Readers recommend playlist: songs about road trips

A reader takes a trip through your suggestions, with Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney and the McGarrigle sisters making the list

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from hundreds of your suggestions last week. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly series works at the end of the piece.

This week, as well as recommending songs about road trips, many of you shared memories of your own journeys. That’s why the playlist opens with Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Talk to Me of Mendocino, a beautiful song that explains how the memory of a life-changing trip is almost as refreshing as the journey itself. Quite the opposite of Little Village’s Don’t Think About Her When You’re Trying to Drive, where the recollection of lost love seriously impairs the driver’s abilities to keep on the road.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

A special kind of road trip aims not to put miles away, but to roll out in a flashy status-symbol vehicle, which is the enjoyable accusation Wilson Pickett levels at Mustang Sally. Some women want to be seen; some don’t want to be seen. If, as Howlin’ Wolf suspects, the woman he seeks is hiding out somewhere along Highway 49, he’s got some search on, since it stretches from northern Arkansas to the Gulf of Mississippi. (And includes the junction at Highway 61, the famous crossroads where Robert Johnson, as legend has it, sold his soul to the devil.)

There’s a musical restlessness in Tom Waits’s Diamonds on My Windshield, the beat-style poetry bouncing off the bassline matching the energy needed to keep awake on a long-distance drive. It’s the same with Joni Mitchell’s Black Crow, along with the jazzy appreciation that all that restless hunting after “shiny things” can leave you a little “ragged”.

There was no shortage of nominated songs that reminded the listener of the grittier side of road trips. My favourite of those was David Bromberg’s The New Lee Highway Blues, where the musical effervescence of guitar, banjo and fiddle all play off lyrics documenting the terrible drudgery of the road.

Eating carbonated crap
Churning up inside
Gas-soaked service station johns
And then we’d ride

A sweet but ultimately sad journey on foot is undertaken in the traditional song The Road Tae Dundee, sung by Bert Jansch.

And a very moving song by Paul Kelly, They Thought I Was Asleep, goes back in time to when he was “a kid in the back seat listening in silent confusion to his parent’s grief”, as reader Xanh_cay puts it. For children, a road trip sometimes means displacement and disorientation, which I felt the harmonica solo really captured.

A more soothing song, Mark Knopfler’s The Long Highway, was described by reader TrulyMadlyDerply as a “haunting, lyrical paean to California rock, with its mellow vocals and crystal-clear steel guitar”. Just so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel after that one, I give you Tom Cochrane’s Life Is a Highway, full of the energy and optimism you need to fuel your adventure.

Finally, Paul McCartney, eschewing the symphonics, turns The Long and Winding Road into a piano man’s song. Similarly, the lyrics of the song strip the road trip down to its bare essences. You start from where you are. You go alone. It’s going to take time. Weather will be a factor. But hopefully, there’s a welcoming face at the other end.

Not all songs appear on the Spotify list as some are unavailable on the service.

New theme: how to join in

The next theme will be announced at 8pm (GMT) on Thursday 12 April. You will have until 11pm on Monday 16 April to submit nominations.

Here is a reminder of some of the guidelines for Readers recommend:


Sheila Deane

The GuardianTramp

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