A soundtrack for your voyage(s) in America

21:31, Oct 23 2012

Guest Post: I'm filling in for James today - and given that music is my beat I'm going to stick with that. So your usual Voyages in America musings will continue later in the week but I'm pulling double-duty today. That said, I'll do my best to stick to the theme - I'll discuss music with regard to Voyages in America; my own (recent) voyages in America.

Today sees the release of my first book - On Song. It's the stories behind some of New Zealand's best-loved songs. When I was researching the book last year and gathering up interviews I made a playlist of the songs that would be featured and I took them for a drive. For a few weeks I lived with the music every time I stepped into the car (I lived with it outside the car too). And then we drove up the coast for a couple of hours and listened to all 30 songs in a row. There and back. It made a lot of sense - taking in this music as we moved along the coastline. There is no one correct definition of New Zealand music but my goal in writing the book was to feature music that I felt could only have come from this part of the world.

When I finished the book - handed in the final draft, waited nervously for feedback - it coincided quite perfectly with my first trip to America. It was the middle of the year and I spent some time in Las Vegas and San Francisco. Travelled with family, caught up with friends - got to see and hear some amazing things. I met one of my heroes. And I saw one of my favourite bands. I also went to a great Kurt Vile gig. And I bought a handful of records.

Music is with me every step of every day - and in America I was amazed to see Grateful Dead CDs in every house that I visited. I figured it to be a bit like finding Dave Dobbyn or Crowded House or Bic Runga or Exponents CDs in New Zealand homes. The Grateful Dead is certainly one of the quintessential American bands. But then there are so many.

There are quintessential American bands that I can get right on board with - The Beach Boys and Van Halen are two that spring to mind instantly.

And then there are others that I just don't understand the appeal of at all. Grand Funk Railroad, for example. And Rush. (Okay, so that's a low blow - Blame Canada!) But I really don't get the appeal of those bands.

Something I did get the appeal of, almost instantly, was listening to American music in American cars on American roads.


Maybe it was because I'd just handed in a book-draft, finished fulltime work, interviewed Joe Walsh (I wrote that story about an hour before getting to the airport to board the plane - a last-minute freelance job) and was on holiday. But as soon as I heard music on the road in America I wanted to hear more. And always American music.

The very first song I heard in America was Men at Work's Down Under. It was a sign, surely? Yes, it was a sign we were tuned to an oldies/classic-hits station. Elton John was next and CCR was up around the (next) bend.

But then, within an hour of being in the country - well, in the country and out from the airport - I heard American Woman. Okay, so that's another Canadian band - but hey, at least it wasn't the Lenny Kravitz cover.

A few days on we took a road trip, me and my buddy Jef. And we listened to The Roots' Undun album. A good thing to listen to - given we were en route to a Roots concert. And cranking The Other Side felt good and right, windows down, beef jerky bought for the novelty, flaming hot cheetos and a Big Gulp...

And then we decided we had to listen to The Boss. So, the 18-track Greatest Hits album should have been perfect but funnily enough it wasn't. Born to Run and Thunder Road were pretty good, the mood seemed right. The River too - but then it all fell flat. Perhaps it was just too much of a cliché? For whatever reason we scrolled away from Bruce.

If I had my time again - and it will be a few years before I can afford another trip to America, it only took 35 to get there the first time (and I still haven't paid for it) - I would have taken one album with me for driving around the States.

I would have taken Bob Seger's Greatest Hits.

Jef and I would have driven down to San Francisco with Mainstreet and Against the Wind and Hollywood Nights and Still the Same and Turn the Page and Night Moves and The Fire Inside and Like a Rock and Old Time Rock and Roll and Roll Me Away blasting.

Yes, Jef and I would have even enjoyed a bit of a moment with We've Got Tonight. A couple of empty bottles of Eye of the Hawk as microphones...

It just seems the perfect driving album and the perfect driving-around-America album.

So here's the question for you for today. If you're driving anywhere in America - road-tripping across the USA - what is your perfect album? You can recall an actual time or think about this as a hypothetical. And let's just pick one album (or compilation) - one American album for your American driving experience. Can you pick just one? And if so what would it be?

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