© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Songs For When The City Lights Fade

Driving here in New York City can be a frustrating experience — all traffic and lights and horns. Nothing sounds good. But get out on the highway, and you can shut off the damn traffic reports and listen to a different kind of horn. From John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" to Deep Purple's "Highway Star," these five songs are brimming with the kind of energy that frees the mind. Even if you're held hostage at home by the crushing cost of gas, this music is enough to propel your imagination down the road on virtual wheels.

For more entries in this summer's weekly Road Trip: Songs to Drive By series, click here.

Short Ride in a Fast Machine

The title says it all. Big and bold and brassy, Adams' short orchestral piece moves along at a good clip -- just the thing for when you finally clear city traffic and hit the open road.


More horns, this time from the great jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus. Inspired by the wordless praying of Southern Baptist churches, this is a spirited romp with more than a hint of funk. You could go for Mingus' own version from The Complete Atlantic Recordings 1956-1961, but the Either/Orchestra's performance from the album Radium might be slightly more road-friendly.

Abbay Mado

The parade of horns continues with one of the all-time great singers from Ethiopia's remarkable jazz/pop scene in the early '70s. Mahmoud Ahmed and his band clearly knew their James Brown, but the slightly exotic scales, like a cool breeze off the coast of the Indian Ocean, keep things from overheating. At least on your side of the dashboard.

Rocks Off

From Exile on Main Street, the Stones head south to New Orleans, Muscle Shoals, and all that open road in between.

Highway Star

Forget "Smoke On The Water" (if you can) -- this is the real classic on Deep Purple's Machine Head album. With its (ahem) driving rhythm and musical screams, this paean to "my woman/my car" (sometimes hard to know which one he's singing about) just might take you back to a time when heavy metal, long hair, and raving about your car were all cool. But that's okay: This is still the ultimate open-road song.

Copyright 2008 WNYC

John Schaefer