Is there anything more intertwined with driving than music on the radio? Whether it’s Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” or the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe”, there is something for almost everyone. Since I learned to drive, there are several songs, albums, and/or artists that are forever inexorably connected in my mind to various distinct periods in my life and the drives during which I listened to them; when I hear them now my mind always goes back to those times…
I received my driver’s license in October of 1985, and was a big fan of the early “alternative” and New Wave scenes. My first concert experience was a month later – Thompson Twins with OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and the Moderns as the opening acts. At the time, OMD had just released their album “Crush” and I was listening to the tape anytime I was in my ’79 Mazda 626 after finally getting it as my own. The video is a bit “cringey” as I view it now but at least they’re driving around and hey, I was sixteen, cut me some slack…I went on to own their whole back catalog and nowadays they are known and very respected as one of the pioneers of early electronica.
High School wasn’t a necessarily fond memory for me but whenever I hear anything from that album it takes me right back there and to all the John Hughes and similar “Brat Pack” movies of the time, which generally let me identify with at least one of the characters in a positive way (which, in hindsight, may have been the point of the often large ensemble casts…).
Over the next couple of years there was obviously much driving about to nowhere in particular with friends as happens with newly minted drivers. For some reason, whenever it rained (not that often in the Los Angeles area) we usually ended up piling into my friend Ken’s 1980 Datsun 200SX. He was a big fan of The Cars at the time, and often would have something of theirs playing.
Somehow I have identified driving in the rain with The Cars’ music, to the point that I often enjoy listening to their music on a rainy day but generally don’t choose to do so on other days. Specifically, “You Might Think” and “Since You’re Gone” seem to be the two songs that I associate most closely with these memories.
College started soon enough, in the summer of 1987 for me (yes, I started five days after graduating from High School), and U2 had released their “The Joshua Tree” album earlier that year. I had been a casual fan of theirs prior to this, but “The Joshua Tree” was truly something seminal, I had that tape on auto-reverse constantly in that first summer of college.
From the lengthy opening goose-bump inducing chords of “Where The Streets Have No Name” to “With Or Without You” all the way through to “One Tree Hill” and “Mothers Of The Disappeared” this is one album that I enjoy listening to over and over all the way through more than any other U2 album before or after and always brings back memories of long flowing drives up and down the California coast.
Vying for my attention in the first year of college were two other great acts – first was New Order with their “Substance 1987” compilation. Released in August of 1987, this is a compilation of their singles since their previous singer Ian Curtis committed suicide while they were named Joy Division, thus ending that band but the remaining members carried on as New Order and successfully changed their sound over time while still being true to their early days.
At the time my favorite song on the album was “Perfect Kiss” which I would rewind and play over and over, but “Ceremony” and of course their signature song “Temptation” have since pushed their way to the forefront to still be a couple of my absolute favorites of all time that I can and do listen to at any time along with a couple of others not on this collection such as “Age of Consent”. At the time, I was also a big fan of the more dance oriented numbers such as “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “True Faith” and while I still appreciate them, I prefer and still constantly play the others. But just like U2 above, New Order’s “Substance” and the songs on it take me back to my favorite memories and drives in college.
The second act to play in the background of much of my driving time during this era was The Cure’s “Standing on a Beach”. Yet another collection, this very interesting band released this compilation back in 1986 after being a band for a decade.
Changing dramatically throughout, songs vary from the moody “The Forest” and “A Hanging Garden” to the melodic and poppy “The Love Cats” and a long-time favorite “Close To Me”. I’d often put this disc on when I wasn’t sure how I was feeling and on a long drive back down to L.A. from San Luis Obispo or back would allow me to feel an entire range of emotions in just over an hour’s time while it played.
Of course the rest of college and the beginning of my career encompassed much more music and many various acts that I was a fan of at different times, but the next act that I strongly identify with driving came more than a decade later when I first traveled to Colorado in my 1993 Audi S4. The Strokes had recently released their “Is This It” album and the song “Last Nite” was receiving heavy airplay on the radio.
I had purchased the CD recently before leaving and played it constantly on this drive to Colorado and back. I don’t listen to it much anymore but when it or any other Strokes song comes on the radio, I always turn it up and enjoy the memories of that drive in very early 2002.
In mid-2004 The Killers released their first album “Hot Fuss” and it quickly became a favorite of my wife’s and mine. We tend to not really listen to music at home for some reason but always do in the car. Our daughter was born a bit over a year earlier and we traveled a lot via car in those days and listened to this album all the time, both because we really enjoyed it and also since it was invariably loaded into the CD player or changer and we were usually too lazy to swap it out.
Today, whenever my daughter (now just turned 15) and I are driving somewhere and an early Killers song comes on the radio or I have the CD in the player, she always says she likes the music and that it reminds her of “her childhood”… I think the song “All These Things That I’ve Done” is my favorite with its very abrupt tonal and tempo change in the middle, but really all the songs are fantastic. That particular song is being used in a commercial for something or other currently so clearly I’m not the only fan…
The next seminal period in my life came when we moved to Colorado for good in 2010. I had become a big fan of The Toxic Airborne Event prior to this and while driving four truckloads of stuff as well as both our cars out from California had their self-titled debut with me every time. “Sometime Around Midnight” and “Wishing Well” especially still immediately take me back to those long, usually lonely, drives through the American West. Their guitarist has a lot of U2’s sometimes haunting sound in him, maybe that’s something I identify with.
I did take my older son (He was three years old at the time) with me on one drive and my daughter twice (she was seven) and they can identify this CD as from the “Big Move” as well. I actually have three copies of the CD as I twice forgot to take it with me on the flight back to CA and couldn’t bear to be without it for the next drive out and the time in-between trips. Yes, I have/had iPods but even today prefer to actually own and handle the music myself for some reason. My wife and I have since seen the band about a half-dozen times and while still a big fan, I feel a significantly stronger connection to their early work.
I’m a huge fan of all kinds of music ranging from Tom Petty to Cracker to David Bowie to The Clash to Yaz(oo) as special favorites, but the above were the ones that really make me “go back” to specific periods in time associated with driving. The latest one is probably Lorde’s “Melodrama” album of last summer that I am listening to a lot while driving back and forth to Laramie to work on a house up there. “Green Light” is my standout favorite, it somehow sends a shiver down my back when I hear it and reminds me of Laramie which is a strange connection but just due to the drive.
I surprised my daughter with tickets to Lorde’s Denver show last month and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, I knew she was a fan too but didn’t realize she knew every word to every song as we played it on the way down and back. Good times.
I assume I’m not the only one for which this is true, so is there any particular music or album that you prefer to listed to in the car or that you associate with a certain event or time in your life?