Photo credit: Ron Wimmer
Road trips and good tunes go together like rubber and asphalt. Great music not only helps the miles breeze by a little faster, it provides a soundtrack to the adventure. It anchors the experience in our memories, taking us back to a very specific and vivid place and time.
For every road trip I've taken (and I've taken many over the years), I'll bet I can name at least one song that somehow figured into the journey, and I can see, in my mind's eye, everything around me in that moment: who was with me, where they were sitting, the color and feel of the car's upholstery. I can probably even smell someone's stinky feet. But that's mostly because on every road trip I've ever been on, there always seems to be someone with stinky feet who takes their shoes off. Sometimes it's me.
Music's ability to temporally transport us also makes it a writer's best friend. Instead of having to spend a lot of words to establish a time and place, a writer can just drop in a song reference and suddenly you're right where he or she wants you to be.
Don't believe me? Close your eyes and imagine the intoxicating rhythms of Los del Río's "Macarena." POOF!
You're back in 1998, attending a cheesy wedding reception at a bowling alley in Scranton, right? Yeah, I thought so.
"Mandy" by Barry Manilow
Back in 1974, my dad bought a sweet, mustard gold Oldsmobile Toronado loaded with all the options, including our family's first 8-track deck. As part of the deal, the salesman threw in two free tapes: a compilation of show tunes and Barry Manilow's second album. On our first road trip in the car, my oldest brother and sister insisted on playing this song over and over again, nearly sparking a family civil war. Frankly, it's a wonder we ever made it home.
"Convoy" by C. W. McCall
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OK, this is a truly terrible song. But it was a monster novelty hit that helped launch the CB craze of the '70s, inspiring even the squarest suburbanites to begin referring to state patrol officers as "smokies" and confirming dinner plans with a "10-4, good buddy!" Plus, I paid McCall (not his real name) good money to quote some of this song's lyrics in my book.
"Planet Earth" by Duran Duran
By the time 1981 came around, my older brothers had shipped off to college and I was able to seize control of our car's stereo on our family road trips. I immediately put this tune into heavy rotation. It was so different from the guitar-god rock played on the radio at the time, and it opened my mind to a whole new universe of musical possibilities. I instantly became a dyed-in-the-polyester Duranie, complete with action sport mullet.
"Video Killed The Radio Star" by The Buggles
Another song I reference in my book. Written around the same time that President Jimmy Carter signed legislation deregulating America's airlines, the release of this sprightly pop confection helped usher in the audacious New Wave genre of music. Both events launched near-revolutionary cultural transitions.
"L.A. Woman" by The Doors
While many would opt for the far too obvious "Roadhouse Blues" as the best Doors road trip tune, I'll take "L.A. Woman" and its driving, mesmerizing keyboard bass line. Plus, no one can touch my Jim Morrison while singing along in the driver's seat.
"Roadrunner" by The Modern Lovers
An essential song for ripping along the open highway. With the radio on... the radio on... The RADIO ON!
"Nice House" by Joywave
One of my wife's favorites. If there's one thing I've learned after countless hours of traveling together, it's happy wife, happy life. Not to mention happy road trip.
"Perfect Skin" by Lloyd Cole and The Commotions
Besides being my all-time favorite musician, Lloyd Cole is also the only legendary performer to have ridden around in the back seat of our family SUV. True story.
"Weather With You" by Crowded House
It was the perfect song at the perfect moment: My wife and I were cruising along Australia's Great Ocean Road, gazing out at the magnificent 12 Apostles rock formations rising up from the Southern Ocean, when smooth-crooning Kiwi Neil Finn and company comes on the radio of our rental car to provide just the right backdrop. Unforgettable.
"Downtown" by Macklemore and RyanLewis
I'm not quite sure how, but this song has become my family's road trip anthem. When things hit a lull after long hours on the road, I'll flip this tune on and our car suddenly turns into a downtown club. My wife and two boys seamlessly spit every lyric, while I add "mad hype" and sing the female backup parts in a ridiculous falsetto. Because I'm the dad and that's what dads do.
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is probably somewhere in the middle of nowhere right now. Since before he had any say in the matter, he has been roaming the highways of America, and continues to do so today mostly out of habit. Somehow, in between road trips, he finds time to create award-winning advertising for clients engaged in everything from tourism and sports to cable television and the manufacturing of fine, high quality American products. He lives with his wife, two sons, and two mostly appreciative rescue dogs in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Don't Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip
is his first book.