Songs That Fit The Moment: When Music And Travel Meld

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]

Top travel ‘tunes: a travel-themed playlist from the Gadling team for your next road trip

Planning a road trip? The 21st century version of mixed tape, the playlist, is a must-pack for anyone in the car for longer than a few hours.

Whether you’re venturing out for a long weekend at the beach, planning a Labor Day getaway, or simply wanting to set the mood for an upcoming vacation, try downloading any of these favorite “travel-themed” songs:

On The Road Again, Willie Nelson

Break My Stride, Matthew Wilder
“It’s a favorite for all of my life events,” says Gadling writer Mike Barish.

[Flickr via BeverlyislikeLife is a Highway, Tom Cochrane

Leaving on a Jet Plane, John Denver

California Dreaming, The Mamas & The Papas
Writer and social media whiz Annemarie Dooling loves this one.

The Wanderer, Dion

Soul Meets Body, Death Cab for Cutie
Writer Pam Mandel loves this song, particularly the line “In my mind there’s a Grayhound station / I send my thoughts to far off destinations…”
The Passenger, Iggy Pop

Born to Be Wild, Steppenwolf
Writer Sean McLaughlan loves this song, “mainly because it brings back memories of that scene in Easy Rider, the ultimate road trip movie.”
Road Trippin’, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Hotel California, The Eagles

Ramblin’ Man, The Allman Brothers

Route 66, Depeche Mode

No Particular Place To Go, Chuck Berry

And … to remind you to slow down…
Highway Patrol, Junior Brown

*Want more favorites? Gadling has a 45-song playlist on Spotify. Here’s the link!

Top 10 travel-themed 80’s songs

Something happened to songwriters during the 80’s. Synthesizers became required instruments, hair got bigger and most importantly, songwriters were increasingly interested in the theme of travel. Why was travel suddenly such an important subject? Though there’s no one right answer, the reasons for the glut of travel-themed 80’s songs are many, including the influence of globalization, the rise of international pop stars and, of course, because the bands just wanted to seem cool and more worldly. Isn’t that always the best reason?

With so many great travel-themed 80’s pop songs out there, it was only natural for Gadling to compile a list of our top ten favorites. After hours of intensive polling, debating and arguing, we’re happy to present you with the following gems. How many do you remember? Think you know the best? Take a look below:

80’s Travel Song #10: The Bangles – Walk Like an Egyptian

How does one “walk like an Egyptian” you might ask? Well, if you were The Bangles, it involved some awkward imitations of ancient hieroglyphics. Though they never do the dance in their video, the song kicked off a wave of hieroglyphics imitators, all turned sideways in tribute. So did the band ever visit Egypt? Were they avid archaeology buffs? I’m afraid the answer is probably no. But hey, the dance makes you look pretty cool. Make sure to show it off the next time you find yourself on the streets of Cairo!

80’s Travel Song #9: Murray Head – One Night in Bangkok

So what exactly is going on here? 80’s one-hit wonders Murray Head sing this ode to Bangkok, originally composed by the former members of ABBA, as part of the soundtrack for the hit musical Chess, and the music video doesn’t stray too far from the theme. A guy plays chess, people are dancing with Asian masks in a dark scary room and there’s lots of smoke. I haven’t yet been to Bangkok, but based on this video, I think I have a pretty good sense of what to expect. If nothing else, it’s got quite a hummable chorus, no?

80’s Travel Song #8: U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

In 1986, U2 began work on a new album called The Joshua Tree. The record was meant to describe all that they loved about American musical traditions, including Blues, Gospel and Folk. The result of their efforts was their most popular album to date, including hit singles like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The song’s themes of wandering, discovery and open road remain just as resonant today as when the song was first released back in 1987. Make sure to watch the official video (we couldn’t embed it, sorry) to see the band as they wander around Las Vegas.

80’s Travel Song #7: Go-Go’s – Vacation

Not only is “Vacation” the name of a hit song by 80’s all-girl group The Go-Go’s, it’s also the name of their 1982 album. Propelled by bouncy melodies and catchy guitar hooks, “Vacation” might seem to be the perfect carefree soundtrack to that next trip down to the Bahamas. But if you listen closely, you’ll notice the lyrics to “Vacation” really have nothing to do with travel, beaches or road trips: it’s actually about a relationship. That said, don’t let the lyrical content spoil the fun – “Vacation” remains an 80’s travel song favorite.

