At some point early in my life as a driver, I realized that some songs are just perfect for the car. These are the songs, or like the songs, that compelled me to open the moonroof on my old car; the songs that make me wish I had a convertible, if only for a few minutes. They have the road built right into them, so that you can hear the seams in the highway within the music.
It’s summer now, and even if you don’t have a convertible, you can still drive with the windows down. And it's almost the 4th of July, which means a lot of people will be logging highway miles. So here it is, my (probably incomplete) list of my favorite driving songs, in no order except for how they popped into my head.
Boys On the Radio, Hole
Hearing this song the other day made me want to make this list. I can’t express how happy I get when this comes on in the car. Which is funny, since the lyrics are a bit of a downer. They're just set to such a powerful, sunny tune that I can't help singing along.
I Won’t Back Down, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
This is the first song I remember making me perk up and say, “Hello. This is perfect for the freeway.” It’s that bass, thrumming away at that perfect tempo. This one won't automatically make me speed, like some of the others will, but it has a certain laid-back determination that can put the world in perspective.
And as long as I'm showing my age and mentioning Tom Petty, I have to throw in American Girl, which is not only a good driving song, but a good wake-up song, a good getting-ready-to-go-out song, a good summer-picnic song, a good soundtrack-to-housework song, and a good lift-you-out-of-a-blue-funk song, to name only a few applications. Keep it around for emergency interventions. It is the musical equivalent of the epi-pen.
Holiday, Green Day
There's no really good reason to include this on a list of great driving songs, except that it makes me holler along and beat rhythms on the steering wheel. I can't say that I like it better in the car than anywhere else. I want to turn it up loud whenever I hear it because it's a great song. Plus I have a wee crush on Billie Joe Armstrong.
American Idiot, the title track off the same album, is almost as good.
When the Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin
Again, not necessarily a speeding song, but one with a relentless, mesmerizing rhythm. It gives me the feeling it could push the car forward under its own power. Not tremendously fast, but enough to get me to Chicago.
Soul Meets Body, Death Cab for Cutie
For one brief shining moment, we had an excellent radio station here, and I often heard this song on that station as I was driving home from work. This is the most ethereal tune on this list, but it has a brisk rhythm to go with the almost ghostly vocals and is a great pleasure to hear while I'm driving under the stars.
Knock On Wood, Eddie Floyd
It's old, I'll grant you, but I can't imagine this song ever going out of style. It's just too cool. And it's great to listen to a song and know that you're hearing real instruments -- bass, horns, drums -- playing along with a vocalist that would sound just as good live as he does on the recording.
Woke Up This Morning, A3
I never watched The Sopranos. The alternative station in Chicago used to play this song, and that’s how I learned how great it is. When I found out it was the Sopranos theme song and saw the show’s opening, it made perfect sense. Tony was driving. Ergo, the theme was a driving song. How could it be otherwise?
Ways + Means/Ossining, Mike Doughty
I couldn't pick one of these over the other one. It was actually a challenge to narrow my choices from this CD down to two, even though it's the last CD I bought and has had the least amount of time to rattle around in my brain. Even now I'm asking myself, "Should I include '27 Jennifers' instead? Or maybe 'The Only Answer'? Am I picking the right ones?" and then I am slapping myself and remembering why therapy can be such a good idea. For the record, just about every song on "Rockity Roll" -- packaged as a set with "Skittish" -- is great background music for a summer drive.
These Are the Days, 10,000 Maniacs
I haven’t listened to this one in awhile; I think it got overused at some point in my life and I’m detoxing. Still, even though I don’t seek it out, I still listen when it comes on in the car. This is a leaving-on-vacation song. You can almost see yourself on film, driving out of town with the top down, with this as the soundtrack.
Friday I’m In Love, The Cure
Funny how a band known for melancholy goth rock could put out one of the lightest, happiest, best love songs ever. My mood lifts whenever I hear this song. It came on the radio once when I was stuck in traffic, and I went from murderous rage and frustration to elated sing-along mode in about 1.5 seconds. I think I was actually bouncing. All radio stations should play this song at least once every rush hour.
Radio Free Europe, R.E.M.
Possibly my favorite R.E.M. song, largely because of that persistent thrum that drives it forward. It makes me want to be active somehow, to fake-drum on my steering wheel or dance in my living room. I should play it more often; I need the exercise.
Family Affair, Mary J. Blige
This one holds onto its rhythm more consistently than any song I've mentioned, and I challenge anyone reading to listen to it without at least nodding along. And if you're listening in the car, put your shades on.
Super Bon Bon, Soul Coughing
I realized I needed to add this one when it came on my mp3 player last night. If you wanted to, you could crank the bass on this one and rattle everyone's windows. Just keep in mind everyone's rolling their eyes at your obnoxious subwoofers.
Go Your Own Way, Fleetwood Mac
There are two Fleetwood Mac songs I really like, and you can’t really call “Landslide” a good car song unless you like weeping and driving into trees. This one’s perfect if you’re leaving your bad job/boyfriend/girlfriend/town in your rear-view mirror and taking off for greener pastures. The Cranberries did a cover of this one that is also worth a listen.
Let Me Go, Cake
A happy, fluffy meringue of a song. I have no idea where this CD went, but I have to dig it up now that I have a 6-disc changer.