April 21, 1997 12:00 PM

>Ben Vaughn


AS THE COMPOSER OF THE time-and mind-warping music heard each week on the hit NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, Ben Vaughn is used to venturing where no Fender Telecaster has gone before. “They were looking for classic American rock and roll as if played by aliens,” says Vaughn, who was tracked down by a 3rd Rock producer after she heard his power-poppin’ music on the radio. “That’s what I do naturally, so I was the perfect choice.” But the 42-year-old South Jersey native (transplanted to Santa Monica, Calif.) with the eclectic résumé—he’s produced the masked surf band Los Straitjackets and written the cracked-corn classic “I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)”—has really pushed the sonic envelope for his latest: Rambler 65 was recorded entirely inside his, yes, 1965 Rambler American sedan.

“Rock and roll always sounds great in a car,” explains Vaughn, “so I thought, why not record in a car?” Using the front seat for equipment, the backseat for playing and singing, and the trunk as an isolation booth for his amp, he recorded Rambler 65 in a little over a week, one instrument at a time. “If I had a garage, it probably would have gone faster,” Vaughn admits. “Every morning I’d get up, run the extension cord out the kitchen window to the car in the driveway, plug in and try and get as much done before the neighborhood kids came home from school and started snooping around.”

With such rubber-burning tracks as “7 Days Without Love” and “Boomerang,” Vaughn is pleased with the surprisingly normal-sounding outcome of his four-on-the-floor adventure. But what he’s proudest of (besides being able to list “1 quart Quaker State oil” among Rambler 65’s production credits) is the song “Heavy Machinery,” wherein the Rambler itself takes a bona fide “engine solo.” “It came out great,” says Vaughn. “And only one take, too!”

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