Music

Tunes for Travelers

Great music for road trips, summer vacation, or just letting your mind wander hither and thither.

Rumours
Fleetwood Mac
1977, Warner Bros.

It often begins with a tacit love of Stevie. You need to hear her soft craggy voice, you find yourself listening to “Gold Dust Woman.” You dig the hits, you cringe a little when you hear Lindsey Buckingham sing, “Lay me down in the tall grass / And let me do my stuff,” because you know he is talking about doing “stuff” to/with Stevie, and it’s kind of like watching your parents flirt. You stare at the cover and wonder, Did Mick Fleetwood dress like he was going to a ren fair all the time? Why are there balls hanging from his pants? and find that your pattern for listening to the record has changed. Rather than skipping to just the Stevie songs and then the hits in the order you prefer, you now listen to the whole thing, start to finish. By summer’s end, you have realized that Christine McVie sighing “Oh, Daddy” is the heaviest moment of the record, and that she is the unsung genius of the band in her blousy gownage. You get lost in the pure Los Angeles magic of the album: the nigh time songs are spare and sparkly, the daytime songs are full and bright, bleached in the sun. The California of Rumours is not the California we previously knew of from pop records—it is not beaches, cars, bikini’d girls all a-frolic in the adolescent memories of men. Rumours is dark hippie glamour. It is up in the shade and shadow of the hills; it is the drive from Topanga Canyon to Malibu at night; it is grown up, complex, and bleak. —Jessica

Born to Run
Bruce Springsteen
1975, Columbia

Born to Run was Bruce Springsteen’s breakthrough album and is often cited as his best. It doesn’t really fit in any genre (Springsteen said he “heard sounds in [his] head” that he found hard to explain); whenever I think of it the first image in my head is an open road, an American highway stretching out to the horizon. The cinematic vibes of “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” are about wanting to escape from claustrophobic towns and boring ways of life to the freedom that the road can give you. The black-and-white cover reflects this kind of contrast between day and night, the duality of dreams and reality too. When I first listened it was the ultimate romance, a whole other world, and the lyrics are like poetry. It’s part uplifting, part depressing (in a good way) and perfect for driving (or dreaming). —Naomi

Born in the U.S.A.
Bruce Springsteen
1984, Columbia

Born in the U.S.A. is a cry to wake up and try to make some sense of what it means to be an American—our feelings of shame, defeat, and restlessness. Bruce gives a voice to those who are usually not given one—he sings about hard labor, ramshackle buildings, small towns, and alcohol. “I’m on Fire” is full of burning desire and lust. “No Surrender” is wild and free; it feels like the weirdness of growing up and having hope for the future. Bruce sings about listening to records, skipping school, promises, and “romantic dreams in my head.” “Glory Days” discusses the hardships of life and reminds me of the film The Last Picture Show’s treatment of the quicksand nature of time and how nostalgia sets in when things begin to fall apart. The album ends with the quiet song “My Hometown,” which isn’t about nostalgia so much as it is an entreaty to admit your city’s (and your own) flaws. This album is a solid masterpiece; the songs still feel as raw and fresh as they did almost 30 years ago. —Tara

Stay Positive
The Hold Steady
2008, Vagrant/Rough Trade

Craig Finn of the Hold Steady does that magical alchemical thing that Bruce Springsteen is good at, too, where he takes the small details of people’s ordinary lives and blows them up to epic, anthem-worthy proportions. Every song on this album is a fable about hometowns, disappointment, desperate hope, growing up, growing old, making mistakes, trying to do better; and also a testimony: these things happen, these things matter. I’m not sure why, but this album, when I listen to it in the right mood, makes me cry. Maybe because it reminds me how tiny we all really are and how noble and painful and pitiful and goddamn beautiful it is to watch us try to be big. (Also probably because I cry anytime something successfully conveys the feeling of “yearning.”) Finally, A++ for making the weird almost-rhyme “Subpoenaed in Texas / Sequestered in Memphis” into a big bouncy chorus, complete with handclaps. —Anaheed

