Songs for the Road
Traveling is better with music!
I fondly recall numerous excursions heading west on Interstate 70 toward Colorado, California, Las Vegas or anywhere but Kansas. I took many road trips, by myself or with friends. The vehicles were different as time passed and the people accompanying me changed as well, but there was one constant on these journeys—my music. With me were always my “power tapes.” Long before the advent of IPods or even CDs, there were cassette tapes. These popular if fragile contrivances were an integral part of any road trip taken by car. I made countless compilation cassettes of my favorite music. Over time I transferred my favorites to CDs and eventually to the IPod. I will confess that in many ways, my collection of battle-tested cassettes remain a sentimental favorite over the other musical formats, largely due to the memories they conjure of summer expeditions in search of adventure.
Music had to meet certain criteria to be eligible for power tape status. First and most important, I had to like the songs. That should be obvious—there would be no reason to play music I disliked. Second, the music had to pick me up mentally and emotionally since I used it as a hedge against fatigue. Third, the selections had to play well together. I wanted a healthy mix of fast and slow songs and a good male to female vocalist ratio. Finally (and least important), they had to hold a special meaning for me. This was not mandatory—I had no problem including a song only because I liked it at the moment, but if it was special to me in some way, so much the better. I tended to exclude music from artists I enjoyed so much that their inclusion would dominate the tape. For example, the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones were not found on my Power Tapes, simply because they deserved an entire tape devoted entirely to their songs. Nearly any other band was fair game, however.
These are songs from one of my tapes. Most of the music is at least 20 years old, and some of it is far more. This tape goes on every trip with me.
One of the greatest songs of all time (in my opinion)
Images behind the music
Power Songs Volume 1
1. “Conquistador” by Procol Harum. This song leads off my compilation tape primarily because of its inspired introduction. With an intro this dramatic, you can’t help but perk up. The singing and music are strong and it is a wonderful song to sing along to.
2. “Under the Milky Way” by the Church. Great music and a good melody; this song was included because of the wonderful line “It leads you here despite your destination—under the Milky Way tonight.”
3. “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas. This song (in my opinion) is among the ten greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Beautiful lyrics and harmonies have made it one of my absolute favorites for over 40 years.
4. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. A “power song” from my younger days, Don’t Fear the Reaper always inspired me. Like Procol Harum’s Conquistador, the music that leads into the song is strong and uplifting—even if the words are a bit less upbeat.
5. “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane. This song represents Grace Slick at her best with her powerful vocals. The tune joins California Dreamin’ as a song that stands the test of time. It is as fun to listen to now as it was in the 60s.
6. “Fortress Around Your Heart” by Sting. It seemed as if Sting tried to jam as many words as he could into this tune’s lyrics, but he made it work. It is an odd song in many ways, but I am thrilled by the French horns used in the chorus. This is one of Sting’s best songs.
7. “Everybody’s Talkin’” by Harry Nilsson. The theme song to the movie “Midnight Cowboy,” this quirky tune is carried by Nilsson’s distinctive voice. It is far from upbeat, but it holds a special place in my heart and landed on my power songs list.
8. “John Barleycorn Must Die” by Traffic. Slow and sometimes pondering, this is the oddball song of the tape. I confess I sometimes skipped over it while driving, but I defend its inclusion with its odd lyrics, rife with symbolism and fine singing by Steve Winwood.
9. “Dream On” by Aerosmith. Dream On is an early hit by Aerosmith and still one of my favorites. This is a great track to sing while you’re alone—you can scream the lyrics with Steven Tyler to your heart’s content. This song has great vocals and an amazing guitar track.
10. “Eli’s Coming” by Three Dog Night. A wonderful “potboiler” song by an underappreciated band, Eli’s Coming is a superb song to sing along to at the top of your lungs while driving through the Rocky Mountains in the middle of the night. I often played this tune repeatedly before moving on.
11. “Rainbow Demon” by Uriah Heep. A slow, ponderous song that speaks of evil power, this song is also outstanding in the middle of the night. It is in fact the only song by Uriah Heep I like, but I like it a lot.
12. “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine” by the Fifth Dimension. The antithesis in tone and outlook to Rainbow Demon, Aquarius is the signature song from the Broadway musical, “Hair.” It is a song of hope and optimism. I included the Fifth Dimension’s version because of the horn section heard during the chorus.
13. “Coming into Los Angeles” by Arlo Guthrie. A bizarre little song about smuggling drugs, Arlo Guthrie sang this song at Woodstock. It might horrify Guthrie to hear me say this, but it almost has the feel of a pop song with its catchy tune. Arlo is no singer, but he does okay here and I enjoy this song.
14. “April Come She Will” by Simon and Garfunkel. This song is featured on the soundtrack to the movie “The Graduate.” A short tune lasting only a few minutes, it emphasizes Art Garfunkel’s magnificent voice to great effect. It is simple and poetic, and it never fails to put me in a reflective mood.
15. “Share the Land” by the Guess Who. A power tape needs a strong song to end with, and I chose this magnificent anthem about brotherhood from the Guess Who. They did great guitar work on this song, and the vocals are very powerful.
The Age of Aquarius
Do you have a "road" song?
There were originally over 25 “power tapes” in my collection, but now only a handful remains. Subsequent tapes were graced with music from the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Blind Faith and more. I branched out into “Mellow Power” tapes, Rat Pack compilations, country and western, and all-female vocalists. One particularly special tape contained music from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Turtles, Cream, and the Byrds. I even had an older-than-oldies tape, with songs from the Monotones, Dicky Lee, and many more. These songs have taken many trips with me, and they are always packed for any journey lasting an hour or longer. They are not true road songs, but they have become road songs for me. Through the course of the years they have sparked many memories and created some along the way, as well. These amazing tunes speak to my soul and allow it to sing in response. Some of them could be considered part of the soundtrack of my life.
Is there a song or songs you associate with traveling? What is it?
Share the Land
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