80’s Travel Song #6: B-52’s – Roam

They might not have known it at the time, but this quintessential ode to wandering by 80’s super-group The B-52’s was destined to be included on every travel-themed iPod playlist. It has all the right ingredients – the references to dusty trails, a sugary melody and plenty of killer choruses. Anytime you stuck at home or at the office and dreaming of that next big trip, throw on “Roam” and you’re guaranteed to be transported back out on the open road, if only in your mind.

80’s Travel Song #5: Billy Ocean – Caribbean Queen

Remember the first time you heard Billy Ocean’s Caribbean Queen? Was it in a dentist office waiting room? Streaming from the “Lite Rock” station at a coworker’s cubicle? It’s likely you don’t have fond memories of it, and frankly, that’s a shame. The ultimate “King of Smooth,” Mr. Billy Ocean, brings us this easy listening staple, a must-have on any self-respecting 80’s travel song list. The easygoing rhythms paired with the luxurious string section give this song a carefree, island vibe that’s hard to describe. You either want to break out in spontaneous dance or go cry in the corner – it’s hard to decide which feels more appropriate.

80’s Travel Song #4: Men at Work – Land Down Under

This one is just too easy. Men at Work’s Land Down Under music video has just about every 80’s and Australian cliche known to mankind. That includes the unnecessary man sitting in a tree playing a flute solo, a stuffed koala, band members wearing leather pants in the desert, and plenty of gratuitous Foster’s product shots. If you want to (mis)understand what the 80’s were all about, just watch this video. It’s amazing.

80’s Travel Song #3: Duran Duran – Rio

Like so many other epic pop singles, Duran Duran’s Rio is a tribute to that “special someone.” In this case though, the place and the person are used interchangeably. They call it “Rio,” an earthly paradise of beaches, twinkling stars and sensuous “curves.” Are they talking about Rio de Janeiro? Some other “river” of fantasies? A fair-skinned beauty? The answer is up to the listener to decide. Make sure to watch the sailboat-themed video (which we weren’t able to embed in this post).

80’s Travel Song #2: Toto – Africa

Africa has long been a source of mystery and intrigue for travelers, a fact one-hit wonders Toto play off in this tribute to the famously “exotic” continent. The action in the video inexplicably kicks off in a library (in Africa, I guess?) where the band is searching for answers. Sadly, despite pulling a number of dusty tomes off the shelf, including one appropriately titled “Africa,” they don’t seem to find anything of use. Soon an errant spear is thrown into the bookcase and chaos ensues. If you’re looking to find every possible stereotype about Africa embodied in a catchy pop song, Toto’s Africa is it.

80’s Travel Song #1: Big Country – In a Big Country

Big Country might not have achieved the same degree of 80’s-hit stardom as Duran Duran or Men at Work, but their grand opus, “In a Big Country,” is among the most epic travel songs of all time. Much like Rio, “In a Big Country” mixes subjects between special places and people, singing of the inspiring places around us and the people that inhabit them. The soaring lyrics and catchy chorus never fail to get your body moving and your mind dreaming off distant lands. Plus, in the music video, the band seems to be having plenty of fun along the way, tooling around on 3-wheelers in search of adventure.

Travel song for spring: Morning Has Broken

Back in November and December we ran a series Songs of Travel where we featured our favorite travel songs. This morning with spring flowers blooming in a variety of places, even along I-70 where I saw dozens of daffodils in their yellow splendor just yesterday, and my mother is talking about the redbud trees blooming throughout the mountains of southeastern Kentucky, I’m reminded of Cat Steven’s (aka Yusef) “Morning has Broken.”

Here’s a video I found that captures the beauty of the flowering trees, roadsides and gardens, plus the birds that we can see for free. With birds busy migrating back to their summer homes this month and festivals honoring flowers, this ode to spring and the morning seemed fitting. Hopefully as you travel this week, you’re able to enjoy the blossoms and the singing. There’s a wonderful shot of children about halfway through.