Stealing Beauty: Music From the Motion Picture
Various artists
1996, Capitol

I blame this soundtrack and its accompanying film for inspiring me to backpack across Italy during my junior year of high school and work tirelessly so I could move to Rome in college. In the movie, Liv Tyler goes to Tuscany to bask in the sun, write bad poetry, swim at Italian villas, and fall in love with wiry hotties in the countryside. Hooverphonic’s and Portishead’s trippy trip-hop, Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” Billie Holliday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and Axiom Funk’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” create the perfect sound canvas for lying in a field of sunflowers with your new Italian crush in the moonlight. And when the summer is over and one of your hearts is inevitably broken, rock out to Hole’s “Olympia” and Liz Phair’s “Rocket Boy” to get your indie-rock candy fix and cry your heart out. —Jamia

American IV: The Man Comes Around
Johnny Cash
2002, American Recordings

I spent most of my life refusing to give any country music a chance, all because I didn’t like Garth Brooks. No matter how many people told me that Johnny Cash was amazing, I refused to believe them. Then I saw the video of Cash’s version of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt,” recorded for this album, and my world was turned upside down. NIN’s “Hurt” was my anthem sophomore year of high school, so I didn’t think anyone could even touch it; but Johnny somehow improved it, making it even more honest, raw, and real than the original. I bought The Man Comes Around and was blown away by his versions of two other songs I’ve loved since childhood, Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which Fiona Apple provides backing vocals for. The title track is a Cash original, and it made me fall in love with Johnny Cash, the storyteller. This album opened my ears to Cash, who then opened me up to other country artists like Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline. Even if you don’t think country is your thing, check this album out. It will show you why Johnny Cash is a national treasure. —Stephanie

Stars Could Care Less
Commissure
2010, self-released

This album’s subtle post-hardcore twangs serenaded me and my boyfriend when we drove his mother’s car from Portland to San Francisco and back. All the songs flow into one another, creating one beautifully amorphous continent of sound. There are absolutely no vocals, so it’s great for chatting, but it’s also so romantic to just gaze out the window to. We drove along a drizzly and gray highway watching splashes of green trees and roaring ocean coincide with the album’s slow melodies, anticipatory buildups, symbiotic loud-and-quiet guitars, and thrasher slow-dance style drums. —Olivia

People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
A Tribe Called Quest
1990, Jive/RCA

When I started falling in love with hip-hop, in middle school, A Tribe Called Quest was one of the first groups that I fell in love with. OK, fine, I fell in love with Q-Tip. He was so handsome! And funny! And clever! I was pretty sure that we were going to get married and live happily ever after. This record, Tribe’s first, is part of my youth. I can’t hear the words El Segundo without bursting into song; “Bonita Applebum” will always make me feel like dancing. Doctor Emma’s recommendation: listen to this record 100 times and then watch Michael Rapaport’s excellent documentary on the band, Beats, Rhymes & Life. I may no longer want to marry Q-Tip, but I still want to marry A Tribe Called Quest, and so will you. This record is a perfect way to start your courtship. —Emma

Highway 61 Revisited
Bob Dylan
1965, Columbia

This album is a rough diamond, full of tales of desolation and loneliness. It’s the perfect thing to listen to while driving aimlessly down an empty road at twilight, when the light has gone blue-violet and you don’t know where you are and you let go but still become so aware of how everything feels and how it feels to be so alive. The first song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” has an honesty that bites and taunts, shedding light on the downfall of a woman now neglected by the world—Dylan sings, “How does it feel to be on your own? / With no direction home? / A complete unknown / Like a rolling stone.” In Dylan’s autobiography, Chronicles, he says of Highway 61, “It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.” And it is magnificent. —Tara

Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
PJ Harvey
2000, Island

This is one of PJ Harvey’s poppier albums, and it took me a really long time to get it, but when I did it became a security blanket of sorts. It’s about love and melancholy, and its bittersweetness can be almost life-affirming in your time of need. There are so many great songs on it; every couple of months I become obsessed with a new one, playing it on repeat until the cycle starts again. The first one was “This Is Love,” whose video was the reason I picked up the record in the first place, because there is nothing more incredible and sexy than PJ in a white suit and red lipstick, rocking out with a guitar and singing, “I can’t believe life’s so complex, when I just wanna sit here and watch you undress.” Then it was on to “A Place Called Home,” which honestly bums me out but it does so in a really lovely way that is intoxicating and lovely. No song is more devastatingly beautiful, though, than PJ’s duet with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke on “The Mess We’re In,” which is about nothing and everything and showcases both of their voices to almost chilling effect. Although Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea is really perfect for all occasions, I think the wee hours of the morning, when you are lost inside your head contemplating everything around you, are the best time to listen. —Laia

