Like many members of my egocentric generation, I always want to pick the music. I’m an i-pod DJ and I think I’m pretty decent at it, just like everybody else. I tend to put exorbitant amounts of time into crafting playlists. Halloween, a wine and cheese party, a drive to my hometown, a weekend with visiting college buddies; there’s an ideal playlist for these and thousands of other occasions. Maybe I take such care when crafting playlists because I resent not knowing how to make music of my own. Who knows. I do know that I seethe when someone unplugs my i-pod to play an entire Katy Perry album.
Last weekend, I made a playlist for my drive from Portland out to a trail head on Mount Hood. Autumn is my favorite time of year, what with the leaves and the football and the apple cider, and I feel as if some music just fits the mood of the season. I tried to find a good balance of new music, recent favorites, and classics that I grew up with. I omitted a bunch of “old stand-by” road trip tunes in favor of mixing things up a bit. I can only listen to “Take it Easy” so many times.
Here’s what I went with:
Wish You Well – Bernard Fanning
This Aussie hit neatly sums up the emotions of leaving folks behind to embark on a journey, or being left behind. Cool music video too, but don’t watch it as you’re driving.
Shadow People – Dr. Dog
Move along. This song plays out like it should being playing in a car as it rolls slowly through a dreary Rust-Belt town, which makes sense, because the Dr. Dog hails from Philadelphia. I just feel like leaving town whenever I hear the chorus.
Sprawl II (Mountains beyond mountains) – Arcade Fire
These days any road trip that starts in an urban area and ends in the woods takes you through an eerie moonscape of shopping malls and housing developments with ironic names that describe the very environments they’re displacing. This song encapsulates the unsettling feeling we get when we see them.
Darkness on the Edge of Town – Bruce Springsteen
Anyone with two parents from Jersey is required by state law to include a Springsteen album in every playlist. I don’t make the rules. Believe it or not, the Boss is a major influence for those Canadian elves in Arcade Fire. Plus at this point in the trip, we’re on the edge of town (Get it?). Unless you’re in LA or an east coast city. Then you’re probably stuck in traffic three miles from your apartment
Going Missing – Maximo Park
Ever feel like your head’s going to explode if you don’t stop the stressful stuff you’re doing immediately and go for a run or a hike? I hope I’m not the only one. This up-tempo Brit rock number is great for those instances.
The Comedown – Black Gold
This song reminds me of the Beegees, then Carly Simon, and then The Beatles. Yea, I know that’s weird. Even weirder, it works.
Got My Mojo Working – Muddy Waters
Now we’re getting somewhere. That’s some mean harmonica, Muddy. May I call you Muddy?
Just Couldn’t Tie Me Down – The Black Keys
The title says it all, though I could have picked any song from the Rubber Factory album. Every song on it rocks. Hard. I’m proud to have discovered it back 2005, in Dunedin, New Zealand of all places. The Rubber Factory album got its name because it was in fact record in an abandoned rubber factory in Akron, OH. The tracks are as gritty and rugged as trails I was traveling with my friends when I first fell in love with the band.
Tramping in the Southern Alps of NZ
Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons
When I hear this song, I feel like I’m in the dingy back room of a parlor in the 19th century England, where people are betting on a bare-knuckle boxing match. The driving beat makes for excellent fast-driving music.
Miles Away – Marc Cohn
Time to settle things down a bit. Yep, he’s the guy that sings “Walking in Memphis” (not Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen, which you might have thought if you downloaded that song off Napster in the early 2000s). My parents love him, and so do I. A little bit country, a little bit soul, Cohns’s voice is as distinctive as it is smooth. I love this song because it embodies the joy of being out of touch and off the grid, unencumbered by the responsibilities of home.
No Intention – Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors is just different. The guitar in this track has a sitar-like twang to it, which is strangely pacifying to me. It also makes driving on sun-dappled country roads extra serene.
This Dance is Out of Your Hands – The Steelwells
I love the opening line. I also love the chorus harmony the invites you to wail along.
Unkown Legend – Neil Young
My parents used to love playing the Harvest Moon album. As a child I think this song gave me my first lesson in the power of imagery in writing. Every time I listen to the lyrics, I briefly consider buying a motorcycle.
Everlasting Light – The Black Keys
Because every guy needs to practice his falsetto from time to time, and there’s not better time than when you’re in a car by yourself. TBK is big-time now, with a new, sleekly produced album and songs appearing in Honda commercials and NFL telecasts. Still, their sound remains a potent mix of rock and blues. Unfortunately, they, along with industry, LeBron James, and hope, have decided to abandon Northeast Ohio.
Goin’ Down – Freddie King
Welcome to Blues School. This is Caterwauling 101. This is Freddie King and he’ll be your instructor today.
Give Me One Reason (live) – Tracy Chapman feat. Eric Clapton
It’s impossible to resist singing along to this blues classic. Want to make a sweet song even better? Add some Clapton.
Life is Beautiful – Keb’ Mo’
A song that makes me think, if for just one day in my life, my voice could sound any way I wanted, I think I’d want to sound like this. Either Keb’Mo’, or lead singer of Styx. These are also some of the most sanguine lyrics of all time.
Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
Great track for drives though rolling landscapes. Also great if you’re producing a movie trailer for a heartfelt romantic comedy.
Home – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes
Sports an “Old Western” rhythm that makes me imagine my compact Scion Zipcar is an Ox-led covered wagon. I also like imagining what John Wayne-style cowboys would have thought of the members of this 10-person ensemble of dreadlocked hippies.
Ragged Wood – Fleet Foxes
Based on the lyrics, this song might be a better fit for the trip home, but you get the point.
Copperline – James Taylor
Ah James, the original American troubadour. Taylor’s voice is unmistakable. He could sing the Free Credit Report dot com song and I’d get choked up. Hearing Copperline puts me in a good place this time of year. Makes me think of hot apple cider.
Baylor's Lake (PA) in Autumn
Golden Autumn Day – Van Morrison
The entire album Back on Top is perfect for rural drives as the leaves come falling down. I’m transported to my family’s cabin in Northeast Pennsylvania every time I hear it. This is an ideal track for the long meandering back roads to the trailhead. Partly because of the soothing sax and harmonica solos, and partly because it kills six minutes.
Baylor's Lake Cabin in October
And that’s about it. Now it’s your turn. Write me a comment and let me know what song you’d add.