The Five Best Road Trip Albums of All Time
Summer’s not over, and driving is one of the best ways to get around right now. If you have a long trip planned, how should you pass the time—after listening to episodes of the Everyday Drive Car Debate, of course? Sometimes we need a break from podcasts or audiobooks, though. Local or satellite radio is easy, but you may want more choice over the music. Creating a playlist is fun, but the process can go on forever. One musical offering not many people seem to listen to anymore is the album. Having just written and recorded one of my own (my first), I find I have a new appreciation of what it takes to craft and order songs in a way that takes the listener on a journey—much like taking a road trip. Maybe that’s why listening to an entire album matches driving so well, as both offer you time take your mind off of your concerns and to immerse yourself in the moment.
For you younger readers out there, albums used to come on CD, cassette tape, or even 8-track. Now you can access practically every album ever written on your phone—just stream it from there to your car stereo, and you’re ready for an automotive and auditory experience like no other.
So here’s the list. Each album has its own special qualities and can be paired with different driving occasions. Yes, this could easily become a 10, 100, or 1000 album list, but here are a few criteria to which I will adhere:
The album must get you outside of your own head.
The album should strongly encourage engagement—either listening carefully or singing along.
The album should be easy to enjoy alone, with friends, or with family.
The album must be (mostly) family friendly.
So, let’s get to it. Here are my top five road trip albums as of Summer 2020.*
A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
I’ve cried twice in my adult life. Once when my son was born. The other when I first listened to this masterpiece in its entirety. After battling through years of addiction, legendary saxophonist John Coltrane presented this album as a testament to his recovery. Trading drugs for a deep spirituality, this jazz is not the standards he played in the past; instead, Coltrane presents to us his quest to achieve union with the divine. His frantic playing, at first, may sound like noise. Jazz turns some people off with syncopation and dissonance. But Coltrane guides listeners through the chaos of personal struggle to the promise of a better life—all through stream-of-conscientiousness soloing. Whenever I’ve found myself mired in some manner of crisis—or even if I just need to clear my mind—taking a long drive while listening to this album usually does the trick.
Ziltoid the Omniscient by Devin Townsend
No one else can blend operatic vocals, memorable choruses, heavy metal, and absurd humor like Devin Townsend. His own version of A Love Supreme, he crafts a space opera in which an evil alien overlord threatens to destroy Earth because its inhabitants cannot furnish him an adequate cup of coffee. The album literally spans the galaxy as the characters quest, fight, lose, win, and reach various epiphanies. There is also a surprise ending that loses no charm even after many listens. Like all good theater, this album induces the appropriate level of catharsis to effectively cleanse your emotional palette. Listening to Ziltoid will certainly entertain you over long distances while also making you think and feel.
Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star
I must confess I don’t care for most commercial hip hop. Maybe it’s because I’ve taught in public schools for so long, but our youth is obsessed with all of the trends and dances and fashions associated with the music. Therefore, the actual tracks don’t have to be good; they just have to let artists look good. Maybe I’m too old. Maybe I’m not cool. But I can’t often listen to music without substance. That’s why I love hip hop from Run the Jewels, The Roots, and J Dilla. Their music is vibrant, complex, and socially conscious. Black Star, an eponymous album released in 1998 from the Def/Kweli duo is the same, their beats and rhymes standing up to the test of time. Driving while listening to this album will get your head bobbing—not only because of the bass but also because you will find yourself agreeing with their proud and positive lyrics.
Effloresce by Covet
This trio, led by guitarist Yvette Young, present all things a road trip album should include: catchy melodies, impressive musicality, moments of calm, moments of energy, and a magical balance of simplicity and complexity that helps you focus on the road. This is my favorite album to listen to when driving spiritedly, but it is also great when just cruising. If driving mindfully and achieving the Flow State is what you need, Effloresce delivers. There are lots of talented bands playing this style of instrumental music right now, but Covet is my favorite.
Get a Grip by Aerosmith
If you grew up in the 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s, “The Bad Boys from Boston” likely played on your local radio station on loop each summer. (Is radio still a thing?) Aerosmith have many, many hits, but this album works so well when road tripping because of its completeness. It juxtaposes attitude songs like “Eat the Rich” with thoughtful tunes like “Livin on the Edge”. Of course, there are the trio of ballads (Remember Adam Sandler’s "Crazy, Cryin’, Amazing” skit from Saturday Night Live?) that pretty much defined summertime during my formative years. Sure, they're schmaltzy, but they are perfect for blasting on the way to the beach, windows down, in a car full of friends.
My overly eclectic musical taste not withstanding, I hope you enjoyed this list and that you’re willing to share your own favorites. I can think of so many more albums to include from classical to country! Driving is a great time to discover new music. Let us know what your listening to on your next big trip.
Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. (And occasionally publish music.) The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.
*Album art credits Amazon.com