A few months ago, I used this column to share my family’s quarantine playlist and how we use music in our house to set the mood for various activities or even the general tone of the day. The response was truly overwhelming and it made me happy to hear that many of you had fun discovering some new bands and albums. (Thanks for reaching out and thanks for giving it all a try!)
I suppose I could write a series on playlists, each month focusing on the necessary tunes for different activities from weddings to dinners to sleepovers, but there is one summertime event that requires a designated playlist more than any other: a road trip.
This summer especially (and even on into the school year, depending on your family’s choices or options in returning to school), people are hitting the road in search of a change of scenery that allows them to remain socially distant. For the Noels, a big road trip is a summer break staple and we consider ourselves well-versed in the act. In fact, we almost have it down to a science.
Much like we had to break down our quarantined days into segments and vibes, so can music lend itself to controlling the atmosphere of your car during a long drive. When you’ve got 8 to 10 hours in the same seat and nothing but the highway in front of you, it’s better if you can get a leg up and control the attitude rather than let it control you. You need the favorite sing-alongs for when you’re just starting out and no one is bored just belting a favorite song. You need music to zone out to and music to wake you back up. You need some more high brow soundbites lest you melt into a zombie state. And sometimes, it’s important to embrace the silly, the indulgent and whatever annoys Dad the Driver.
While options are limited in terms of vacationing, the west is wide open, in sky and in business. We had outdoor work events in Idaho and Montana this summer and took the opportunity to keep our road trip tradition. Because the west is wide and wild, the drives are long, so music is key.
When we’re all in a good mood and ready to take on the road, I like to entertain with as little as possible. Save the snacks and the iPad movies for those more desperate moments! I think a classic road trip album is anything that makes you nostalgic or anything that you know all of the words to.
—Johnny Cash, The Essential Johnny Cash
—The Postal Service, Give Up (make sure to space out your Postal Service from your Death Cab for Cutie!)
—Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride
—John Mayer, Room for Squares
—Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism (though it should be noted that Thank You For Today includes a song called “When We Drive,” which is obviously fitting!)
When you’ve found your highway groove but you’re not quite hypnotized yet, it’s a good time for musical education. Take the time to listen to albums that deserve to be heard from start to finish.
—Led Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door
—The Doors, L.A. Woman
—Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
We have also used road trips to verse the girls in their Beatles knowledge, though these songs lend themselves more to poppy playlists and don’t have to be consumed front to back.
Likely, after this point, everyone is tired and cranky, so it’s time to wind down. I promise you, this quick mix will put road weary children to sleep every time. Start out with some Thomas Newman compositions. These movie soundtracks are like a backdrop to whatever is going on outside the window and prepare the way for complete hypnosis. Then, shuffle through these for some steady, soothing sounds.
—Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
—Sufjan Stevens, The Greatest Gift Mix Tape
—James Vincent McMorrow, Early in the Morning
—Gregory Alan Isakov, The Sea, the Gambler
—David You, Beautiful, Like Pyramids – EP
—Young Oceans, I Must Find You
The kids are snoring, but Driver can’t doze off, which means Passenger One can’t either. Merge your snoozefest into these electronic, upbeat albums to keep yourself going.
—Air Dubai, Wonder Age
—Odesza, A Moment Apart (This is an official Noel Road Trip album, by the way.)
—Anderson .Paak, Malibu (Content warning: This is incredibly lively, vocally-driven and impressive, but definitely not for kids!)
Eventually, everyone is awake and everyone has lost their minds. That’s when it’s time to indulge the silliness factor. When that hits, we like the “Despicable Me” soundtracks! The Minions are funny, but even at a cartoon level, Pharrell is great. We’ll also turn to The Story Pirates albums, which are completely ridiculous and hit the annoyance levels of “The Song That Doesn’t End,” but sometimes a little insanity is better than everyone screaming. Another crowd-pleaser, if you’re a satellite radio user, is to tune into the early 2000s pop station. Boy, will that take Mom and Dad back, but it’s a relatively safe spot for kiddos.
When all else fails, just roll down the windows, turn up the Michael Jackson and beg for the nearest Starbucks drive-thru.
Happy road tripping!