At the moment, adverts are running on the television for ‘Top Gear Anthems’, the latest BBC album to take advantage of both the popularity of the world’s greatest motoring programme and Jeremy Clarkson’s creaking taste in rock and roll. All the usual Dad Rock compilation favourites are here; Boston, Steppenwolf, Queen, Deep Purple, Sabbath, Hawkwind, ZZ Top, Motorhead and Queen to name just a few along with some more modern bands, Son Rock if you will, such as Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Maximo Park and Feeder. I gotta say I wouldn’t listen to any of this stuff regardless if I was behind the wheel of a car or not. So, in honour of my misspent early teens, when one of my guilty pleasures was to whiz around Dublin at night on my Raleigh 10 Speed racer listening to ‘Heatseeker’ by AC/DC on my Walkman (its illegal and dangerous to listen to music whilst on your bike kids) I have put together this list of top notch, road tested driving music for your speed orientated listening pleasure, but I urge you to keep an eye on the speedometer if you listen to them, because Sound Waves advocates safe, responsible driving.
Track: New Sensations
Artist: Lou Reed
Album: Perfect Night Live In London
Verdict: “I took my GPZ out for a ride / The engine felt good between my thighs”. Lou Reed’s song is a paean to the simple pleasures of his Kawasaki motorcycle as he heads out from New York on a summer’s day for Pennsylvania and ends up in a road side bar. This live version of the song was recorded at the 1997 Meltdown Festival in London and it kicks ass, especially when Lou Reed instructs the band to, “Crack that Mother Fucker open”. Oh yeah
Verdict: This song is like listening to bolt lightening making its way from Angus Young’s guitar to a massive speaker stack. The best example I can find of what I like to call “Live Energy Audience Transfer Dynamics”.
Track: Steve McQueen
Artist: Sheryl Crow
Album: C’mon, C’mon
Verdict: Sheryl was once engaged to the Texan thunderbolt that is Lance Armstrong, a man who began his autobiography with the words, “I do everything at a fast cadence” so she knows a thing or two about speed. In this song, she admits that she wants to be, “Like Steve McQueen / All I need’s a fast machine” before making sly comments about rock stars in the Whitehouse and pop stars who look like porn. I wonder who she is talking about?
Track: You Wreck Me
Artist: Tom Petty
Verdict: I first heard this on a country music radio station as I was driving down a highway in Kentucky. “Tonight we ride, right or wrong” sings Tom Petty as his band lock together to ride that tune down the road. Its one of his best songs and yet it does not appear on any of his Greatest Hits releases.
Track: Dominion / Mother Russia
Artist: The Sisters of Mercy
Verdict: Anyone who thought that Jim Steinman’s work with Meatloaf was the pinnacle of more is more music production has never heard his work with British Goth rockers The Sisters of Mercy. This song is the opener for their hit album ‘Floodland’ and has it all, a massive drum beat, grandiose lyrics, a killer guitar lick, graveyard vocals, choir and a saxophone solo. If you are ever planning on driving through Death Valley make sure you pack this track.
Track: Cold Metal
Artist: Iggy Pop
Verdict: I saw Iggy Pop when he supported Madonna at Slane and he was brilliant, calling the disinterested crowd a bunch of mother fuckers and jumping around the stage like a seven year old that has eaten too much candy. This is my favourite track by the Godfather of Punk and features Glen Matlock and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols on bass and guitar. “Threw my hide in an automobile / Heard a song called drive the wheel”. Sure, it’s a three chord trick but its one which ends with a prescient green message, “Better save a tree”. Trevor Sargent would be proud.
Track: Paper In Fire
Artist: John Mellancamp
Album: The Lonesome Jubilee
Verdict: ‘Jack & Diane’ was arguably John ‘Cougar’ Mellancamp’s biggest hit but this song is by far his best rocker; a lovely mixture of rolling guitar lick, Southern American instrumentation and drum kit fireworks.
Track: Tennessee Plates
Artist: John Hiatt
Album: Slow Turning
Verdict: This wonderful, country rock track tells the story of a car thief who steals a Cadillac with the aforementioned plates and takes it for a drive across Memphis with the police in hot pursuit before ending up in Tennessee Prison where he spends his days making, eh, Tennessee plates. If you ever find yourself on the run from the Gardai down the M50 this is the one to play.
Track: Keep The Car Running
Artist: Arcade Fire
Album: Neon Bible
Verdict: “Men are coming to take me away / I don’t know why but I know I can’t stay”. If that’s not a reason to get in a car and drive into the night as fast and as far as you can, then I don’t know what is. Once again, this is a song with a rolling lick and a fast paced beat and its opening echoes Steve Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’.
Track: Light of Day
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Album: MTV Plugged
Verdict: No list of motorway music would be complete without the inclusion of a song by that poet of the open road, Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen. This was written as the title song for a Michael J Fox movie and was recorded live for an MTV special where Bruce discarded the acoustic instruments for his trusty Fender. “Been driving five hundred miles / Got five hundred to go / I got Rock & Roll music on the radio”. What else do I need to say? Take it away Bruce...