Diesel is one of those one-hit wonder groups that, when their hit is heard, have many people saying, “Yeah, I remember them!” For a lot of these groups, Diesel included, this holds true even when their one hit hasn’t been heard for a long time. Diesel’s big hit on the American charts, “Sausalito Summernight”, is one that hasn’t been played in ages, but still holds a place deep in some music aficionados’ memories.
Very deep, possibly.
The Story of Diesel
Diesel started out, according to the band’s website, when drummer Pim Koopman and guitarist/vocalist Rob Vunderink decided, “Let’s start a band.” (Yes, that’s how the website put it. I didn’t write it.) Allmusic went into a little more detail, talking about Mr. Koopman’s and Mr. Vunderink’s histories with the Dutch progressive rock band Kayak.
Being a Dutch band itself, Diesel had most of its success in the Netherlands before one single (which we’ll discuss below) started to gain interest in other countries. Before the release of the group’s debut album, Watts in a Tank, a couple of other singles had been released, one of which hit the Dutch top 40 (but just missed the Hot 100 in the States).
(Watts in a Tank peaked at #68 on Billboard’s Top LPs and Tape chart. Album ℗1981 Regency Records, Inc.)
Aside from the advance singles, the members of Diesel reportedly wanted “Sausalito Summernight” to be the first single after the release of Watts in a Tank. However, the group’s label, Polydor, decided it knew better and released a different song, which did not see much success. Then, and only then, Polydor released “Sausalito Summernight” as a single.
The song is a very catchy, upbeat song, the sound of which doesn’t quite fit the story of a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a Rambler that is an utter piece of junk. It’s such an catchy and enjoyable song that one can overlook the fact that Sausalito is not at all between L.A. and San Francisco. (It’s to the north of San Francisco, while L.A. is to the south.*) It’s easy for some (or at least this author) to picture themselves out enjoying a burger and a root beer, and commiserating with the singer, who dreams of dumping the Rambler into San Francisco Bay.
The song almost sounds like it could have been recorded by the Steve Miller Band, to be honest. As Professor Eddy confirms:
Diesel members Mark Boon and Rob Vunderink admitted on Dutch television some years ago that they had Steve Miller in mind when they wrote the song.
Even though the song had gotten some interest in the US by mid-1981, there was some drama in getting it released nationwide. Regency Records, which had acquired the US rights to Diesel’s catalog, had to switch distribution from MCA to Atlantic before a widespread commercial release finally happened.
“Sausalito Summernight” entered Billboard’s Hot 100 at an unassuming #86 for the week ending September 12, 1981 (chart | magazine). Over two months later, it finally made it to its peak of #25 (chart | magazine). In all, the single lasted 18 weeks on the chart, just barely making it into 1982 before falling off. While 18 weeks was rather respectable for that time, its relatively low peak, combined with its chart run straddling Billboard’s cutoff for the year-end charts, kept it off the 1981 year-end Hot 100.
It should be noted that, though it was not quite as successful on the American charts, it did rise to number one on the Canadian charts just before it entered the Hot 100. It was the #13 song of 1981 in Canada.
Diesel after “Sausalito Summernight”
Following the success of its one big hit, Diesel experienced some lineup changes, as well as a label change. The group’s next album, Unleaded, was described by AllMusic as “a complete commercial failure”.
Since then, the group has disbanded and reformed at least twice, and two of its four founding members passed in 2009, within a week of each other. However, the other two founding members, along with others, are keeping Diesel going…or at least they were when the news portion of the group’s site was last updated, five years ago (as of this writing).
As for “Sausalito Summernight”, it still receives some airplay, thanks to a combination of “American Top 40: The 80s”, “Crap From the Past”, and “The Lost 45s”. Outside of those specialty shows, however, I haven’t heard this one played in a long, long time.
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* It’s easy to poke fun at Diesel for this, but really, how many of you know the locations of all the major cities in the Netherlands?
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