Top 5 Driving Songs (by Claire)

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 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.

Top 5 Songs Your New Year’s Eve Party Desperately Needs


1. Parliament – “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off)”

It’s pretty impossible to have a party without George Clinton. I mean, seriously, can you remember the last time you went to a party and a Parliament/Funkadelic/George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic didn’t make an appearance on the playlist? You can? I’ll bet that party sucked. No? You’re lying to me now. It was so good you got blackout drunk and you met your future husband/wife? Just stop. You’re embarrassing yourself. Everyone knows no party is complete without some interplanetary funk.

2. Queen – “Don’t Stop Me Now”

It’s a party rock anthem before anyone called them party rock anthems. Everyone knows this song whether they know they know it. It comes on all slow and lures you in, and when it hits, it not only brings recognition but that sense of it’s. Motherfucking. On. It also benefits from having one of the best zombie-killing scenes in the history of zombie movies. I mean, who doesn’t like zombie-killing choreographed beat-to-beat, blow-for-blow to Queen?

3. MC Chris – “Fett’s Vette”

A song introduced to the world by Sealab 2021. It’s a rap song about Boba Fett. Quite honestly, there’s not much else to be said, save that it’s ba-nay-nay good. I mean, really. Fat-ass beats and Star Wars? How can it get any better?

4. The Lonely Island – “I’m On A Boat”

If you’ve watched SNL in the last 5 years or so, you probably know of the Lonely Island. No? Please. You know who Andy Samberg is, right? No? Come on, he’s totally huge. I Just Had Sex? Throw It To Ground? No? Really? Ok, then you have seen Dick in a Box, correct? Finally. If you liked Dick in a Box, you’ll love I’m On A Boat. Plus, it has T-Pain and a mermaid. Which he fucked, apparently. And for the record, everyone I know has heard and seen I Just Had Sex and Throw It To Ground. You gotta get with it. You haven’t seen I Just Had Sex and you go to parties where they don’t play George Clinton? Something’s wrong with you my friend.

5. Nappy Roots – “Aw Naw”

A classic song in the “Fuck, I remember that song!” genre. The beat is big drums and what seems like a Rhodes playing the hook. I love this song, and you do too. And you’ll love it even more when it comes on at party when you’re many, many drinks in and you’ve crossed that line of no return into ghostfaced wasted. And that’s exactly the kind of party I hope you’re at this New Year’s Eve. But no. You’re gonna be at party where there’s no George Clinton, where nobody has heard of Andy Samberg, and I’ll bet you’ll be able to drive home after the ball drops. If you are this person, I doubt you’re reading this blagablag. But if you aren’t, Nappy Roots is perfect for your party. Trust me.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jamiroquai- “Virtual Insanity”: Claire and I both have a thing for this song and we’ll put it on just about any party mix.
  • Rare Earth – “I Just Want to Celebrate”: A little on the nose, I know. But it’s pretty sweet to play drinking games to this song.
  • DJ Danger Mouse and Jay Z – “99 Problems”: This is 99 problems mixed to The Beatles “Helter Skelter.” I feel like Jay Z should, but will never, recognize that this version is way, way better than his.


1. Friends– “I’m His Girl”

Brooklyn hipster funk, but funky nonetheless, with a rare happy relationship message. Friends extols the virtues of independence and supportiveness, all to the tune of a very sexy, pseudo-dance-worthy beat. Check out their cover of “My Boo,” but be warned:  “If your game is on, give me a call boo” will be running through your head for weeks. Consider it a New Years present from me.

2. Xaphoon Jones (Mash up of B.I.G., Beyonce, & Passion Pit)- “Swimming in the Sky”

Xaphoon Jones has turned the mashup genre, which I strictly associated with crappy late night radio musical calisthenics, into an art form. For your party mix, I see this as a “Some people are here and this will get crazy in about 40 minutes” song and a “I’m drinking a glass of wine pre-party, taking one last long look at my clean house before these loveable idiots come over and trash it” song.

3. Phoenix– “Too Young”

A few weeks ago, I watched “Lost in Translation” on a plane. It was a last ditch attempt to get my boyfriend to like a movie that had been embarrassingly meaningful to a seventeen year old me (Not only did I steal ScarJo’s muted preppy wardrobe and shaggy haircut, but stole her standard greeting, a low-voiced weirdly drawn out “Helllloooo”) We had just been to Tokyo, had even slurped overpriced cocktails at the bar where most of the film takes place, so I was sure he would like the movie much more this time around. He did. But in a turn of events that won’t surprise anyone who has revisited movies they slavishly adored as teens, I didn’t like it nearly as much, except for one scene. Everyone is dancing in a little apartment in Tokyo, drinking champagne and laughing at nothing, with this song playing. No matter how disappointing the rest of the movie was, that scene made me think “I want to be at that party.” Which means this song should be at your party. And, fingers crossed, Scarlet Johanson and Bill Murray should be there too (It could happen.)

4. Talking Heads– Life During Wartime

I think in the world of dance-worthy Talking Heads songs, “Life During Wartime” doesn’t get a fair shake. We get it, “Burning Down the House.” You’re awesome. But you’ve been overplayed at every bar with half-decent music, and every bar mitzvah hosted by aging hippie parents, and enough is enough. I say in 2012, we bid adieu to “Burning Down the House” and kick off a more varied Talking Heads diet, starting with this song. For a primer on the Talking Heads diet, go watch “Stop Making Sense” and pick up a giant grey suit. Jump roping back up singers help too.

5. James Brown– “Get Up Offa That Thing”

You know those people who show up at your party and don’t dance? Even when shit gets started, even when the champagne is flowing and and things are officially fun, not forced party merriment fun, but plain old fun? Even when the music is awesome, the room is crowded and appropriately sweaty? Don’t worry about those too-mellow-party-poopers hovering in the corners. Turn this song on and TRY not to dance.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Etta James– “Tell Mama”: That voice! That beat! Those eyebrows! We all need a little more Etta in our lives. Start the year off right (and depending on how your night goes, start it off right later in the night with “I Just Want to Make Love To You.” You can wake up the next morning with a hangover and “Sunday Kind of Love.” I’m rooting for you.)
  • Janelle Monae– “Tightrope”: Her silky voice, the drums, the beat: This is party song perfection, complete with tuxedos, bouffants, and Big Boi.
  • Outkast– “Bombs Over Baghdad”: This is a quality rowdy, lets-take-this-party-to-the-next-level, “OMG I REMEMBER THIS SONG” track.