In the 21st century, a great road trip is all about the playlist. And if you’re out for the long haul. You’ve got to go all out. That is why I made an 11 hour road trip playlist for this particular adventure.
Now for anyone who has actually gone through the process of making a legit playlist you know this ain’t easy. Rob Gordon sums it up nicely at the 7 minute mark here:
(No self-respecting music fan, I should hope, is going about this world without having seen High Fidelity. A coming-of-age story, a decent romantic comedy, and every sort of insufferable music nerd represented between John Cusack, Jack Black, and the long forgotten Todd Louiso.)
As Rob Gordon explained, “There are a lot of rules.” But there’s also a lot of room for creative freedom, and the power to do whatever you want. If you just want a bunch of techno remixes put on shuffle for your run on the treadmill, no disrespect from me. If I don’t have my Girl Talk for my three pushups every morning, I just don’t think I’d maintain the svelte frame that I have today!
But if you’re prepping for a road trip—and especially if you’re on your own—believe me, you want that playlist to tell a story and to put you through every possible mood you might have with another human being. This is all about putting together an album here. So with that in mind, I’m going to walk you through bits and pieces of my road trip playlist everyday. Along the way I’ll provide my ideas about making playlists, and provide some music recommendations as well. So if you think obsessing over the minutiae of playlists is the act of an anti-social creep who, were it not for his work in the education field, would probably not leave his house until 3 or 4 p.m. everyday, well… um…
Anywho let’s warm up.
Down in Mississippi- Mavis Staples
This is a Mississippi road trip so I’ve got to start it right. Mavis Staples started musical life with her father and the gospel group The Staple Singers. The group made a mainstream name as protest singers, affiliated with the Civil Rights Movement, then signed to Stax Records and became celebrities with some of the finest and brightest soul music of the 1970s. In 2007, Mavis revisited her protest roots on this Ry Cooder-produced classic, We’ll Never Turn Back. There have been many great versions of this song, but with its menacing chorus, insistent beat, and monologue from Mavis about her experiences in the south, this version is the finest.
Now that was my opener, and it fits the theme of the trip. The first few songs of a road trip playlist have to get you amped for the road ahead. This is music to get you out of the gate.
Superstition- Stevie Wonder Provided without need for justification.
Hey Bulldog- The Beatles If you haven’t heard this lost classic, get the Yellow Submarine re-release immediately. This song kinda scared me when I was 9, and I later realized it’s because it contains possibly the sexiest bass riff in Beatle history.
My Train’s Coming In- Betty Lavette Thunderous horns introduce you to this lost Memphis classic. Betty Lavette howls like a raspier Etta James, and is well worth finding. This particular song can be found on the 2012 compilation, Southern Soul Shake, from Charly Records.
Down in the Flood- The Derek Trucks Band A swampy re-write with funky organ from the 2009 album, Already Free.
Across the Great Divide- The Band The definitive version with dramatic horns by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. This comes from their live album, Rock of Ages.
STOP WHERE YOU ARE! Okay, you’ve gone through five pretty epic songs. Gotta cool yourself off a little bit or you’ll be love-tapping every Ford Focus going the speed limit through I-95. This is where you throw something in that’s a little more relaxed. Can still be spicy, but it’s gotta mellow you out slightly.
The Darkness- Leonard Cohen From Leonard Cohen’s January release, Old Ideas. Perhaps the most subtle and organic production from Cohen in years. No synthesizers or drum machines to be found here, which is quite refreshing. Cohen talks his way through a witty set of ruminations on God, old age, and sex. The Darkness is the finest cut.
You okay? Good. Now you can heat it up to a nice simmer. At this point in the playlist I like to be settled into a groove of good blues shuffles or soul cuts. Here’s what I got. (I’m going to mostly focus on some of the lesser names on this list
I Learned the Hard Way- Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings A great soul revivalist out of Memphis, this comes from her 2009 album of the same name.
Not Fade Away- The Rolling Stones
Northside Gal- J.D. McPherson Made a buzz last year with his album, Signs and Signifiers. McPherson released a downright fun album of 1950s- style rhythm and blues. This is not your uncle’s bar band. This sounds fresh and vital, and as I’ll try to demonstrate later, he may be enjoying the arrangements of the ‘50s, but he’s got his own wit that keeps him relevant in the 21st century.
Tell Me- Stevie Ray Vaughan Combining the spirits of Chicago, Mississippi, and Austin, Texas. A Howlin’ Wolf cover from Vaughan’s debut.
I’m Gonna Make You Eat Those Words- Eddie Lang Another soulful rarity from a Charly Records compilation. This time it’s Loaded Down with the Blues, a collection of classic New Orleans R&B.
Messin’ with the Hook- John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat
Fire- Koko Taylor If you don’t have this album, get it. Koko Taylor’s debut—produced by Willie Dixon—ranks as one of the great blues releases ever. Koko established herself as the Queen of the Blues in the Chicago club scene, but before she did that, she was a fresh voiced fire breather who brought life to the dying blues scene in Chicago in the late 1960s.
