Even when we can’t travel, we can escape to other worlds thanks to music. Be it samba from Brazil or a good new indie dance band from France, music has the power to transport us no matter where we are – which is why we’re happy to bring you our new monthly playlist series.
Every month we’ll choose a theme, paired with one of our #ontheroad Instagram locations, and choose some of our favorite tracks, giving you a music-inspired playlist meant to inspire a little wanderlust.
This week we’re in Spain, so we’re bringing you Viva La Flamenco, a playlist full of Spanish flavor. Not all the songs are necessarily by Spanish artists, and not all of them are traditional flamenco songs, but it’s a playlist meant to put you in a Spanish mood, ready to dance, dream of tapas in a plaza and feel a little more upbeat.
Has science or popular culture coined a term for the phenomenon of the random playing of a song that perfectly describes a travel situation or mood? Probably. But whatever it is or isn’t called, this scenario is something that, once in a great while, happens to all of us when we’re traveling.
I’m not talking about favorite road trip songs or music you queue up to fit the destination. Allow me to provide you with three key examples from my own experience. Note that sometimes it’s not so much the meaning of the song, but its title.
Exhibit A: My college boyfriend, and first love, had just dumped me, and I was despondent. A good friend had invited me to seek refuge at his family’s gorgeous homestead in Santa Cruz; as I tooled up Highway 101, I felt hopeful for the first time in weeks. Dusk fell, and I approached the wooded exit for my friend’s house, when Temple of the Dog’s “Say Hello to Heaven” came on. I literally had to pull over, I was so blown. As a side note, shortly before we broke up, my ex and I were driving to a concert, and Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” played. Hmmm.
Exhibit B: One year later, I made the colossal decision to leave a stagnant life earning minimum wage in California, and go to culinary school in Vail, Colorado. No sooner had I crossed the LA County line when X’s “Los Angeles (She had to leave/Los Angeles)” blasted from my radio.
Exhibit C: Five days later, I descended the steep pass into Vail, gaping at the slender waterfalls cascading onto the valley floor. “Follow Your Bliss” by the B-52’s began to play. To this day, I’ve never felt so much certainty about a life choice. That year in Vail was incredible, and ultimately, led to a career in food and travel writing.
I asked my fellow Gadlingers what songs define travel moments for them, and their answers were all over the (ahem) map. For more on Pam Mandel’s exile in not-quite post-Soviet Leningrad and Robin Whitney’s quest for a fresh start, read on after the jump:Pam Mandel:“Hotel California.” Just click on the link; you’ll be glad you did.
Jessica Marati: “Under Pressure,” by David Bowie, while walking the streets of New York City.
Robin Whitney: I’d been eyeing a move to California for some time, but everyone in Chicago would tell me awful stories about the “fakeness” of LA, or some other negative opinion about how sick I’d get of the good weather [Laurel here. As a recent refugee of Seattle, I find it hard to believe these Chicagoans actually love their climate. Sun: Good. Gray, cold and wind: Bad.] and, in their words, “lack of culture.”
In late April, I was visiting my brother in North Hollywood, stuck in epic traffic, and feeling defeated. Then a preview of Best Coast’s new CD came on, featuring “The Only Place (Why would you live anywhere else/We’ve got the ocean, got the babes/Got the sun, we’ve got the waves).” It lifted my spirits instantly, and I decided I deserve a year of exploring a new city, so I’ll be looking at apartments soon.
Sean McLachlan: My first solo road trip was also my first cross-country trip. I was driving across the Sonora Desert, when Blue Oyster Cult’s “Last Days of May” came on (Parched land no desert sand/Sun was just a dot/And a little bit of water goes a long way, ’cause it’s hot/Three good buddies were laughing and smoking in the back/Of a rented ford/They couldn’t know they weren’t going far). If you read all the lyrics to the song, you’ll learn why it likely made an impression on young Sean.
Melanie Renzulli: Just about every time I drive into New York, “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z starts to play. I’ll also always associate Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” with the first time I visited Germany, because it was playing in the shuttle on the way to ground transportation in Frankfurt. I was an exchange student, it was my first trip overseas, and Springsteen was on? It blew my mind.
Got any defining travel song moments? Share them with us!
