Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Vinyl Anachronist Road Trip Playlist for Turo.com

I don't normally respond to marketing requests on my blog. This is my private little shed out in the back, down by the creek--I don't get any money for it and I write whatever I want. There are no editors here, no agendas, no assignments, no responsibilities. As I've said many times before, I do it to keep myself sane through writing whatever I want, and while I'm able to get my stuff published through a number of venues these days I still like coming here and flashing my privates, figuratively, to the rest of the world.

So when I received an email from the lovely Emma Powers of Turo.com--and I assume she's lovely with a name like that--I acquiesced for a couple of reasons. Turo is a new service in the vein of Airbrb and Uber, where you can rent out your car to someone for a specified amount of time. As someone who just used Uber for the first time a few weeks ago and was amazed at its simplicity and convenience, I'm digging these peer-to-peer services and wonder why someone hasn't thought of this until now.

Well, Turo is asking bloggers to submit their playlists as part of a marketing campaign, something to give people ideas on what to listen to while they're on road trips. That's a passion of mine--coming up with a proper playlist during one of my epic journeys through America, all in the name of good sound. I said yes to Emma.

So here's my playlist:

System of a Down--"Chop Suey" Wake up! Grab a brush and put a little makeup! Colleen puts this on at the beginning of every road trip that we take together. It's a wake up call, a jolt to get started early in the morning, something to get the blood pumping. Every time I listen to this song it gets me all pumped up through its crazy fast-slow-fast tempo, its over-the-top passion and gut-wrenching emotional pleas ("Why have you forsaken me?") and Serj Tankian's strong and strangely mature (for this type of music) singing voice. I love all types of music, obviously, from jazz to classic to electronica to whatever, but I don't listen to much of that in the car because I don't want to be lulled to sleep while traveling 85 mph down I-10 in West Texas. And no one's ever fallen asleep while listening to "Chop Suey."

Tool--"Vicarious" So how do you maintain this level of intensity through track 2? Tool. I tend to listen to SOAD and Tool hand in hand, a one-two punch, but where "Chop Suey" is blast from a shotgun, "Vicarious" is an epic journey that's more than seven minutes long. That allows me to settle into the driving groove while still keeping that rush of adrenaline going. Now my coffee has kicked in.

Yo La Tengo--"Moby Octopad" By my first two selections you probably think I'm a headbanger on the road, but I'm not. After ten minutes of freight train, I start to mellow out and I start playing my favorite road songs. Wasn't it Jack Black in High Fidelity who said that on track 3 on the first side of an album you have to take it down a notch? Well, "Moby Octopad" does slow it down a bit, but with a driving bass line and lots of feedback so the foot keeps tappin' on the gas pedal. I love the feel and the rhythm of this song--if I could have a single song accompany my entrance into a room, this would be it. And that piano sample in the second half of the song? Burt Bacharach.

Sufjan Stevens--"Come On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition – Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream)" After the Yo La Tengo transition, I'm more in the mood to feed my brain. This song, a more folksy epic, is a self-contained miracle because it is so complex and busy (with something like 20 or 25 musicians on stage), so constantly evolving and so heartfelt--this is where I start looking out the car window and noticing the beauty. This is music that makes you think and feel--there are so many textures and moods in this incredibly ambitious suite.

Radiohead--"Where I End & You Begin" After the Sufjan piece, I'm in the mood for complex and unusual arrangements, and that makes me think of this Radiohead song and its stunning use of one of my favorite musical instruments of all time, the ondes Martenot. Developed in the 1920s, this instrument is the first electronic keyboard ever made. It's a close cousin to the theremin--the performer wears a metal ring on the finger which excites frequencies along a metal band than runs underneath the keys. Jonny Greenwood is a proud owner of one of these rare instruments and you'll hear it from time to time on other Radiohead songs--but never will you hear the ondes Martenot sound more beautiful and mysterious. It sounds like a humpback whale weeping in the middle of the Atlantic, and I mean that in the nicest way.

Canned Heat--"On the Road Again" Most people would choose the Willie Nelson song with the same title, but not me. With its drone-like blues sound and mumbly yet wizened vocals, this classic rock song keeps up that dreamy, odd feeling as you drive through places you've never been before. "Well I'm so tired of crying/But I'm out on the road again." Been there, done that. I've always had this song swimming around in the back of my skull, but lately I've embraced it and brought it out into the light. It's got a pure blues vibe that no one else has ever matched.

Kate Bush--"King of the Mountain" The first time I listened to this song on my car stereo, I was driving through Monument Valley in Northern Arizona. Something about the expansiveness of this song, the muted reggae beat, Kate's beautiful voice and the majestic buttes on the horizon just clicked. Now, every time I'm driving through the desert this song pops into my head and doesn't leave. It's the soundtrack for every breathtaking vista you approach while on the road.

X-"The Hungry Wolf" Around this time I'm starting to hear Omar Sharif's voice saying to me, "You're drifting, English." It's time to focus. It's time for the home stretch. I've made great time so far, thanks to these tracks, but now it's time to sit and press my nose to the top of the steering wheel and get moving. It's been 35 years since X's Under the Big Black Sun came out and changed my life, and in 2016 I find myself disheartened that so many people I meet do not know this great band, nor this great song. This is seminal '80s Los Angeles punk, full of speed and anger and precision and really incredible harmonies--yes, harmonies in punk rock--between Exene and John Doe. We should be talking about X with the same urgency as all the other great rock bands that everyone knows. Buy this record. You'll see.

Sonic Youth--"Dirty Boots" This is the song that will take you all the way into the driveway of your destination. "Dirty Boots" is a moody, ambitious and complex punk song, the Sonic Youth version of prog rock, wise enough for Jelly Roll Morton references and powerful enough to spotlight one of the best dual guitar solos by Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore ever. A lot of my closest friends don't quite "get" Sonic Youth, but if you climb into the back seat of this song and ride along for a while, you'll get it. And when you finally get out at the end of your road trip, you'll feel like you've been somewhere and everywhere at the same time.

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