A Playlist for the Road

My family is all over the place, more in summer, perhaps, but it’s almost a guarantee we’re out of state at least once a month. Just between August and September, we’ll log Baltimore, Boston, New York City, Maine, and a couple of days in California. In October, it’s Minnesota for a wedding. If it’s on the eastern coast, we’ve driven it. Nothing makes time pass faster than listening to good music, so here is a compiled playlist of songs about cars and the open road.

Now, before you start listing all the songs I didn’t include, know that there are HUNDREDS of songs about cars and driving, from John Denver’s Country Roads to Dr. Dre all the way back to Roger Miller’s King of the Road, which, honestly, makes my hair stand on end. Maybe it’s because it was on too many K-Tel or Time-Life albums that were pushed at every single commercial break back in the 70’s & 80’s. If you search the internet, you can find several lists, some of which are actually about cars and driving, and others that make no sense at all to me (Hey Jude? Psycho Killer?).

My criteria for the list were, yeah, songs about cars, but more so songs that make me want to hit the open road, that make me wish for an empty highway so I can drop the stick down to third and wind that engine out, that make me feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, songs that make a ride seem exciting. And I added a few fun songs at the end, too.

1) On the Road Again (Willie Nelson) This is practically our theme song every time we get in the car. Even if you don’t like country music, this one is quite tolerable.

sm2) East Bound and Down (Jerry Reed) This is the theme song from Smokey and the Bandit, and there probably isn’t a better long-distance driving movie than that. So stick a six-pack of Coors in your trunk, load the dog, open the windows if you can’t take off the roof, but don’t let Sheriff Justice catch you.

3) Life is a Highway (Rascal Flatts) – Again, don’t be fooled by the singer. This is perfectly good rock, without a bit of twang. Your kids will know it from the movie Cars.

4) Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen) One of my favorites for driving. Upbeat, nostalgic – makes you want to run away from home and never look back.

5) Rockin’ Down the Highway (Doobie Bros) – Old school, fast moving, something that’s been on the radio forever.

6) The Passenger (Iggy Pop, or Alison Mosshart and the Forest Rangers) Choose your version. I know the song by Mosshart, from the Sons of Anarchy soundtrack, but Iggy Pop sang it long before. Iggy’s version is a little plainer, while Mosshart’s is harder and has a more driving beat (no pun intended).

7) Truckin’ (Grateful Dead) You know that steady beat you get on some concrete highways (like I-684), where there’s a definite thump as you hit each and every expansion gap? This song has that same beat, adding to that illusion of cruising down the road.

8) Greased Lightnin’ (John Travolta, on the Grease soundtrack) Who wouldn’t want to cruise the streets in Greased Lightnin’?

GLEE: The boys perform in the "Glease" episode of GLEE airing Thursday, Nov. 15 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. L-R: Harry Shum Jr., Samuel Larsen, Chord Overstreet, Blake Jenner and Jacob Artist. ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Adam Rose/FOX

9) Fast Car (Tracy Chapman) Another song you can feel, racing through the dark, laughing, carefree, someone’s arm around your shoulder, not giving a hoot at that exact moment to the pressures and responsibilities waiting to crush you when you finally stop.

10) Little Red Corvette (Prince) – This was SO overplayed when it was new it kind of scrapes my nerves, but who wouldn’t love to drive one? I love Fire-Engine Red, even though it attracts speed radar, but I’d prefer one in Candy Apple Heavy Metal Flake.

11) Cars (Gary Numan) – the epitome of that 1980 technofunk that shifted over to what’s considered modern “dance” music. It came out around the same time as “Funky Town,” and I always pair the two.

12) Convoy (C.W. McCall) – more properly it’s talking blues with a chorus, and the movie was filmed so badly you can spot the microphone in some scenes, but the premise remains good – a ticked off trucker who accidentally picks up a convoy, and the media takes it to mean a message. Nothing like a hundred semi’s (and “eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus”) to say Road Trip. And fear not, the line is truckin’ convoy.

And just for Fun:

13) Batman theme – the old 1960’s version will give you more nana nana’s for your money, but who doesn’t want to drive like Batman, especially if you’re in the car alone and no one can see you? Crank it up.bond

14) James Bond theme – if Batman’s not dignified enough for you, if you’re wearing a suit and not a cape, if your car is European, crank this one and go practice your corners on the Saw Mill River Parkway, one of the squiggliest little roads I’ve ever seen.

15) Beep Beep (Little Nash Rambler) (The Playmates) Yes, it starts out slow, but that’s the gag. Stick with it to the end. Your kids will love it.

A Different Drummer

Do you ever listen to a song and have the wrong words go through your head?  Do your kids substitute different words to Achy Breaky Heart?  If you think that’s funny, you or your kids may enjoy listening to ‘novelty music,’ or a parody band.  Parody bands take popular songs and twist the words to make a new song, or they may write original songs that are amusing but not your average “commercial” material.  Many people may familiar with the vocal antics of Spike Jones, or songs like “The Purple People Eater,” “The Monster Mash,” Kip Addotta’s fish tale “Wet Dream,” or the “Chipmunk’s Christmas Song” – all once popular radio plays.  The TV show Chicago Hope made frequent use of Tom Lehrer’s song “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.”  If you listened to WHCN in the ’80’s, they often played Barnes & Barnes’ “Fish Heads.” (Trivia fact: Barnes & Barnes is the band name of actor Bill Mumy and his best friend.  Bill is best known as the young Will Robinson in Lost in Space, or Lennier on Babylon 5.)

Product DetailsPerhaps the most popular parody musician is three-time Grammy winner Al Yankovic.  Yankovic boasts such hits as “White and Nerdy,” “Eat It,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and other ear-catching twisted tunes.  Like many parody musicians, Yankovic got his first airtime on the Dr. Demento radio show, which has been running sinc e1974.  Dr. Demento plays parody and comic songs that may or may not make it into popular culture.  Yankovic’s “Yoda,” a parody of The Kinks’ “Lola,” was first played as a basement tape on Dr. Demento, as was “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” (Personally, I like the basement tapes better than Product Detailsthe commercials versions.).  The aforementioned Fish Heads remains the number one requested song on his program.  Dr. Demento is no longer in syndication, but can still be found streaming on the internet.

If you like songs that are a little off kilter, you might try some filk music.  Filk?  Don’t you mean folk?  Filk is a term that came from a typo sometime before 1955, and it refers to fandom – usually but not always science fiction or fantasy – folkmusic.  If you like a book series or a movie or a TV show, chances are someone somewhere has written a song about it.  A song about Game of Thrones?  Oh yes.  Batman?  Him, too.  Want to hear Homer’s Odyssey encapsulated to fit the tune from Gilligan’s Island?  The Boogie Knights have got you covered.  Filk music is serious Memories of Middle Earthbusiness, with several large conventions in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and England, resulting in the Pegasus Award for Excellence given at the Ohio Valley Filk Fest every year.  For a sampling, check out The Brobdignagian Bards “Memories of Middle Earth,” filed among CPL’s folk music, or their Fairy Tales, for their awesome Jedi Drinking Song.

Our music selections include a wide variety of creative music you won’t find on the beaten path, including Yankovic, Lehrer, Dr. Demento, Brobdingnagian Bards, The Chromatics (excellent a capella performed by real rocket scientists), Monty Python, Harry and the Potters, and more.

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Eat them up, Yum!