Even the Losers- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Now here’s where taste will make a big difference in playlist making. I like me some jam music, and so I need a good workout here and there to keep the trip interesting. So here’s one 7 minute cut from the Stones with exceptional guitar work from Mick Taylor. The guitar-sax duel here is blazing.
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking- The Rolling Stones Recorded at the world famous studios of Muscle Shoals, Alabama (where Aretha Franklin recorded Respect) for the 1971 classic, Sticky Fingers.
The groove continues but warms back up quietly with…
Portland, Oregon- Loretta Lynn and Jack White Shockingly, this is the only Jack White appearance on this playlist, and it’s on a duet with a 71 year old country legend. From 2004’s Van Lear Rose, this was a Grammy winning album that was perhaps too heavy for the traditional country crowd.
Getaway- Dr. John Possibly the darkest track on Dr. John’s new release, Locked Down. A guitar work out that’s heavy on reverb and feedback makes this song particularly noteworthy. The album will surely be in a lot of 2012-best of compilations this year, thanks to a particularly haunting and swampy arrangement, courtesy of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.
Indian Red- Les Getrex A classic out of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition in New Orleans. A combination of tribal Indian and African beats will make you feel revitalized. (I will try to do something more with Mardi Gras Indian traditions later in this trip. Highly recommend the Backstreet Museum if you are ever in New Orleans, and are willing to step off the beaten path a little bit.
This to me is like the end of the first disc of a double album. We’re about an hour and a half into a trip so it’s time to stretch your legs and get something new. For all of you jilted lovers out there, this is a good song to work out your rage to. At the very least you should be able to enjoy a funky and ongoing slide guitar riff that winds its way through this arrangement. From his 2010 release God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise (in which he stretched a little past his earnest singer-songwriter roots), this is Repo Man from Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs.
Repo Man- Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs
B.B. King- How Blue Can You Get? His version from Live in Cook County Jail. If nothing else, dig into that 3 minute guitar solo that opens the piece, the highlight being when the horns cut off leaving just B.B. to play off the piano and the drums. Every blues solo you have heard at every trashy bar across America has tried to match that solo and failed.
Wait for You- Lindsey Buckingham From his 2008 release, Gift of Screws. An album that combines acoustic fingerprinting tracks (that pull from classical and flamenco tracks) with some pounding blues shuffles, this was one of the great forgotten releases from the last decade and if you loved his work in Fleetwood Mac, you will love this. Features John McVie and Mick Fleetwood on bass and drums.
Bastards on Parade- Dropkick Murphys
Okay so we’ve ventured into Irish punk territory now. Probably means we should cool off a little bit with some blues and soul cuts.
Mama, Mama- Talk to Your Daughter- Magic Sam From another classic of 1960s Chicago blues, West Side Soul.
Down in the Bottom- Howlin’ Wolf
Soulshake- Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson Another lost cut from the Southern Soul Shake comp.
Okay we’re a little ways in. I like, at this point in the trip to really slow it down with a few sad bastard tunes. Because life would not be life without a little bit of tragedy, and so it should be with a road trip. But don’t let this go too long or you’ll fall off the road and you don’t want that.
Leaving Eden- Carolina Chocolate Drops Another revival group, harkening to the great, lost black string bands of the Depression-era Carolinas. This group pulls effectively from ragtime and blues, and will get you dancing with arrangements featuring banjos, fiddles, washboards, and even sometimes, beatboxing and tap dancing. This song, though, is a slow one, a tragic waltz mourning a struggling factory town. From the 2012 album of the same name.
You Don’t Make it Easy Babe- Josh Ritter Hard love that involves handcuffs from this acoustic Josh Ritter piece. From Hello Starling
Look the Other Way- Justin Townes Earle An ode to that post-breakup fog. A world-weary son of Steve Earle leads his Memphis horns through this melancholy break up piece.
Give Back the Key to My Heart- Uncle Tupelo- Another world-weary break up tune from alt country heroes Uncle Tupelo (original band of Jeff Tweedy from Wilco), featuring Doug Sahm on guest vocals. From 1995’s Anodyne
What Good Am I?- Solomon Burke
Lord Protect My Child- Susan Tedeschi
Two very obscure Dylan tracks, as recorded by famous blues and soul singers. The first, featuring the guy from Ghostbusters on guitar, from the King of Rock and Soul (more on him later), and the second from the heir to Bonnie Raitt, Ms. Susan Tedeschi, featuring her husband, Derek Trucks, on the dobro. Both lovely, and both infused with soul and a gospel spirit.
Alright done with the slow stuff. Here’s a little something with a slight rockabilly twist from two unexpected collaborators. These two won Album of the Year in 2009 and reached new audiences for this album, Raising Sand.
Gone Gone Gone- Robert Plant and Allison Krauss
A Shot in the Arm- Wilco Some weird pop from the best.
For my Brother- Derek Trucks Band Yet another long workout—this time 13 minutes—featuring innovative and jazzy slide playing from Trucks, and phenomenal jazz flute from Ron Burgund…um… Kofi Burbridge.
Oh man, I hope you enjoyed going on that adventure with me. I’ll try to keep this up as we go through the trip, though now that you get my road trip playlist logic, I may confine myself to highlights and tunes that I really want the world to know about. Time for a shower, and then I’ll be off to Virginia!