A funny thing happened two years ago: I stopped driving. I didn’t plan it or expect it, but here I am two years later, lacking car insurance and car, still wielding my Maryland driver’s license, which in California is simply a glorified alcohol passport, not legally usable if you want to hit the road. I didn’t miss it for the first year and a half. But around the time that Joshua said “Hey, let’s do a driving songs list!”, a thought lodged in my head: The best way to listen to music is in the car. It’s where I used to find new music, it’s where I used to rediscover old music, and most importantly it’s where I used to enjoy the head to toe giddiness that comes from rolling my windows all the way down and turning a song all the way up.
My alcohol passport is about to expire, and I think it’s time to re-up and get some wheels, or at least get behind one for a bit. Here’s what I’ll probably listen to when I do.
“The Curse of Being Young” by Hunx and His Punx
I’m not great at finding new music. It’s not a problem I have with other interests. I find new books with harrowing, wallet-emptying ease. I live in a town where new foods seem to find me—a thick skinned pomelo the size of my head stalks me out of a farmer’s market, tacos slippery with grease and spiked with seedy salsa verde appear in a truck that idles outside of my apartment, it’s rumbly engine chanting “Eat again, kid, eat again.” But new music, specifically new music that I like, has never come easily to me. When I find new music that I like, I cross my fingers and stalk the record label, track down previous albums, and look for all related bands. It’s a sporadic hunt, and one I wish I were much, much better at.
My sister long ago inherited my father’s open ear for new music. It is impossible to step into her car without finding a hodge podge of old and new songs housed on slim unmarked discs, tucked away throughout the car in thick stacks. The girl has good taste, and having spent the past two weeks criss-crossing Baltimore and DC, this is a small musical thank you. It’s not a new song, but it was to me the first time I heard it in her car 6 months ago, and I rediscovered it this trip. I recommend playing it on your way to the snowball stand, the destination for many of our travels last week.
“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette
One of my top 5 early musical taste defining experiences was listening to HFS in elementary school. HFS introduced me to a dizzying number of 90s rock icons, many of whom I still listen to now. “You Oughta Know” played every morning on the way to summer camp one year. It was the first song I remember blasting in the car, even though I wasn’t driving, and it remains a play-at-top-volume classic. Though Morissette rages against the post-relationship transgressions of Uncle Joey, I recommend blasting this song no matter what you’re relationship situation is. It’s cathartic. Don’t you have a boss or friend or neighbor or guy ahead of you in traffic who needs to know how enraged you are? Turn the volume up. Let it out.
“Mas Que Nada” by Sergio Mendes and the Black Eyed Peas
So I know the Black Eyed Peas are a scourge on the earth and that we all signed that petition to do everything we could to end their stranglehold on modern radio (I think it was post-My Humps, pre-Imma Be. And based on this year, our petition is a rousing success! Now who’s next? My sights are on One Direction). But once upon a time, they made a decent album that attempted to bring Sergio Mendes to the mainstream masses (which they unfortunately followed up with a very boring second Mendes album). The combination of Sergio Mendes and Will.i.am is fun, silly, and perfect for rolled down windows on an early summer, pre-blazing humidity Baltimore day.
“You Need (Clipse and Led Zeppelin)” by Xaphoon Jones
Xaphoon Jones mixes an impeccable, and unexpected, cocktail of Led Zeppelin and Clipse. Though neither of them does much for me on their own (half true—I like Led Zeppelin, but in a pretty straight forward, just-the-hits way that doesn’t constitute legitimate fandom for a band with such an extensive catalog. You can’t just like the three songs everyone knows by Bob Dylan and officially like Bob Dylan as an adult. You can, however, do this very comfortably with a band that only has a handful of albums under it’s belt. This is maybe a theory I should work out elsewhere. Lets get back to the song), the combo makes perfect driving music, specifically under my all time favorite driving conditions: driving fast, preferably on an empty road with no threat of sudden filling, windows rolled down, volume thrown up to it’s highest notch, arm slung over the side of the car, banging the rhythm open palmed on the door.
“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: Part 1” by The Flaming Lips
I love big, brassy, loud songs as much as the next driver. But I’ve always needed a second type of song: A slow down song to offset all the heightened door-slapping, lyrics-yelling aggression. Most of my driving life, as I’m sure is true with much of yours, has consisted of zipping to and from work. That work has included monastically quiet offices, big houses full of children waiting to be fed and chauffeured to soccer practice, summer camp classrooms teaming with preschoolers—all sorts of spaces and audiences where entering hyped up on adrenaline would have been unwise (this is not true at all with restaurant work, which mandated big aggressive music beforehand, and made it so I could only stomach slower songs after the extended adrenaline binge that is a shift waiting tables) This is one of my slow down songs, one that plays nicely with the songs before it and transitions into something slower, or a few snatched minutes of silence. It’s a big, complex, layered song, one that doesn’t do a quarter as much for me piped in through headphones as it does turned up during a long drive.