Thursday, October 1, 2009

Road Trip!

There’s no telling how many miles my BFF Vicky and I logged during our high school years—late 60s, but who’s counting--just driving around aimlessly, the windows down, singing along to the radio.

 For you GenXers perhaps I should emphasize the word RADIO. Back then radios were often an accessory option in a new car for which you forked over a nice chunk of change. But if you were lucky and lived a righteous life you had a radio in your car AND you travelled within the reception range of a good Top 40 radio station. 

Later would come after-market 8-Tracker players that were bolted onto the floorboard, leaving scant room for the front seat passenger’s feet.  Then cassette player boxes, or if you were really swank a custom installed radio/cassette player.  That medium held sway for a long time then came CD players, even changers in the trunk that held 200 or more CDs.  Talk about overkill, how far would you have to drive? And–trust me on this–someday you’ll be waxing nostalgic to your own children about the charmingly low-tech Ipod that played MP3s–because we all know there’s somebody out there right now dreaming up the next format.

            But I digress. 

            Perhaps Vicky and I were guilty of wasting a lot of fossil fuel, and maybe we could have been a little more productive with our time, but I have no regrets.  That’s as close to capital-F freedom as I’ll ever get. And to this day if I want to feel a little of it again all I’ve got to do is put on Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” for a jolt.

            From that point onward cars and certain music became inextricably linked for me.  After I was married my hubby and I frequently made long car trips to visit family and friends and being poor as church mice we always tried to drive it through to avoid hotel expenses.  I never left home without the mix tape I’d need to stay awake and alert when he turned the wheel over to me—usually in the wee hours of the morning.  The one that stands out strongest from this period is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have you Ever Seen the Rain?”

            Then came kids and a small hiatus from rockin’ road trip music as we were usually involved in high-level negotiations for listening privileges.  “Okay, we’ll trade you one whole side of Raffi’s Baby Beluga for an hour of All Things Considered.  Deal?”

            By the time the kids were pre-teens they’d picked up instruments themselves and discovered classic rock. It was quaintly retro to them, but whatever the frame of reference I was in heaven.  They made their own mix tapes of Led Zepplin, The Grateful Dead, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, The Band, Hendrix, Dylan and lots more of my own favs.  So some of my oldies got new fond memories layered on.

            When the kids hit their teens it was their turn to introduce me to new listening experiences.  Lots of fun road trips from that period had soundtracks supplied by Bare Naked Ladies, Better Than Ezra, Smoking Popes, Cake, Fountains of Wayne and lots of other artists I probably woudn’t have discovered on my own. Then we all got portable CD players and the communal listening experience all but disappeared except for the times when someone found something they really wanted to share.  It was convenient, and ended the arguments over car stereo time, but it was a little sad.

            Listening to music in the car is a different experience.  You’re literally trapped in a perfect listening position–and there’s movement and visual stimuli outside the windshield.  It helps to engrave both the song and the memories in your mind.  And if you need a break from the daily grind later on…put on your favorite road trip song and close your eyes–all the good memories, none of the disgusting gas-station bathrooms!

Here are some of my favorite road trip songs from the past–it’s always subject to change for the next trip!  I’m the first to admit it’s a weird assortment, but life takes you where it takes you.

  • Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”
  • Grateful Dead’s “Sugar Magnolia”
  • The Beatles “Drive My Car”
  • Bare Naked Ladies’ “One Week”
  • Cake’s “Stickshifts and Safetybelts”
  • Melissa Etheridge “Baby, You Can Sleep While I Drive” (my favorite is her duet with KD Lang)
  • Neil Young “Ohio”
  • Warren Zevon’s “Mohammed’s Radio”
  • U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
  • Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”

 I’d love to hear about your favorite road trip songs and how they got to be your favs.  What do you think are the attributes that make up a good road trip song. Please share!


  1. I like songs I can sing along to. They have to be OLD, and harmony is good. Probably my favorite sing-along song is the Eagles 'Lyin' Eyes'. I also like to find stations that surprise me by playing some of the more esoteric stuff I can sing along with. Driving back from the beach recently I heard Elton John's 'Someone Saved my Life Tonight', to which I know all the words. Also ancient Dylan, the ones with all the verses, like 'The Times They are a Changin'. Kind of an eclectic group of ditties!

  2. my husband of 30 years introduced me to jazz. First, it was fusion; like Passport, Weather Report and Chick Corea. These are excellent songs for driving. There was one song by Weather Report I especially liked. We called it the 'kumquat song'. The lead guitar made a sound after some clarinets that sounded like, "kumQuat!".
    Since you are rocker, I will add:
    Great songs for a road trip up north MI to go camping- King Crimson.

  3. Hi Bren Good choices all. It reminded me of my first rock concert. I went to see Classics Four.Remember them? I wasn't that much of a fan of their radio hits but they gave a great concert. Also I think Piano Man by Billy Joel is one of the best short stories ever. Take care.


  4. I remember a day trip to Wilmington when James was only about 3 or 4 (but already deeply in love with music). It was me, my mom, him, and Jaime. After all of us liking the same stuff for years, we were starting to splinter off and listen to different stuff. This was the beginning of argumetns about what CD to put on and who could listen to the one personal CD player we had. However, there was still one album we all loved, and this includes James. It was the Blue Album by Weezer. It was windows down, max volume and everyone sing along at the top of your lungs from the first song on the album to the last. There was no skipping tracks in those days.:)


    Road trip by lyrical definition -- too bad no band has ever updated this classic.

  6. Nothing like rolling down the car windows and turning up the volume to "Sooner or Later" by The Grass Roots. Will always remind me of summers past riding in the car with my older sisters to go the Kwik Pik for a Coca-cola Icee and a Tiger Beat magazine.

  7. Because our groups travel sooo much it's only the really crazy places that stick in our minds.
    Any time I listen to Jack Johnson, especially Banana Pancakes I think of Europe, mostly Paris where my brother Andy and I listened to it incessantly.
    Ants Marching by Dave Matthews is one of the songs we listen to every time we're moving to a new place.
    Songs we write tie into places pretty strongly. Daffodils reminds me of Holden Beach as does Cast my Heart. My Moment always reminds me of Alaska and Shine reminds me of Vero Beach. And of course the Chinese song Peach Blossoms reminds me of China and oddly enough Canada where we first played it :)