Great Driving Songs - In Narrative Form

The long distance drive can be one of the most frustrating and annoying experiences known to modern man. Traffic, cramps, coffee, coffee induced bathroom breaks, coffee induced bad breath, rain, and countless other factors can make life on the road a pain in the ass. Out of these frustrations, though, good music can be enough of a pleasure to level out the playing field. Of course, not all music is created equally when it comes to the long distance road trip.

The best kinds of driving songs usually have a few things in common: a driving (pun intended), kick heavy beat, thumping bass, and the energy. Daytime driving differs from nighttime trips, however, and the just-listed attributes do not necessarily apply to driving once the sun goes down. Nighttime perfect songs are slower, full of solid lyrical content, and affecting. Compiled below is a list of absolutely spot-on road trip songs which will be sure to power any driver through the pains of long, draining drives. A nighttime driving mix will follow in the next post.

Daytime driving:

Turn on the engine, throw the car into drive and merge onto the interstate, feeling the vibrations of the pistons percolating in your fingertips. Dial the volume up so that the sound of the music blows away all outside distractions (other than safe driving, of course), and pop in the mix. The CD player teases you for a moment, audibly spinning the disc, before you hear the heavy bass and teasing tambourine of This is Music by The Verve. Suddenly the waves of distortion and mammoth, finger bleeding guitar lines of Nick McCabe kick in with a wave of drums and Richard Ashcroft snarls, “I stand accused, just like you, for being born without a silver spoon!”

The song frenetically pounds its way through moving bass and guitar lines while Ashcroft continues his self-loathing and preaching, shifting its way through breaks, rises and falls with blistering energy until the song abruptly ends in a storm of distortion and noise with Ashcroft smugly proclaiming, “This is music!”.

The music falls away and the track changes after a momentary pause. The car continues to hum along as the dark bass line to Spread Your Love by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club chugs along like a nuclear train. Peter Hayes’ crunchy guitar kicks in as Nick Jago’s drumming steadily holds the company line. Hayes and Robert Levon Been’s alternating vocals, cocksure and sneering, extol the virtues of spreading your love like a fever. Perfectly layered harmonicas and guitars continue to fuel the atomic train’s unstoppable momentum as the song crescendos in an orgy of cymbals, bass, and gritty vocals.

Before you can even catch your breath Guy Garvey screams a muffled, “Four!” and Elbow’s Fallen Angel bursts into life. Garvey’s unique voice rides on the waves of grainy bass and thrashing guitar, taking you through ‘mongrels’, dragging your feathers across the dance floor, and keeping your blues on cruise control. The song peaks with its chorus as Garvey sings, “You don’t need to sleep alone. You bring the house down!” Garvey brings the song home along with the rest of Elbow, layering delicate harmonies over the top of the crunch. Before you know it the song has sped to its end and the track is changing once again.

Black Nite Crash by Ride, driven by miles of guitars and the frenetic drumming of Loz Colbert causes the speakers in your car to vibrate the change out of your pocket. Andy Bell’s nonsense lyrics and ridiculous guitar work moves at breakneck speed as his airy vocals declare, “Everyone’s got the same disease. It’s alright.” After two minutes of contained mayhem the song abruptly ends, leaving you gasping for breath after trying to match Bell word for word through a “hunchback abuser working on a cruiser” and the twists of “evening, daybreak, switchblade, stomach ache, gonna meet a man with a rattlesnake handshake”.

A temporary silence allows you to catch your breath a bit, before Set You Free by The Black Keys drives up your pulse rate with its frenzied blues-rock. The machine gun drums and dirty guitar frame the “I can’t believe this voice comes out of a white guy from Ohio” violent melodies and vocal workings of Dan Auerbach. The song quickly zooms towards its apex and ends as quickly and as torridly as it began.