Vision Creation Newsun
Boredoms
1999, WEA Japan

This album is one of my top 10 favorites of all time. It’s not surprising, since everything that Yamantaka Eye touches and creates is golden (he’s in about a million different amazing bands; has collaborated with everyone in the world including Sonic Youth, Ween, and John Zorn; he DJs; and he’s a visual artist—he made the picture on the cover of Beck’s Midnight Vultures, for instance). (He also once drove a bulldozer through the back wall of a venue during a show, but that’s another matter.) This album features Yoshimi P-We’s best drumming ever (which is saying a lot)—I’m pretty sure she doesn’t stop playing at full speed for its entire 66-minute duration. Each track flows beautifully into the next, yet every song stands out on its own—there are full-speed, full-blast assaults as well as soothing psychedelic lullabies like “~.” (Oh yeah, if it couldn’t get any more awesomely confusing, all the track titles are symbols.) It all sounds AMAZING on long, sunny drives. Or at any other time for that matter…just listen to it all the time, like me. —Eleanor

Fear of a Black Planet
Public Enemy
1990, Def Jam/Columbia

Formed in the 1980s, Public Enemy, it’s fair to say, reinvented what hip-hop could be. They revolutionized the music, writing songs—nay, whole albums—about racial identity, bigotry, police brutality, Black Power, and history, over a backdrop of beats and samples from jazz, funk, and musique concrète. My favorite song on the Fear of a Black Planet is probably my favorite PE album. My favorite song on it is “Welcome to the Terrordome,” which features a funk beat and Terminator X’s signature record scratches, and speaks up about race riots and hate crimes of the time. “Burn Hollywood Burn” condemns Hollywood’s stereotyping of African-American roles; and “Revolutionary Generation” calls on black men to treat black women with more respect. Check it out! —Tara

Daydream Nation
Sonic Youth
1988, Enigma

I first heard the opening track of this record, “Teenage Riot,” when I was 18; it was a seven-minute anthem that summed up the feelings of long summer days between high school years better than anything else I’d ever heard. This is an album for teenagers by people well into their adult years, who have been part of interesting music scenes and toured the world and are cool without really giving a crap about being cool, reminding you that life doesn’t peak in high school, but that that doesn’t mean you can’t listen to great music in the meantime. —Anna

Tea for the Tillerman
Cat Stevens
1970, Island/A&M

This record is a perfect collection of songs that are little stories and windows into the memorable events, both positive and melancholy, in a person’s life. “Wild World” is a song sung to a woman who is leaving a man. If you’ve seen the British TV show Skins, it is the song Sid sings during the season-one finale, as he reflects on how muddled he feels after things have gotten completely out of control. Another favorite of mine, “Father and Son,” describes the relationship between a parent and a child. The album also features two gems: “Where Do the Children Play?” and the title song, “Tea for the Tillerman,” both of which are in Harold and Maude—a film so dear to me that I went as Maude for Halloween last fall. Give this album a listen. I am certain that it will stay in your mind for years to come. —Tara

Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!!
Against Me!
2006, Fat Wreck Chords

Against Me! is such an incredible live band that I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen them. I go whenever they come to town and I have money and/or time off. Seeing them is like pounding can after can of Mountain Dew or Red Bull, but without the bad jittery side effects. Whenever I need a fix and they aren’t on tour, I grab this album, which doubles as a best-of from their first three records. It includes all of my favorite songs, like “Miami,” “T.S.R.,” “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,” “From Her Lips to God’s Ears (The Energizer),” as well as “Americans Abroad,” a live version of a song from their major-label debut. That title track is about enjoying being on the road, but also feeling conflicted about America and what it can stand for sometimes. Most of Against Me!’s songs are about political or personal conflict, which is what I love best about them: you can sing and/or mosh your heart out to these songs and work through your own mixed-up feelings about the state of the world or your life in general. —Stephanie

The Babies
The Babies
2011, Shrimper

Every once in a while, you hear an album where every single track is so darn catchy you wonder why it isn’t a bigger deal. The Babies’ self-titled debut is one of those records. The Babies count amongst their members Woods’s Kevin Morby and (my current favorite band) Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone. Their union created some of the most fun lo-fi, slightly messy, jangly garage rock. (Listen to “Breakin’ the Law,” which sounds like it was written for a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.) —Anna

Graceland
Paul Simon
1986, Warner Bros.

