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Road Music #1: Twistin’ Through the Twisties

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The summer season of long car trips and top-down joyrides is upon us–and we are again confronted with the critical question of what mood music to have playing in the stereo as we drive.

"Now there was a time when you loved me so/I could have been wrong, but now you needed to know/See, I've been a bad, bad, bad, bad man and I'm in deep, yes I am/I found a brand new love for this man and I can't wait till you see/I can't wait/So how you like me now?...."Today, we’ll discuss appropriate soundtrack selections for a mad dash down one of the squiggly lines on the map.

While music preferences are highly subjective, I propose the following theory for your consideration: There are exactly three objective characteristics that make a good backroads driving song: a steady fast tempo, a prominent beat, and a series of quick key and chord changes.

That’s all.  Nothing more required.

As long as it has those three characteristics, a tune for the twisties can come from almost any genre of music, with the probable exception of emo. Most of the examples I’m going to cite are from rock and pop, because that’s what I’m most likely to listen to, but one can downshift and carve corners to 1940s swing (“In the Mood”, “Hellzapoppin’,” “Jumpin’ Jive”), bebop jazz (“Tank!“), Swedish power metal (“Metal Machine“), and even NPR-grade symphony orchestra (the overture from the opera William Tell).

While a backroads driving song can be a song about cars or driving–one good example would be “Highway Star” by Deep Purple–it doesn’t have to be. “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & the Waves is a happy love song. Dire Straits’ “Tunnel of Love” is a bittersweet ballad. “Incense and Peppermints” is vintage psychedelia. “Berlin” by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is (I’m pretty sure) a serious critique of modern secular culture. “The Real Me” is about mental illness. Entrain’s “Dancing in the Light” is a high-velocity word salad, while the words to Patty Griffin’s “Boston” are a three-layer cake of despair. Any of these could be the music bed for your dashcam video of a trip down the Tail of the Dragon–as could songs in a language you don’t understand (“Masitéladi,” “La Bamba“), or ones with no words at all (“One Big Rush”).

As I said, these are objective criteria: a tune you don’t like can nevertheless be fully backroads-compliant. I’m no David Bowie fan, not even close, but “Suffragette City” is as good in the twisties as they come.

I’ll finish up with a recent addition to my iPod: “Gotta Get Away” by The Black Keys. It’s a catchy little ballad of failed romance with a deliciously singable chorus: I went from San Berdoo/To Kalamazoo/Just to get away from you….. Perfect for your favorite S-curve.

–Cookie the Dog’s Owner

What’s on your corner-carving playlist?  Let us know in the comments below.

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