The Arab Oil Embargo

In the 1950s and 1960s, oil supply was not a problem in the United States. As a nation, the U.S. acted as though there was an endless amount of cheap oil and gasoline. Emblematic of this attitude was America’s love affair with high-powered, high-performance, tricked-out, gas guzzling automobiles (“muscle cars”) that generated a whole genre of pop music (“hot rod rock”).

Regarding automobiles, a whole section of this book could be devoted to the impact of the automobile on 20th century American history and culture. America has had a love affair with the automobile and there are many songs that reflect it. Perhaps another author would like to do the research on this and/or other topics inside the 20th century that are not included here. Some popular songs about automobiles are listed below; but, I am not including the lyrics because, unlike the other songs in this collection, these are not really about lyrics; rather, they describe mood and attitude:

  • “409,by the Beach Boys (1962). The cubic inch measurement, 409, refers to the size of the engine found in many muscle cars. (
  • “Hey, Little Cobra,by the Rip Chords (1963), refers to a British sports car with a Ford high-performance engine. (
  • “Dead Man’s Curve,By Jan and Dean (1964). Although fun for teenagers, drag racing was very dangerous. (

The age of muscle cars, and America’s oil independence, did not last long into the 1970s due to geo-political developments in the Middle East, particularly those related to Israel.

The United States had been the ally and primary supporter of the State of Israel since its founding in the late 1940s. The State of Israel was carved out of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea—the Levant—that was known as Palestine since biblical times. The Jewish people considered this territory their ancient home land. However, Palestinian Arabs also lived in the area during the biblical era and considered it their home land as well.

Conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs was inevitable. Several wars erupted between the two groups in the decades after the creation of Israel: the War of Independence (1948), The 1956 War, The Six-day War (1967) and The Yom-Kippur War (1973-1974). There was also another war between the two groups in the early 1980s. The United States’ backing of Israel in these conflicts caused hostility on the part of the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors.

Until the early 1970s, America was able to produce all of the gasoline its car-oriented society wanted. Thus, it was able to control the domestic price that was kept artificially low. However, the early 1970s saw a growing need to import oil and gas from the Arab countries, which controlled 60 percent of the oil reserves in the non-communist world. The United States imported a third of its oil from Arab nations; Western Europe imported 72 percent from the Middle East; and Japan, 82 percent. The Arab oil-producing countries, with a few other countries from outside the region, established a cartel for purposes of controlling and leveraging their oil supplies. The name of the cartel was Organization of Petroleum Exporting Counties (OPEC).

In 1973-1974, OPEC decided to punish U.S. support of Israel in the Yom Kippur war by cutting oil production and instituting an embargo against the U.S. (Jennings and Brewster, pp. 429-430.) This resulted in an oil crisis in the United States: prices for a barrel of oil went up 387 percent, gas stations ran out of gas, consumers queued up in miles long lines and waited hours for gas, gas was rationed by license plate numbers (even numbers one day, odd numbers the next), and speed limits were lowered to 55 miles per hour. (Id.)

The oil crisis brought an end to an era of cheap energy. Americans had to learn to live with smaller, less powerful cars, less heating and air conditioning in their homes. For millions of Americans the lessons were painful to learn. American drivers started purchasing smaller, better-engineered, fuel-efficient cars from Japan and Europe. By 1982, Japanese cars had captured 30 percent of the U.S. market. This “energy crisis” did have a positive side effect. It increased public consciousness about the environment and stimulated awareness of the importance of conservation. (Id.)

As a result of the increased fuel costs and the restricted speeds, over-the-road truckers formed ad hoc convoys as they traveled across the country in order to stymie the new 55 mph speed limit. A new technology, the Citizen’s Band (CB) radio, made this type of activity possible. Truckers adopted coded “handles” (pseudonyms) to identify themselves and talk back and forth over the air. They developed jargon to mask their communication from law enforcement. The “front door” (lead truck in a convoy) for instance, would scout the highway ahead for “bears” (state highway patrol, so called because of their hats, evocative of Smokey Bear) and relay sightings to fellow convoy members to alert them to speed traps and other potential dangers of the road. Even if caught by surprise by a lurking “bear,” convoy logic reasoned that the state trooper could only stop one truck while the rest of the convoy “put the hammer down” (accelerated) and escaped the scene.

In 1976, C.W. McCall sang “Convoy. The lyrics were written by Boxcar Willie and the song is a fictional account of a truck convoy that runs toll booths from California to New Jersey. It became the number one hit on both the pop and country charts. (

Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June
In a Kenworth pullin’ logs
Cab-over Pete with a reefer on
And a Jimmy haulin’ hogs
We is headin’ for bear on I-one-oh
‘Bout a mile outta Shaky Town
I says, “Pig Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck.
“And I’m about to put the hammer down.”

‘Cause we got a little ol’ convoy
Rockin’ through the night.
Yeah, we got a little ol’ convoy,
Ain’t she a beautiful sight?
Come on and join our convoy
Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way.
We gonna roll this truckin’ convoy
‘Cross the U-S-A.

By the time we got into Tulsa Town,
We had eighty-five trucks in all.
But they’s a roadblock up on the cloverleaf,
And them bears was wall-to-wall.
Yeah, them smokies is thick as bugs on a bumper;
They even had a bear in the air!
I says, “Callin’ all trucks, this here’s the Duck.
“We about to go a-huntin’ bear.”

‘Cause we got a great big convoy
Rockin’ through the night.
Yeah, we got a great big convoy,
Ain’t she a beautiful sight?
Come on and join our convoy
Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way.
We gonna roll this truckin’ convoy
‘Cross the U-S-A.

Well, we rolled up Interstate 44
Like a rocket sled on rails.
We tore up all of our swindle sheets,
And left ’em settin’ on the scales.
By the time we hit that Chi-town,
Them bears was a-gettin’ smart:
They’d brought up some reinforcements
From the Illinois National Guard.
There’s armored cars, and tanks, and jeeps,
And rigs of ev’ry size.
Yeah, them chicken coops was full’a bears
And choppers filled the skies.
Well, we shot the line and we went for broke
With a thousand screamin’ trucks
An’ eleven long-haired Friends a’ Jesus
In a chartreuse micro-bus.

Well, we laid a strip for the Jersey Shore
Prepared to cross the line
I could see the bridge was lined with bears
But I didn’t have a dog-gone dime.
I says, “Pig Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck.
“We just ain’t a-gonna pay no toll.”
So we crashed the gate doing ninety-eight
I says “Let them truckers roll, 10-4.”

‘Cause we got a mighty convoy
Rockin’ through the night.
Yeah, we got a mighty convoy,
Ain’t she a beautiful sight?
Come on and join our convoy
Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way.
We gonna roll this truckin’ convoy
‘Cross the U-S-A.
Convoy! Convoy! Convoy! Convoy!