May 18, 2008

Music for driving.

As you can see from my last post, I took a long drive yesterday, driving for the sake of driving, and I wrote: "Propitiously, the radio played 'Radar Love.'" A commenter — aptly named Skeptical — challenged me:
Sorry, I don't think "Radar Love" on the radio can count as propitious. That's a song about somebody who isn't driving just to drive; he's driving because there is somewhere that he definitely has to be.
That's a pretty subtle point about the close interpretation of the lyrics. If it's a song about driving and you're driving and the music feels great for driving, does the stress on reaching the destination make it not a great driving song? Of course, there are some great songs about driving that don't stress the destination. I'm thinking of all the songs that rave about the car itself — like "Little GTO" and "409"— or the songs that are using driving as a metaphor for sex — like "Little Red Corvette" and "Mustang Sally." But stressing the destination creates an urgency about the forward motion that makes the song great for driving even when you are driving just to drive. Don't you love to drive to "Six Days on the Road"?

But I'm not so sure "Radar Love" is about the destination. It's in the now. It's about extrasensory powers enabling the singer to hear the voice of his "baby" without a phone or radio at all. "She sends her comfort, coming in from above. Don't need no radio at all." Via radar love, he's able to feel good again, driving now.

Anyway, driving yesterday, I needed a radio. I like the chance combinations of song and landscape. I like it when they fit and I like it when they don't. Here I am driving across the Wisconsin River on Route 14:



"Radar Love" has ranked well on some lists of best driving songs. We could try to make a list, but most people end up with songs that mean something to them, that are from their era. Let's try to transcend that. "Radar Love" is not from my era. I just happened to have the 70s channel on the radio, where I go when the 60s channel is playing one too many Supremes songs. Here's a VH1 list of Top 10 driving songs. There are a lot of things to object to about that list. #10 is something that would make me instantly change channels. But I'm not going to object to the fact that #1 is a motorcycle song. I'm going to use that as an excuse to embed this:



And now that the topic is movies and motorcycles, I have even more of an excuse to put this up, which I was going to put up anyway, because of the way it expresses the idea of driving for the sake of driving:



One last thing. This is my choice of best driving song:

25 comments:

vet66 said...

Every chance I get I use Route 66 from San Bernardino to Barstow, Kingman, Flagstaff, Winslow, and Gallup. What a journey down the Mother Road complete with old diners and cafes.

Try it, You'll like it! Especially on a motorcycle.

bearbee said...

66

George said...

Then there's Nelson Riddle's 'Route 66' theme song itself.

Look at the factory they drive past! It must be a mile long. Steel mill?

Bertha, Gimme a Pigfoot!

Roman said...

Most dangerous music while driving: "Ride of the Valkirie"
...without cruise control, speed goes up 15MPH

ballyfager said...

Time Is Tight - Booker T. and The MGs

shade said...

My favorite driving song ever is "Roadrunner" by The Modern Lovers. "Going faster miles an hour....with the radio on."

Ann Althouse said...

Bearbee... I was going to link to the Nat King Cole version because it's the original, but it just doesn't feel like driving to me. The Rolling Stones version feels like driving AND feels more original. It's like an old blues song. The NKC one seems cleaned up and tamed. Not that he's not good, but it makes me want to sit in a classy nightclub and sip a martini, not drive out west.

rhhardin said...

e.e.cummings she being Brand

Texas Tom said...

Ann, don't let your geographic prejudices keep you from driving to Jerry Jeff Walker's "Texas" or "The Pickup Truck Song." Just about anything from Asleep at the Wheel works, too.

PWS said...

Ann, how do you rationalize "driving for the sake of driving" with gas prices as they are?

Kev said...

As a jazz guy, my tastes run in a different direction from the mainstream. For me, there's no better driving music than the Pat Metheny Group. Pat's a guitarist from just outside Kansas City, MO, and his music often reflects his Midwest upbringing. Listening to Pat reminds me of driving past the cornfields on a perfect Sunday afternoon, when all is right with the world. (He takes some side trips to Brazil on occasion.)

blake said...

I like Jonathan Coulton's "Drive".

I'm a little surprised "You Can't Catch Me" isn't on there.

That's the John Lennon version, recorded in response to a plagiarism lawsuit for the words lifted, "Here come old flat top/he come groovin' up with me." Seems like a flimsy premise to me.

My dad hates that version and it's a far cry from the original. Though I notice that neither singer can actually pronounce "automobile".

But when Dr. Winston O'Boogie opens up with just his voice and a few tom-toms, it gives me chills (if I may be allowed a Chris Matthews moment here).

William said...

Brando's performance is as dated as the slang. Steve McQueen in The Great Escape is the coolest guy ever on two wheels...Cycling isn't about busting up the town; it's about busting out of town.

recluserecluse said...

"On the Road Again" - not the Willie Nelson song but the completely different Tom Rush song of the same name, to be found on his "Take A Little Walk With Me" album.

"Put her into overdrive,
"Rollin' down the turnpike,
"Listen to the whistlin' of the wind
"And feelin' just like...
"HEY! I'm on the road again!"

Also, "New Lee Highway Blues" by David Bromberg.

And for setting out when it's still dark and rolling into dawn down a nearly empty interstate: "Ol' 55" by Tom Waits.

Ralph said...

Is this music about driving, or music for driving?
1973 (Radar Love) was not the Era of Althouse? Glad you got your second wind.

Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell will make you speed up.
I agree Crow is a station-changer.
I skidded off a Beltway on-ramp playing Van Halen's Jump too loud to realize I was going too fast. Rather embarrassing that my boss was a few cars behind me.

Skeptical said...

Thanks for that; but I still think that it is not a subtlety to reject "Radar Love" as a driving-for-the-sake-of-driving song. The music feels far too urgent -- it is clear that the man driving doesn't want to be driving; he wants to be there.

All these driving songs feel like they're trying too hard. What you want for a driving song is something that holds you in the moment and doesn't distract you from what you're doing by screaming 'Hey, look at me, I'm driving a car!" So, better to have something that isn't about driving. Something like this.

Eddie Thomas said...

I was going to suggest "Bat Out of Hell" too. Meat Loaf speaks to pretty much all of our teenage desires. And if you need a song about parking, there is "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."

SteveR said...

"Call Me The Breeze" J.J. Cale, especially Lynard Syknard version.

masqcy said...

This version of Route 66 also rocks:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgHSjNuJJms

DBrooks17 said...

For pure "cruisin'-down-the-road on a sunny day goodness," nothing beats Freeway Jam by Jeff Beck, although I may be too old to be a member of that club anymore.

rdkraus said...

Did someone say Highway 61 by Bob Dylan, but played by Johnny Winter?

Oh ya.

amba said...

My favorite case of propitious: having Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" come on just as I was about to enter the Lincoln Tunnel.

Michael_H said...

I Drove All Night - Roy Orbison.

Fast Car - Tracy Chapman.

Did you know that Saab automobiles are assembled in a Swedish city called Trollhatan?

That explains why Saab is the preferred car of angry, lurking liberal bloggers. Trollhatan.

Tina said...

This song is my favorite song to drive to -- and it's also about driving (as a metaphor for life).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QY4FvpmmbiU

Michael_H said...

The driving music I remember best from childhood vacations is One Thousand Bottles of Beer on The Wall.