September 19, 2020

Gear up with the best driving music

By Kristi Kates | Jan. 14, 2017

Are you ready for a road trip? For those who love to travel — especially those who aren’t big fans of winter weather — this is prime time for loading up your suitcase and hitting the highways in search of a warmer, or at least different, temporary destination. The drive to travel is a magnetic one, for wandering vagabonds and seasonal vacationers alike — but either way, you can’t go on a road trip without music. So, here are our picks for a Michigan-themed mix list you can easily collect via iTunes or customize through Spotify. Crank up the volume and go!

M83, “Go!”

The name of this French band echoes that of a Michigan highway, and the song title itself gives you a push directly out into your road trip, so what’s not to love about this starting song? With lyrics about traveling, arriving, running away, returning, and meeting at the station, “Go!” covers pretty much every aspect of a road trip besides your unfortunate choices of gas station food.

Stone Temple Pilots, “Interstate Love Song”

Want to get anywhere in Michigan? Unless it’s just around town, you’d best prepare for a long drive, whether down U.S. 131, 31, 2, or the spine of our state, Interstate 75, which takes you downstate to Detroit and beyond. I-75 will most likely also be your route of choice to Florida sunshine, with STP yowling this roadworthy song in the background about abandonment and trains.

The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”

Similarly, the distances between destinations in Michigan can be pretty vast — not as big as the plains out West, granted — but far enough to crank this hit by a pair of Scottish brothers right on up to 11, so you can let everybody in the car sing along with that massive refrain at the top of their lungs until you get to the next rest stop.

Sammy Davis Jr., “Hello, Detroit”

Sammy D. meanders confidently through his always smooth vocal tones as he name-checks a shortlist of stops throughout the Motor City, from Greektown to Motown. This tune is also quite well-mannered with its vintage feel, making it our pick for keeping your carload calm as you sit in yet another traffic jam on Interstate 96.

“Glee” cast, “Don’t Stop Believing”

Okay, there technically isn’t a real place called “South Detroit” as bellowed in this classic rock tune by ’70s rockers Journey (the band’s lead singer wrote the lyric because “South Detroit” sounded “poetic”), but thanks to the tune’s revival as a single from the TV show “Glee,” it’s become an anthem for never giving up. Our instructions: Cue this one up every time someone in the car asks, “Are we there yet?”

Guided by Voices, “Motor Away”

With a churning intro that sounds like a car revving up its engine, this track by northern Michigan-based multi-instrumentalist Tobin Sprout and his bandmates is low on production value (think: garage) but big on hook, with its slightly off drumbeat and quirky melody. It’s often described as a song about freedom — and what’s more freeing than the open road?

Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”

A good groove inside the car is as important as smooth roads outside, and Mars has been crafting some of the best modern grooves in pop music over the past few years (not to discount Ronson’s own abilities setting a beat). This smash mashup of hip-hop and Motown is perfect for car dancing while you’re highway driving, whether you’re zipping by tall buildings, billboards or confused livestock.

Bright Eyes, “Another Travelin’ Song”

You probably wouldn’t want a whole lot of perennially mopey Conor Oberst on your road trip, unless you enjoy traveling along in a slog of regret, but this singular track is in great audio form for road tripping with its country ambiance and traveling theme, and the tune’s so cheerful you’ll be able to (mostly) forgive the increasingly downtrodden lyrics.

Sufjan Stevens, “Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)”

Michigan expatriate Stevens (now a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.) originally hails from Petoskey, which is probably where he found the time to memorize the long list of Michigan cities that careen through this psychedelic-folk tune. Bonus: Stevens also sings “Chicago” if you’re heading to the Windy City. He also offers another song called “Alanson, Crooked River,” another oh-so-Michigan melody that features appropriately icy synths.

Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere”

One of the great things about driving in Michigan is the fact that we still have so many unspoiled places here. Destinations are all fine and well, but if you have a hankering to just get out into the middle of nowhere, put on this track with its galloping refrain (yes, we know you’re in a car, not a horse, but still), and head up to the wilds of the Upper Peninsula or out into mid-state farmlands.

Cake, “The Distance”

This propellant song from the verbose California band can be applied to many things: achieving your goals, running a foot race, horse racing, or yes, a road trip, with many of the lyrics lending themselves particularly well to driving cars, although you might not want to take the line, “He’s going for speed” too literally unless you’re spoilering for a ticket.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, “Summertime”

It’s not summer yet, but this always-fun tune from Will Smith and his cohort is just right for reviving that feel of a much warmer northern Michigan in mid-July, as you hop onto U.S. 131 to head to a festival, picking up a pint of fresh farmstand cherries along the way. “Pop in my CD/ And let me run a rhyme/ And put your car on cruise/ ’Cause this is summertime.”

Broken Bells, “The High Road”

This track from Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and The Shins’ James Mercer is really about traveling through life, but who says it can’t also be applied to setting tires to road? “The high road is hard to find,” Mercer sings — making this an apt anthem for the next time you find yourself lost on a two-track or heading the wrong way down one of Grand Rapids’ one-way streets.

Arcade Fire, “No Cars Go”

The impeccable rock harmonies of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne and the speedy instrumentals are what make this track stand out amidst the other songs on “Neon Bible,” even though this is more of an arriving-at-your-destination song than a traveling song. It even accompanied an episode of “Top Gear” back when “Top Gear” was cool, so it’s got that added cache as well.

The Go-Go’s, “Vacation”

This ’80s classic says it all with its title — if you’re heading out for a road trip vacation, the chiming intro to this bubbly track by the wildly successful girl band quintet is perfect for that effervescent feeling of escape you get as you finally pull out of the driveway. “Vacation, all I ever wanted/ Vacation, had to get away.”


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