During the height of apartheid, Paul Simon broke the cultural boycott to travel to South Africa and record with some of the country’s most talented musicians. The album he made with them was Graceland: an innovative and controversial (check out this documentary, which illuminates the debate) record. Controversy aside, this album encapsulates loads of amazing African sounds and is a good introduction to the breathtakingly beautiful Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and musical genres like Mbaqanga. Throughout the record, Paul Simon’s lyrics are as bright and clear (especially on the song “Graceland”) as the song’s electric-guitar riffs travelling up and down the neck. Even on a rainy day it can make me happy. —Naomi

32 Comments

  • letthemeatkake August 2nd, 2012 11:43 PM

    Thank you for introducing me to so many new favorites-to-come! While I’m a BIG Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Cash, Sonic Youth, and Paul Simon fan already, I must say I had never heard of Cash’s cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with Fiona (simply amazing). After watching that episode of Skins with “Wild World”, I must have listened to that song on repeat for 48 hours straight. Couldn’t get enough of it.

    • thebrownette August 7th, 2012 1:28 PM

      I love Fleetwood Mac too<3

  • burn-your-flesh August 2nd, 2012 11:47 PM

    I nearly had a heart-attack when i saw the thumbnail thing of PJ Harvey. I love her so much! Basically, I worship at the altar of Peej. Also even though like EVERY SY fan disagrees with me I just don’t enjoy Daydream Nation very much.

  • kendallakwia August 2nd, 2012 11:51 PM

    *Rumours is also the perfect breakup album

  • Aubrey August 2nd, 2012 11:53 PM

    CAT FUCKING STEVENS. That is all.

  • suburban grrrl August 2nd, 2012 11:57 PM

    “The Mess We’re In” is such a beautiful song. For some reason in my mind it’s always connected to New York around 9/11, which makes it even more heart-breaking.

    http://sub-urbangrrrl.blogspot.com/

  • katrinaexplainsitall August 3rd, 2012 12:03 AM

    Fleetwood Mac <33333. Rumours is such a great album. The rest of this is perfect too. Rookie playlists always gives me loads of good music to add to my iPod n_n

  • La Fille August 3rd, 2012 12:10 AM

    I’m listening to Daydream Nation right now. It’s wonderful and kind of anti-consumerist.

    I do love Cat Stevens and Skins.

  • faithdarwin August 3rd, 2012 12:16 AM

    I have to agree with Graceland being the perfect road trip album, but mostly just because when I was kid my parents would always play the tape in the car when we went on long road trips, so I can’t hear that album without being remind of that.

  • caro nation August 3rd, 2012 1:26 AM

    I wasn’t aware anyone else had HEARD of The Babies. Sonic Youth is, of course, the fucking coolest. ATCQ and PE were prevalent in those days when I hung out in the skatepark and watched all those rebellious youths from afar. Boredoms were prevalent when I was interested in both austere, avant garde performance art and cartoons. Bob, Paul, and Mac were the soundtrack to my diaper days. And finally, because it scares me how on point Rookie can be about an album’s relevance, I’ve been singing “Kamikaze” to the mirror all this week.

    • caro nation August 3rd, 2012 1:27 AM

      All this list needs is that Ty Segall/White Fence album.

  • SpencerBowie August 3rd, 2012 3:34 AM

    OMG we’re listening to Graceland for Album Club this month!!! I haven’t given it a listen just yet but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it!

    We’re even going to screen the documentary along with the discussion!!! Can’t wait!

    Btw, the album Diamond Dogs by David Bowie is the best thing to ever listen to in a car. That is all.

