The Story of Classical Gas

Classical Gas is an iconic fingerstyle piece written and recorded by Mason Williams in 1968. It was originally called Classical Gasoline but due to a publishing error, it was shortened to Classical Gas.

Interestingly Williams was not known as a musician, more so as a comedy writer for the show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (though he did attend music college). He performed it several times on the show which helped it reach the Top Ten music charts.

Williams also collaborated with visual arts student Dan McLaughlin to create an arty music video to air the recorded version on television. The result was called 3000 Years of Art and consisted of a video depicting over 3000 images of art shown in rapid succession while the song is playing.

Eric Clapton is sometimes wrongly attributed as the writer of Classical Gas. This may have been because Clapton recorded much of the guitar music in the film The Story Of Us which also featured Mason’s re-recording of Classical Gas

Mason Williams re-recorded the song in 1970, this version was re-released in 2003 as part of the film Cheaper By The Dozen starring Steve Martin. The song was also used as a TV and News theme throughout the 70s in the US. It has sold more than one million copies and won three Grammys.

Tommy Emmanuel has had great success with his dynamic version of the piece, turning into a fingerstyle standard, he shares his thoughts on how he came up with his version “I got the idea to do to it what I did out of necessity. When I was going solo I was playing pubs around Sydney.  In those days when you played pubs you had to play everything as loud, as fast and as hard as you possibly could to keep people from throwing something at you, keep their attention and you get to know how to make a song fire with the audience.

” I thought that the iconic parts of Classical Gas were the really important parts that needed to get peoples attention, but the rest of it I made it up, I got it moving earlier. That’s why it was out of the necessity to entertain people that I changed the song and I slowly honed the arrangement over a couple of weeks of playing it in rock venues.”  You can read the rest of the interview here

Here is the sheet music for both versions.

Mason Williams

Tommy Emmanuel