You reach down and take a sip of coffee as the next song begins. A short intro falls away to reveal a quickly moving bass line, distorted organs, synth, backbeat heavy drums, and the strength of Noel Gallagher’s singular voice. Let Forever Be by The Chemical Brothers is easily one of the most triumphant amalgamations of dance-fused rock n’ roll and its pace and layering leaves your ears almost unable to keep up, dropping new sounds and melodies with every passing second. Gallagher’s voice seems surprisingly comfortable outside of his usual Oasis elements and the mixture of dance and rock vibrates your chest cavity. The song ends with a stuttered synth line fading out into silence.

The silence continues for a moment, allowing you to again sip from your coffee and change lanes, accelerating past a slow moving Jetta. The next track begins rather benignly, the simple drum beat and monotonous melody devoid of frills as well as any hint of bass. Once Julian Casablancas declares, “Is this it?” you are thinking the same thing despite tapping your left foot absentmindedly along with the beat. The song continues to layer as your head nods more and more and your fingers begin to tap the wheel. In a moment you are singing full out to Is This It? by The Strokes, and the poppy, distinctive bass line propels the song to new heights as it kicks in. Before the song is over you are singing, playing the air drums (hitting the air freshener hanging from your rear view mirror like a cymbal), and singing the bass line when the vocals drop out. The song is affecting despite its sparseness and when it sputters to its end after only two and a half minutes you are craving more.

The track changes, however, and Pool Song by Longwave kicks in with its Strokes-esque, ringing guitars and overdriven vocals. The song moves in a way which The Strokes never quite capture, however, blending quickly moving rock, gorgeous guitars, stuttered bass, and clickety-clackety drums perfectly together with Steve Schlitz’s simple yet acute observations and lyrical musings. Once the song hits its chorus you can’t help but sing along at the top of your lungs connecting as he sings, “And when it’s over you feel much older. You have your fill.” Massively distorted guitar solos and increasing layers of intricate guitar work add new dimensions as the song quickly transforms itself throughout its verses and choruses. After one final rousing chorus the song ends immediately and abruptly.

An organ fades in as Leadbelt by Sunbear, the little known but brilliant Irish shoegaze and indie pop band, begins. As the organ crescendos an array of distorted, overdriven, and effects laden guitars bursts into life. A stuttered and heavy drumbeat worthy of Loz Colbert fills every nook and cranny of silence the waves of guitars don’t fill as the Martin Kelly vocals plaintively scream for attention, “So climb that ladder slowly, cause I don’t want reach the top right now. Tie that leadbelt round your waist and mine. We’ll do fine just hanging around for awhile.” Halfway through the heavy guitars drop away leaving a slowly building mixture of atmospheric guitar work and complex drum patterns. The build reaches its apex as the thumping bass and heavy guitars join with the lyric, “Sometimes things just work out. Sometimes.”

As the song dies away the track changes and you are suddenly aware of a cherubic falsetto chattering layered nonsense under a hypnotic guitar line and perfectly matched bass and drums of Rockist Part Four by The School of Language, the new side project of Field Music genius David Brewis. The underlying vocals, which sound like someone sang “do, re, me, fa, so, la, te, do” and then chopped them up and rearranged them to sound like a droning drum beat, are present throughout the entire song as Brewis sings over the top, formulating and crafting unique and thoughtful melodies and lyrics. The song hums along brilliantly as you sing along with Brewis trademark “ohhs” and “ooohs” , before the song hits its chorus of “There is only you. There is only you. There can only be yoooouuuu.” The bass steadily beats the rhythm into your chest as reverberated guitar solos take you back to 1974. Despite its repetitive nature, Brewis and the rest of The School of Language continue to surprise your ears with distinctive sounds and by the time the song ends with a droning orgy of noise worthy of mentioning in the same sentence as The Beatles “A Day in the Life” you are continuing to hum the signature guitar riff.

The CD ends and you are arrive at a sudden realization that you have traveled far further than you first thought. Your breath smells like coffee and you don’t care who is unfortunate enough to be the first to have a close-quarters conversation with you. The road stretches out before you and you accelerate, feeling the pistons pumping in your feet as the tips of your fingers buzz along the wheel.