Continuing our look at the stories behind the songs, we turn our attention to a perennial driving favourite. Tom Robinson talked to M about the secrets of 2-4-6-8 Motorway – the debut single by Tom Robinson Band (TRB) in 1977.
I’d come up with the song about a year earlier whilst trying to work out the chords to Climax Blues Band’s Couldn’t Get It Right – which I’d only heard once before and couldn’t remember properly. I ended up with the much simpler chords to Motorway instead. There was no Tom Robinson Band at the time – just the name and a series of pub gigs I’d blagged for the coming weeks. As each date came up, I would ring musician friends in other bands to see who was available to play on the night. All my new songs had to be written with a dead simple chord sequence so the various players could learn the entire set in half an hour during the soundcheck. So it’s no accident that Motorway repeats the same three chords all the way through.
The verse lyric came from having done cheap gigs around the country with my previous band Cafe Society, and driving back through the night from places like Scarborough and Rotherham. By the time our van hit the last stretch of M1 into London the motorway sun really was coming up with the morning light. The chorus hook was a straight lift from my favourite chant at Gay Lib demos – ‘2,4,6,8, Gay is twice as good as straight…’ ‘3,5,7,9, Lesbians are mighty fine’.
EMI turned Motorway down at first. It was only after six months of playing everywhere from prisons to pubs to public schools that the band became ‘gig-fit’, ie tough enough and tight enough to put the song over with real conviction, so it would connect with listeners on first hearing. So the writing of the song was only part of the process. It was the way everyone played it on the record, and especially Danny Kustow’s guitar work, that finally persuaded EMI they had a future hit on their hands.