|Single by Tom Robinson Band|
|B-side||"I Shall Be Released"|
|Released||October 7, 1977|
|Recorded||Berwick Street Studio
14 September 1977
|Genre||Punk rock, new wave|
|Tom Robinson Band singles chronology|
Robinson wrote the song between leaving Café Society in 1976, and forming the Tom Robinson Band in 1977, when he was performing with whichever friends were available on the night, so the song had to be simple enough to learn in a few minutes.
Robinson came up with the tune "trying to work out the chords to Climax Blues Band’s "Couldn’t Get It Right"" which he could not really remember. This led to the simple three chord repeat of 2-4-6-8. The verse came from Robinson's memories of driving back to London through the night after gigs with Café Society, "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 was lifted from a Gay Lib chant "2,4,6,8, Gay is twice as good as straight... 3,5,7,9, Lesbians are mighty fine".
EMI initially turned the song down, but after touring the band became much tighter, and guitarist Danny Kustow expanded his riffs, which persuaded EMI to release the record.
The song is about the joys of driving a lorry through a rainy night, until dawn. Although the chorus is based upon a gay liberation chant, this is not clear to the casual listener, so the song is in contrast to their far more blatantly political later songs, covering subjects such as homophobia "Glad to Be Gay" and civil disorder "Long Hot Summer".
Release and reception
"2-4-6-8 Motorway" was originally released on 7 October 1977 and immediately attracted attention. It rose to #5 in the Official Charts Company UK Singles Chart on 22 October 1977 and stayed on the chart for 9 weeks. This is Robinson's highest charting single; his later (solo) single "War Baby" only reaching #6. The band performed it on Top of the Pops on 27 October, and again on 10 November.
It was released in Europe, reaching #1 in Sweden on 27 January 1978, and staying at the top for 4 weeks, while in the US (Harvest 4533) has "2-4-6-8" on both sides. It was re-released on Old Gold in 1983 and on EMI in 1987, including a 12" version.
The song also reached #12 on the Australian Singles Chart in early 1978.
"2-4-6-8 Motorway" was not issued on a UK album at the time, and Robinson still rues what he calls the “fatal mistake” of omitting the band’s most famous songs, "2-4-6-8 Motorway" and "Glad to Be Gay" from their debut album Power in the Darkness, although it was on a 7" EP included with the US release of Power in the Darkness.
The song has subsequently appeared on numerous compilation albums, including Rising Free (1980), The Collection (1987), Last Tango, Midnight at the Fringe (1988), Winter of '89 (1992), Home from Home (1999) and Tom Robinson Band The Anthology 1977–1979. It also appeared on No Thanks!: The 70s Punk Rebellion (2003) The song was still being performed by Robinson in July 2013.
The song was also featured in the Only Fools and Horses episode The Jolly Boys' Outing, whilst Del Boy and the rest of the 'Jolly Boys' from Peckham are being driven to the 'half-way house' on the coach (before it blows up), en route to Margate. In addition to this, the song features in the final episode of the first series of Ashes to Ashes when Alex and Ray go to a Gay Pride march, which Tom Robinson (played by Matthew Baynton) is attending.
The song has been covered by several other bands including:-
- Showaddywaddy: "I love rock n roll" (2006)
- Trucks: Juice (2003)
- Show of Hands: Covers 2 (2010)
- U2 covered the song live at least 3 times in their early days prior to signing a record deal.
- Tom Robinson – vocals, bass
- Danny Kustow – guitar
- Mark Ambler – organ, piano
- Dolphin Taylor – drums
- Vic Maile – producer
- "2-4-6-8 Motorway". PRS for Music Online Magazine. 29 July 2011. Retrieved 2014-08-05.
- "August 2004 Script". Queer Music Heritage. August 2004. Archived from the original on 2007-07-05. Retrieved 2014-08-05.
- "Tom Robinson's chart history". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2014-08-05.
- "45 Cat entry for 2-4-6-8". 45cat. Retrieved 2014-08-05.
- "Artist profile of Tom Robinson". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2014-08-05.
- Sleeve notes to Tom Robinson Band The Anthology 1977–1979
- "Vinyl 45 listing of releases". Vinyl45LP.com. Retrieved 2014-08-05.
- "Tom Robinson Albums 1975–2002". tomrobinson.com. Archived from the original on 2014-06-05. Retrieved 2014-08-05.
- "Gig review of the Tabernacle Concert". Dave's Gig Reviews. 2 July 2013. Retrieved 2014-08-05.
- "U2 2-4-6-8 Motorway – U2 on tour". U2gigs.com. Retrieved 2014-08-05.