists to keep up and stay relevant with their fans. Ian Anderson’s penmanship to this song featured a group of young men who visited Britain’s Blackpool Pleasure Beach and its top attraction, the Big Dipper. Throughout the course of the song, Jethro Tull shared a date-like experience of the amusement park that would serve as a starting point to finish his date with a love interest on a positive note.
#5 – Theme Park (by The Tubes)
In 1983, The Tubes released its sixth studio album, Outside Inside. Produced by David Foster, this was the record that released the group’s biggest hit, “She’s a Beauty.” However, it also featured a song called “Theme Park.” The lyrics for “She’s a Beauty” referenced a feature attraction, which was further illustrated in the music video. Another hit was “The Monkey Time,” and this was a favorite song for theme parks to play.
As for “Theme Park,” this upbeat song covered the highlights of why amusement parks are such a popular attraction for thrillseekers and adrenaline junkies. The majority of amusement parks are run with a specific theme in mind but usually share similar rides that have established themselves as all-time favorites. The infamous Tilt-a-Whirl would be such a ride; one of the featured attractions The Tubes sing about as “Theme Park” wonderfully covers the very essence of what amusement parks are about.
#4 – Palisades Park (by Freddy Cannon)
The 1962 hit single, “Palisades Park,” became a number three hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 for Freddy Cannon, and for good reason. With an organ performance that sounded like a calliope, this song written by Chuck Barris focused on one amusement park in particular. At the time, this New Jersey-based amusement park was among the most popular, and it was located across the George Washington Bridge on the Jersey side along the Palisades Parkway. Since 1898, Palisades Park had been a top draw for families and thrillseekers from all over to pay a visit. I lived in the Bronx in the 1960s and always went there as a kid. It was heaven!
During the mid-twentieth century, teenagers flocked to the park to take advantage of all its fun features. Unfortunately, Palisades Park closed its doors for good on September 12, 1971. The popularity of “Palisades Park” served as great cover tunes for the Beach Boys, the Ramones, and Bruce Springsteen. There was also a 1980 version by Cannon titled “Kennywood Park,” where it was the same song, but the lyrics were altered to accommodate the ad campaign that was shot for it.
The title behind “Palisades Park” came to Barris while he was in Manhattan and spotted this popular hangout sitting on top of New Jersey’s Palisades Cliff. He had already written a song about an amusement park but needed to come up with a total, so “Palisades Park” was it. This became a tribute to the popular Palisades Amusement Park, and it was loaded with sound effects as Cannon sang about its collection of rides and attractions. This Swan Records release was originally placed on the B-side of a record with “June, July, and August” on the A-side. A DJ in Flint, Michigan, wound up playing “Palisades Park,” and it became Freddy Cannon’s biggest hit. It also peaked as high as number fifteen on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart.
#3 – Amusement Parks U.S.A. (by the Beach Boys)
Written by Mike Love and Brian Wilson, “Amusement Parks U.S.A.” was a song that came from the Beach Boys’ 1965 album Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!). The lead vocalist was Love, who described spending entire days at an amusement park as his favorite hangout. One of the highlights behind this fun classic was Hal Blaine’s drumming performance, which sounded like a carnival barker. Among the parks mentioned in the song were two popular California-based sites, Disneyland and Pacific Ocean Park.
There were also references made to two New Jersey-based parks, Palisades Park and Steel Pier. Also mentioned were Chicago’s Riverview Park, Cleveland’s Euclid Beach Park, and Salisbury Park in Massachusetts. Among these popular amusement parks, only Disneyland and Atlantic City’s Steel Pier stood the test of time, while the rest of the sites mentioned in “Amusement Parks U.S.A.” closed their doors within a few short years after this song was released. While this may not stand out as a bonafide Beach Boys hit, it’s still a great classic rock tune of a happier era where it was perfectly okay to shelve the troubles of the world in order to have some innocent fun.
#2 – Lakeside Park (by Rush)
Released in 1975 with the album Caress of Steel, “Lakeside Park” was a song that paid tribute to an amusement park that sat on the southern shore of Canada’s Lake Ontario. Performed by Rush, Geddy Lee’s vocal performance highlighted the songwriting talent of lyricist Neil Peart. This was a classic trip down memory lane as the masters of progressive rock shared the experience of a fireworks display that took place on May 24th’s Victoria Day while visiting St. Catharines, Ontario. Lakeside Park still stands at its Port Dalhousie as it overlooks the wreckage sites of the USS Hamilton and the USS Scourge.
These two vessels fought during the War of 1812 and remain popular historical and tourist attractions to this day. For Peart, his experience as a former Lakeside Park employee played a big role in a song that revealed bits of his past and the popular attraction. While working there one summer, he ran a midway game but was fired when his job performance didn’t meet the park management’s standards. Despite this, the fondness of Port Dalhousie’s top attraction inspired Peart to write a great song about it. In 2020, in memory of Neil Peart and his legacy, the city of St. Catharines announced a pavilion at Lakeside Park would be named after him.
#1 – 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) (by Bruce Springsteen)
Bruce Springsteen’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” was a wonderful ballad that shared bittersweet memories of the past as the thrill of carnival-style living began to take a backseat to the somber reality of innocent youth giving way to seasoned adults who’ve experienced so much. Springsteen shared an experience of the Jersey boardwalk’s Asbury Park that included an old girlfriend as the two shared hopes and dreams of escaping their hometown for bigger and better things. In the lyrics, the Tilt-A-Whirl was referenced as a ride Bruce Springsteen was stuck on that wouldn’t stop spinning, and it seemed as if he had no way to escape from it.
In the song, the celebration of America’s Independence Day sets off its fireworks display in what should be a festive occasion, but it serves as a reality check that time doesn’t stand still for anyone, not even Springsteen. “4th of July, Asbury Park” was released in 1974 from the album The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. At the time, it was a German release only and a great little song describing the Jersey Shore’s boardwalk culture.
At one point, the title of Springsteen’s song was switched to “Sandy (4th of July, Asbury Park)” and was performed as such by the Hollies in 1975. This came at a time when Springsteen’s popularity grew even further after the release of Born to Run in 1975. Springsteen’s album was released in August, a few months after the Hollies released its cover version to “Sandy.”
The Hollies were able to score a minor hit at number eight-five on the US Billboard Hot 100, but it’s Springsteen’s original that remains on top as the overall favorite. Additional recording artists who covered their own version of Springsteen’s ballad were Air Supply and Ben E. King. In 2009, Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls released their version that was endorsed by Springsteen himself, as the lineup featured Jason Federici. His father, Danny Federici, was a member of the original E Street Band as its keyboardist and accordion player. It was the accordion that added that special flair that made Springsteen’s ballad the wonderful gem that it is.
Feature Photo: HarshLight from San Jose, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
10 Classic Rock Songs About Amusement Parks article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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