[Photo credits: Paris With Love, Flickr user Epiclectic; Hotel California, Flickr user saguayo]
What’s the one thing that connects all people in every country on Earth? If you said “a dislike for Crocs footwear,” that’s a good guess but you’re wrong. It’s music.
Yes, before television or the internet or even the written word, there has always been music. A country’s music is an extremely important component of its culture, but it’s often neglected by travelers, even those who wish to truly experience the place they’re visiting.
Now, I’m not saying you should load up your iPod with two-hundred-year-old polkas and mazurkas and Gregorian chants. Those are neglected for good reason, in my opinion. (Sorry Mrs. Peters, my eighth-grade Music Appreciation teacher.) No, I’m referring to a country’s popular music– its rock bands, folk singers, indie artists, and even its bubblegum pop.
Sure, you’ll probably hear more Bob Marley or Guns ‘n Roses than anything else on your trip, depending on where you go, but most countries have scores of talented local artists. The trick is knowing where to find them. For my money, the folks over at Perceptive Travel have the best reviews and recommendations of world music that you’ll ever come across. Head on over there to check out what they have to say about your next destination.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a few of my own recommendations on international songs. Here are a couple of my favorites, with their country of origin in parentheses:
Cambodia meets Los Angeles, literally, in the band Dengue Fever. Lead singer Chhom Nimol, straight out of the musical mecca that is Cambodia, combines her unique voice with LA’s Zac Holtzman’s on this song about love separated by a world but connected– barely– by a phone card.
Slate’s Stephen Metcalf calls Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman a “fully realized pop genius.” His song “A Postcard to Nina” illustrates the typically quirky, funny, and often poignant Jens Lekman tune.
For musical chart-toppers from all over the world, go here. For streaming audio from everywhere, try this.
And be sure to check out Gadling’s series Sounds of Travel for more great songs.
Here at Gadling we’ll be highlighting some of our favorite sounds from the road and giving you a sample of each — maybe you’ll find the same inspiration that we did, but at the very least, hopefully you’ll think that they’re good songs. Got a favorite of your own? Leave it in the comments and we’ll post it at the end of the series.
Folk musicians are very different from pop stars. They earn their living one gig at a time, and are always on tour somewhere, because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t make any money. They write their own music, and they often draw from their vast experiences on the road, which is why folk music makes great travel tunes.
Eddie From Ohio‘s 2001 release, Quick, is among the best of the best. Just so we’re clear, Eddie isn’t a solo artist — but it is the name of the drummer in this band, not from Ohio but from the commonwealth of Virginia. Got it? EFO has been touring America since 1991, and Quick includes a great collection of travel-inspired tracks.
The tone of this album makes it perfect for the first CD of your road trip. The high energy title track will get you grooving behind the wheel before you’re out of your driveway, and put you in the right frame of mind for an adventure.
A fan favorite from this album is “Candido & America,” the story of a Mexican couple coming to the US to make a new life. It’s a hopeful song about starting over in a new place, and finding beauty where you are. This is one of those songs that entire audiences sing along to at Eddie From Ohio’s live shows.
Another highlight from Quick is “Number Six Driver.” Guitarist Robbie Schaefer wrote this song about the band’s trip back home to Virginia from a west coast tour. They’d been gone for a long time and wanted to power their way home, and Robbie got stuck with the night shift behind the wheel of the band’s RV. Somewhere in Wyoming before the light of dawn, he passed a gas station that offered “Free coffee for the #6 driver.” That is, the sixth driver to stop in during the night. I believe the story goes that travel weary Robbie was lucky driver number six, and from one of his most boring nights, a beautiful song was born, with a little help from a free cup of coffee. Listen to EFO perform the song at the 2003 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (I was in that audience!) in the video above.
There are lots of great travel tunes on EFO’s other CD’s as well. I love “30 Second Love Affair,” about the fantasy one driver creates about another driver while stopped next to her at a traffic light, “Fifth of July,” another track about new adventures and starting fresh, and “From Dacca,” a sweet song about culture shock and adjusting. Then there’s every Edhead’s favorite, “Old Dominion,” bassist Michael Clem’s tribute to the band’s home state. It’ll make you wish you lived here, too.