    ;)

  • yellowdocs August 3rd, 2012 7:12 AM

    Yeah! Bob Dylan, Pj Harvey, Sonic Youth and the Fleetwood Mac album are in my musicc ollection! What i figured out, after my 18 days Trip to Thailand, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers deliver a great soundtrack to journeys as well. I just LOVE rookie.

  • sneakybacon August 3rd, 2012 7:57 AM

    my favourite album to go wandering by is crooks and lover by mount kimbie, they use a lot of industrial sound clips making it great for nighttime wanders round abandoned places or long drives down dark motor ways

  • Spotty August 3rd, 2012 8:21 AM

    Bruce is my LIFE!

    • Naomi August 3rd, 2012 6:22 PM

      are you me?

      • Elana August 3rd, 2012 6:48 PM

        Can I join in? Because I freaking love that man, he is my hero.

        • radiofireworks August 4th, 2012 7:44 AM

          Ditto! I just saw him live for the third time a few weeks ago and it was SUBLIME.

      • Tara August 5th, 2012 4:51 PM

        or me? bruce forever

  • M.Rose August 3rd, 2012 8:50 AM

    Fleetwood Mac are my favourite. My Dad also enjoys playing sad Johnny Cash songs on the guitar. Overall, this is wonderful.

    http://fledglingstyle.blogspot.co.uk/

    • Tara August 5th, 2012 4:52 PM

      yay fleetwood mac. and that is lovely! I also like playing sad johnny cash songs-your dad and I would be friends I think.

  • Lucille August 3rd, 2012 9:30 AM

    my Bob:’)

    http://fashion-babel.blogspot.com

  • cicconeyouth August 3rd, 2012 9:59 AM

    Good choices! I just realized I haven’t listened to PJ Harvey in what feels like years.

    My personal recommendation is the record The Lonesome Crowded West by Modest Mouse. “Truckers Atlas” is about 10 minutes long and is actually about driving around the US. It name checks a handful of states, making it extra fun when you’re in or from one of the places they mention.

    Two other great long songs I like to get lost in on the road are “The Diamond Sea” by Sonic Youth and “Sister Ray” by The Velvet Underground.

  • CeciliaCecilia August 3rd, 2012 12:15 PM

    AHHH Paul Simon’s Graceland album is my favorite album ever!

  • kaygeeh August 3rd, 2012 12:45 PM

    BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE
    YES!
    I feel like he does not get enough love, so glad you put two of his albums :)

  • RockHatesMiriam August 3rd, 2012 4:39 PM

    Proud that I own like, 5 of these! haha

    http://www.pompandceremony.blogspot.com

  • Elana August 3rd, 2012 6:45 PM

    Amazing list – totally agree with all of the ones I know (and I’ll make sure to check out those I don’t).
    The Springsteen choices are perfect (saw him play a version of Thunder Road with just a piano in Hyde Park this summer and tears were rolling down my face it was so beautiful and heartfelt), and I know it’s albums but my ultimate choice would be his song The River. Makes you think of what could be, what won’t be, and how you take those small things like jumping in a river and make what you have beautiful even though your life is a mess. He is the voice of broken promises and dreams that didn’t come true, but at the same time he is the voice of hope. (as you can tell I love Bruce alot hahaa)

    For a modern one to add to the list I’d say “Given To The Wild” by The Maccabees, as the album twists and turns with meaningful lyrics and songs that BUILD – starting sorrowfully but ending in such a way that you can’t help but dance and jump along. It takes you on a journey and the songs are vibrant and touching and Orlando Weeks’ voice brings it all together amazingly – go listen to it!

  • hatchetface August 4th, 2012 10:35 PM

    love that a tribe called quest is on this list, they are perfect for lazy summer afternoons and bopping in your room. i still want to marry q-tip.

  • NadiaG August 5th, 2012 11:11 AM

    This is fabulous. AND “Madman Across the Water” by Elton John, which is especially good for a Midwest road trip IMO. For the obvious reason that it has “Tiny Dancer” on it, but also because every other song is also literally the best thing ever.

  • Toilets August 5th, 2012 6:21 PM

    Bruce Springsteen = love of my life.