The Beach Boys—Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966)
What says summer getaway like The Beach Boys? Well, ﬂip-ﬂops, Hawaiian Tropic and a pair of Ray-Bans (the Risky Business ones, obviously)—but you know what I mean. Skip over all those corny early Surfin’ Safari/U.S.A.-in-a-Little Deuce Coupe albums and head straight for their masterpiece. The guy at the record store will tell you that Pet Sounds was an inspiration for Sgt. Pepper, blah blah blah. Here’s all you need to know: When you’re cruising down the coast at quarter to sunset, there are few sweeter lullabies that can rock the day to sleep.
Sureﬁre singalong: “Sloop John B.”
The Flaming Lips—Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Bros., 2002)
Concept records were made for road tripping. After all, when else would you have the time to parse some narrative about a little girl, robots and cosmic ass-kicking? For what it’s worth, this is also an impossibly pretty record. Both intimate and epic, Yoshimi takes pastoral Beck-meets-The Beatles symphonic pop and envelopes it in sci-ﬁ whooshes and gurgles. Put it on surround and make like a space rock opera on wheels.
Sureﬁre singalong: “Do You Realize??”
ABBA—Gold: Greatest Hits (Polygram, 1993)
Ladies, we know you eat this stuff up: “Take a Chance on Me.” “Voulez-Vous.” “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” Probably even “Chiquitita.” Well, here’s something on the q.t.: Despite our protestations, guys dig on the ABBA, too. We might even know a few lyrics. Like, uh, every single word of “Waterloo.”
Sureﬁre singalong: “Dancing Queen” (and that’s just for starters)
OutKast—Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista, 2003)
You know you’re hitting the conversational wall when you run out of things to ﬁght over—excuse me, discuss—on your trip. That’s when you need to set aside the Middle East crisis or how to ﬁx Medicare and tackle something really contentious. That’s right: Andre 3000 vs. Big Boi. Let’s review: Play Speakerboxxx. Then The Love Below. Repeat. Debate till dawn or the hotel, whatever comes ﬁrst.
Sureﬁre singalong: “Hey Ya!” Or “The Way You Move.” Uh-oh.
Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 3: 70’s & 80’s (TVT, 1990)
Here’s a cottage commute time-waster: Throw this bad boy on, hit shufﬂe and settle once and for all who’s spent more quality time with their other life partner (TV, that is). Some tips: Don’t brag when you call out a really easy theme song like “Three’s Company.” Don’t mix up “The Facts of Life” and “Gimme a Break” because that’s just embarrassing. Do agree on the irrefutable fact that Lynda Carter and Tom Selleck (a.k.a. Wonder Woman and Magnum, P.I.—come on!) were really, really hot.
Sureﬁre singalong: “The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)”
Jay-Z—The Blueprint (Universal, 2001)
When you roll into a new city, you need to make an impression. Don’t be meek. Pull up on that town like you own its ass. Roll down the windows. Crank the bass. Even if your ride is a rental Saturn with an “I Brake for Organics” bumper sticker, let the Jigga show them who’s the original gangsta.
Sureﬁre singalong: “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”
Dazed and Confused: Original Soundtrack (Warner Bros., 1993)
Man, the ’70s were far out! Remember how we sported Adidas short shorts and muscle Ts? And how we’d play pinball at The Emporium and then cruise out to the water tower in our ’75 El Camino? And remember those kneesocks with the stripes? Dy-no-mite. Anyway, just throw on a bit of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and at least you can pretend you’re hitting an outdoor kegger instead of visiting the in-laws in Kingston, Ont.
Sureﬁre singalong: Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite”
Nina Simone—The Blues (Novus, 1991)
The result of some bonus ﬁller appended to her essential 1966 classic (Nina Simone Sings the Blues), The Blues sounds like rainy highways even on the clearest day. And accompanied by a symphony of pitter-patter? Sister, the blues never ached so ﬁne. Whether she’s coaxing out one of her own or ripping through “The House of the Rising Sun,” the High Priestess of Soul infuses almost every cut with sorrow, swagger and just enough sugar to sweeten the clouds.
Sureﬁre singalong: “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl”
Bruce Springsteen—Nebraska (Columbia, 1982)
My friends Chris and Natalie once spent the four-hour drive between Toronto and Windsor listening to nothing but Nebraska. Check out “Highway Patrolman”: This patrolman, a guy named Joe, spends his life looking the other way when his brother, Franky, gets in trouble. Sure, he has misgivings, but Franky is family, you know? One night, Joe gets a call: Franky killed a guy in a bar brawl. Joe goes out to arrest him, but when push comes to shove he just can’t do it. So he lets his brother go at the Canadian border. For real.
Sureﬁre singalong: “Atlantic City”
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