As somebody who writes about music for the internet, I have the privilege (or the curse of isolation, depending on how socially inclined you are) of working from home, meaning that I don’t have the same daily commute as a lot of people. Still, I have to leave the house and drive somewhere for one reason or another often enough, and when I’m behind the wheel, I like to surround myself with the right music for the mood.
The thing with driving, though, is that with the act of operating a motor vehicle comes a variety of moods. That’s evident in even the most classic, cliche “driving” songs: There’s the exciting rock of “Born To Be Wild,” contrasted starkly by the airy whimsy of “Going Up The Country.” That’s the sort of range I’ve tried to capture with this ten-track playlist of driving songs, so without further ado:
Real Estate — “Had To Hear”
There’s a small grouping of songs that when they come on, I can’t help but say, “Oh f*ck yeah.” This is one of those, and it’s the perfect start to a drive in almost any weather: It’s propulsive, has a subtly strong bass line, and it takes time to meander and get into a groove. It’s a simple song with great melody, and I can’t tell you how many times it’s made me smile with my hands at 10 and 2.
The War On Drugs — “Red Eyes”
There’s a scene in the AMC show Halt And Catch Fire, where the protagonists are setting off on a great and exciting road trip. This is the song that plays as they let off the brake, and it too is a great way to begin any road-bound journey. Right from the very start, there’s a palpable sense of optimism that few songs can even shake a stick at, not to mention that it just flat out rocks.
Carly Rae Jepsen – “Run Away With Me”
Just listen to that saxophone opening and say you don’t think of an engine revving as an adventure commences. Sure, pop songs don’t often get lumped into the driving songs category, but Carly Rae Jepsen’s brand of pop suits almost any occasion. Here, it’s the content of the song that really suits being in motion. When she begs to “run away with me,” you can’t get the car moving fast enough.
Stereophonics — “Dakota”
My love for this tune as a driving song was affirmed at some point in the past year when I heard it in a car commercial. It has a forward-moving beat, a good vocal cadence that’s fun to sing along to, and the chorus is also great for shouting along with, because in the car alone, only you can hear how bad your voice is.
FKA Twigs – “Two Weeks”
Many of the best driving songs invoke the feeling of motion, but sometimes driving is just the best place to space out and get lost in your own thoughts. And, let’s be honest, driving is often the greatest chance people have to hear music really loud on stereos that can showcase a song’s intricacies. That’s what makes FKA Twigs’ “Two Weeks” so great when out cruising through the world, all its soaring and rumbling moments getting the benefit of complete emergence, allowing the listener, err, driver to disappear into her warm composition.
Bruce Springsteen — “Thunder Road”
I had to get one song about cars and/or roads into the list (and one from before the 2000s). You can’t go wrong with Bruce, and “Thunder Road” is perfect for the highway or city streets because of its sense of progression, the song’s swells and moment of varying intensity allowing you to have a well-rounded listening experience. Also, what’s better than a ripping sax solo in the car?
Flying Lotus — “Roberta Flack (Martyn’s Heart Beat Mix)”
Flying Lotus’ music is hard to pull apart into single-song fragments, often working best as pieces of the whole. But something about this remix of the Los Angeles cut “Roberta Flack” screams cruising, with the song’s steady rhythm creating the illusion of steady progression. The idea that cars are the place for just riffs and loud drums should be put to rest when this reworking of an electronic pioneer gets a spin on the open road.
Lindstrøm — “Where You Go I Go Too”
If you’re on the highway or are otherwise in for an extended drive time, sometimes you need something to chill you out, and this near-30minute cut from Lindstøm has scratched that itch for me personally on multiple occasions. The song is filled with slow crescendos and electronic beats that are made to get absolutely lost in, which is great so long as that’s the only sense in which you get lost on the road.
Lorde – “Perfect Places”
They always say it’s not about the destination, but about the journey to get there. But let’s be real, destinations matter, too. On Lorde’s “Perfect Places,” her ultimate question, “what the f*ck are perfect places,” might make you wonder if the place you are headed is really what you have imagined in your mind. But it doesn’t matter once Lorde is blaring from the car stereo. The irony might be that “perfect places” are wherever there is a Lorde song on the radio.
The Von Bondies — “C’mon C’mon”
If I’m a couple minutes from home, I more often than not find my way to this song to wrap up my trip. It’s one of the most effective two-minute songs I’ve ever heard: It’s basically one giant chorus in terms of its unbridled energy, and if your vocal chords aren’t shredded by the time the track is over, you weren’t listening to it right.
Now that you’ve gotten the rundown, take these songs on the road and give them a spin for yourself with our Spotify playlist: