John Schaefer's Road Trip Playlist

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Three years ago, NPR asked me for a list of 5 songs for a summer driving segment they were doing.  With summer's unofficial end coming this weekend, it might be your last chance to hit the open road this year, so we're talking today about what makes a great summer road trip playlist.  For me, a road trip playlist needs way more than 5 songs.  But 5 is what NPR asked for, and here is the list I gave them back in 2008 - the theme, sort of, was getting away from car horns and listening to horns of a different sort:

Driving in NYC can be a frustrating experience - all traffic and lights and horns.  Nothing sounds good here.  But get out on the highway, and you can shut off the damned traffic reports and listen to a different kind of horn...
John Adams: A Short Ride In A Fast Machine
The title says it all.  Big and bold and brassy, Adams' short orchestral piece moves along at a good clip - just the thing for when you finally clear city traffic and hit the open road.

Charles Mingus: Moanin'
More horns, this time from the great jazz bassist/composer. Inspired by the wordless praying of southern Baptist churches, this is a spirited romp with more than a hint of funk.  You could go for Mingus's own version from "The Complete Atlantic Recordings 1956-1961," but the Either/Orchestra's performance from their album "Radium" might be slightly more road-friendly.

Mahmoud Ahmed: Abay Mado
The parade of horns continues with one of the all-time great singers from Ethiopia's remarkable jazz/pop scene in the early 70s.  Ahmed and his band clearly knew their James Brown, but the slightly exotic scales, like a cool breeze off the Indian Ocean, keep things from overheating.  At least, on your side of the dashboard.  

Rolling Stones: Rocks Off
From "Exile On Main Street," the Stones head south to New Orleans, Muscle Shoals, and all that open road in between.  

TV On The Radio: Wolf Like Me
The indie-rockers put pedal to the metal and come up with a song whose cruising speed is borderline illegal.  No horns, but crank it up, open the windows, and sing along - "thank God I like it!"

Got a great road song?  Leave a comment