I’ll be staying home this Thanksgiving, but on most major holidays I tend to find myself driving the I-95 corridor from North Carolina to New York. It’s a 10-hour drive if things go well, and it can take 12-13 if there’s construction or horrible traffic along the way. And as a rule, there is always construction or horrible traffic along the way.
I actually like long drives, but there’s always a stretch of about 90 minutes where it becomes tedious and unbearable. You’ve exhausted your tolerance for podcasts—even great ones—and listening to an actual album with songs by the same artist will only simulate the constant stream of cars. Sure, you can try performing fake concerts for fake audiences, or win imaginary arguments with people you hate, or act out an interview with David Letterman since you’re now famous, but even those ego tricks have a shelf life.
Sometimes, you just need a boredom-killing playlist to get you through the rough patch. The songs have to be catchy, fast, and not always sophisticated. This will not be the coolest playlist you’ve ever seen. There will be rapid mood swings to keep you on your toes. You need to be able to belt these tunes out and temporarily forget the soul-killing misery of the New Jersey landscape. When it’s over, you’ll be ready to tolerate Marc Maron’s voice again, or get contemplative and pass a crucial hour in comfortable silence. So for those of you with long drive, this is your playlist. Save it for the critical moment, when you need to survive 60 minutes of hell and reset your mind for the home stretch.
1. “Here Comes Your Man,” by The Pixies
We’re starting with a bang. You’ve got melody, a hopping bass line and a fun chorus. My favorite apocryphal story about this song is that it refers to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in WW2. The plane that made the drop was called the Bockscar (“outside there’s a bockscar waiting”), the bomb was called “Fat Man” (“here comes your man!”) and the line “there is a wait so long” feels a lot like someone looking up at the sky watching as the bomb drops. That explanation turns out to be complete nonsense, but anyway…
2. “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” by The Darkness
Look, cool guy, I said this wouldn’t always be sophisticated or cool. We need to rouse you from your state of near-slumber. You’re going to have fun. Sing this chorus in falsetto or you’re missing the point.
3. “Apocalypse” by Wyclef Jean
I think you’re ready for a longer song, and the great part about this one is you can sing along with the operatic part at the beginning, which happens to be “Concerto pour une voix” by a French composer named “Saint-Preux.” Be careful, though, because part of this song has a car chase. Don’t get carried away. You aren’t Wyclef.
4. “Laws Have Changed,” by the New Pornographers
This is one of the songs where I have trouble deciding whether I’m going to sing the lead singer’s part in the verses, which is fun, or Neko Case’s kickass chorus. I usually try to do both, and end up choking on air and swerving into the median.
5. “I Will,” by Radiohead
You need to slow down a bit after almost swerving into the median, but the experience still needs to be interactive. Two minutes of Thom Yorke should do the trick. This is especially great if there’s another person in the car, because you will never look more creepy in your life than while trying to attempt to duplicate Yorke’s falsetto for an extended period. I highly recommend staring straight at the passenger with an intense look when you sing the “little baby’s eyes” line.
6. “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks
Okay, time to pick it back up. Also, our subject matter was getting a little dark over the past three songs, so The Kinks will restore our sense of love and nostalgia.
7. “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” by The Smiths
I guess this is the Little Britain section of our playlist. Anyway, here we have vintage Morrissey with a delightful melody. It also passes the chorus test, but again, it contains imagery of a car being crushed by a double-decker bus. On one hand, you’re probably safe because we don’t have double-decker buses in America outside the cities, but on the other, there are so many dangerous lorries on the road. I mean trucks. Shit, I need to get out of Little Britain.
8. “Alive,” by Pearl Jam
Ahhh, that’s better. The obvious selling point here is the chorus, which you can belt out at the top of your lungs, but I also enjoy singing garbled Eddie Vedder lyrics in the chorus. At some point I think I knew exactly what he was saying, but now it’s all, “SSSSOMMMME, YA SAY, RABBI GOT A LITTLE GORY FOR YOU…”
9. “Annie Waits,” by Ben Folds
Time to bring it back down, slightly, but still keep a medium-high level of energy with that addictive piano intro. And I swear I didn’t realize until I listened again that there’s more car imagery here, plus a line (“maybe he’s been seriously hurt”) that kind of implies a car crash. What is wrong with me?? I swear I don’t want you to die.
10. “Time to Pretend” by MGMT
My opinion is that this song is even better than “Kids,” and I was happy when I saw on YouTube that it has 33 million views to “Kids’” 27 million. The people have spoken, and YouTube is never wrong! There’s also some commentary about modern culture in this song (it tackles celebrities and civilians both), so you can feel smart for listening. And you’re going to need that little intellectual pat on the back, because the next song…
11. “Sugar Sugar,” by the Archies
Yeah!!! Just wear a big sappy smile while you’re singing this, blast the volume, and hope you don’t die in a crash at that exact moment. Because then your obituary will note that you died listening to “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies.
12. “Gloria,” by Patti Smith
You need to feel better about yourself after that. This is some serious ‘70s street cred, and the slow build culminating in the “G-L-O-R-I-A!” is exactly what the doctor ordered. This is the opposite of sugary pop, and it has the added bonus that you can sneer while singing almost every line as Smith does her best Dylan/Lou Reed impression.
13. “Duke of Earl,” by Gene Chandler
YES. Best song in song history. There are about 50 vocal parts you can choose to sing in this song, too, so you’ll probably want to re-play it five times. If you get a chance, really listen to the lyrics. Basically, it’s a guy saying he can do whatever he wants and nobody can stop him because he’s a noble called the Duke of Earl, which is actually a combination of two titles of peerage. I think this song is about a mad, ranting British homeless person.
14. “Mr. November,” by The National
This song rocks so hard, and hey, guess what? IT’S NOVEMBER. This song should be the closer, but it’s not because of my particular philosophical approach. Read on.
15. “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” by Bonnie Tyler
This song serves two purposes. First, you know it’s going to be secretly fun to sing. Second, it’s going to make you so disgusted with yourself that you’ll be ready to move on to different car activities when it’s over. I don’t believe in happy endings; I think the best possible phases in your life are the ones that are amazing for a set period of time, and right when they’re about to end, you’re kind of sick of the whole thing anyway and ready to move on. And that’s exactly how I want you to feel about this list. You’re welcome.