On road trips and road trip music

Posted on September 8, 2010

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Me (right) and a friend in front of (allegedly) the largest soda bottle in the world- Arcadia, OK

Road trips are one of my favorite things about being alive. I’ve taken more road trips than most people I know, and I just finished another killer Labor Day roadie with my wonderful wife. The sight-seeing, the people-visiting, the food-consuming, and the quality conversation-ing that takes place between friends (and spouses) on the road is second to none. That being said, if every detail is perfectly planned and the company is great but you don’t have the right soundtrack to get you where you’re going, 500 miles can seem to take 500 hours.

Typically on road trips, I like music that has a lot of acoustic guitar, a solid, driving tempo (that’s musically driving, not car driving), and some nice vocal harmonies. I rarely listen to classical music on road trips unless I’m trying to stay awake (probably the opposite of most of you), in which case I’ll usually listen to something I’ve never heard before because it causes me to concentrate harder on what I’m listening to, which prevents me from falling asleep. But generally, I don’t feel like classical music and the American landscape are compatible- sort of feels like mixed messages when you put the two together (unless you’re driving from the mostly-hideous “plains” of west Texas up to Colorado, in which case it’s okay to play the Hallelujah Chorus when you see the Rocky Mountains to the west of I-25 as you cross the Colorado border like one of my best friends from college used to do). I normally feel the same about hip-hop on road trips, but on this past trip, I made an exception to that rule and gladly listened to more hip-hop than anything else because I’ve become a huge fan of Christian rapper Trip Lee’s most recent release: “Between Two Worlds.” (More on him in an all-hip-hop blog post in a couple of weeks, but for now I’ll just say that if you’re tired of the same six songs on your local hip-hop station, you need to check this guy out. Here’s a link to his video that actually aired on BET earlier in September. [music starts at 2:20, but I’d suggest watching the whole thing]).

Here are my five all-time favorite road trip albums. What are yours? Sharing music about or during road trips is a near-sacred thing in my book, so I hope you’ll join me in a little exchange by leaving a comment with some of your favorites at the bottom of this post. Maybe they’ll crack my rotation next time, and maybe some of mine will make yours.

5. Dixie Chicks- Home, 2002

Judge me if you want. The Dixie Chicks are (were?) awesome. Has there ever been a band as good or important to their genre that ruined their careers simply because of something that they said? Losing them for much of the last decade was no one’s loss but ours. When I hear this first song on that CD, I know a road trip is well underway.

4. James Taylor- Greatest Hits

If you’re a friend of mine from high school or college, this probably doesn’t surprise you because you know that I could play and sing nearly any James Taylor song you asked me to back in the day. But my love affair with the music of a man that John Mayer affectionately referred to at a music award show as “The Blueprint” began on my first cross-country road trip with one of my uncles. You could argue that if I never learn who James Taylor is during the summer before my sophomore year of high school, my entire high school experience is dramatically different. I probably never take up guitar, probably never sing solos, and probably never begin to prefer choir over band. And I never meet people who, to this day, are some of my best friends. This is the power of road trips: they can alter the course of personal histories. So if I’ve never said it before, I’ll say it now: thanks, uncle Miles.

Here’s some old school JT:

3. Steve Miller Band- Greatest Hits, 1974-1978

I never counted, but it’s possible that I have listened to this CD more times than any other CD I’ve ever listened to in my life. I wore out the CD a few years ago, and I haven’t replaced it yet, but I won’t go on another road trip without it. This album has one great crusin’ song after another. And I’ve never thought of this before, but if he were still alive, I think that the sculptor who was killed creating that giant blue mustang in front of Denver International Airport should be sued for stealing his design for that sculpture from whoever did the Steve Miller Band’s album artwork.

2. Jayhawks- Rainy Day Music, 2003

I first learned about the Jayhawks through a college friend, and I have not turned back since. If someone says the phrase “road trip music,” even though this CD is ranked #2 on my list, the Jayhawks are the first thing to come to my mind. Coincidentally, it also makes for great- you guess it- rainy day music (HEYO!). Judge for yourself:

And last, but not least…

1. Nickel Creek– Nickel Creek, 2000

This CD has brought me so much listening enjoyment on and off the road for so long now. My road trips would have a very different feel if this CD had been replaced by something else for the past ten years. I’m thankful that one random night in 2000, my mom called me into her room to watch some band that was performing on the Tonight Show that she thought I might like. I bought the CD as soon as I could after that night. Wonderful sound, incredible musicianship. Some day, I’ll see Chris Thile- the mandolin prodigy- in concert. Check him out playing some Bach below. Pimp. And how often does he get stopped on the street with one of these: “OMG! Robert Pattinson! Can I have your autograph?!!?!”

Honorable mention, in no particular order: The Eagles (Hell Freezes Over), Boston (Greatest Hits), Midlake (The Trials of Van Occupanther), Dixie Chicks (Wide Open Spaces), Eric Clapton (Unplugged), The Black Crowes (Shake Your Money Maker), Norah Jones (Come Away With Me and Feels Like Home), Pat Green and Robert Earl Keen (only in Texas), John Mayer (Room for Squares and Heavier Things), Simon and Garfunkel (anything), The Avett Brothers (anything), The Sundays

Until next Wednesday, you stay classy Planet Earth, and happy listening both on the road and at home.

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Posted in: Life, Music