You’re all familiar with road trip playlists. They’re upbeat, varied and full of surprises. You might even have contributed to some in your lifetime, but that’s assuming you’re a fan of such playlists. Going one step further, let’s say playlists aren’t your thing. Perhaps you don’t have the capability of hooking your phone up to your car’s speakers or prefer the focus of a whole album rather than the discombobulated sorting of tunes that Spotify recommends. Maybe you plan on going old school for your drive back home. Whatever the case, you’ll definitely need albums that smack with every track. Here are a few that we believe would be perfect to pair with your time spent behind the wheel.
“Brian Wilson Presents Smile” by Brian Wilson: Conceptualized as a “teenage symphony to God” back in 1967, “Brian Wilson Presents Smile” is a 47-minute musical journey that tackles American history and identity, the cycle of life and human spirituality. Say what you will about how well the album articulates these experiences, there’s little denying the sheer compositional power at work here. From the ethereal vocals of “Our Prayer,” to the playful energy of “Vega-Tables,” to the joyous, progressive pop of “Good Vibrations,” every moment lands, thus creating a rich tapestry of sound that will enliven any extended drive.
“Mad Season” by Matchbox Twenty: If you need a pick-me-up after a rough semester, this album hits the spot. This album has the rare quality of making you feel instantly, incredibly cool, and whenever we’re on a long road trip, jamming to this album, we feel like the most awesome people on the planet. Besides the immediate ego boost these tracks provide, every song on this album is like an individual patch in a quilt. No two songs are alike, and Matchbox Twenty seems to switch from style to style and genre to genre with ease, providing the perfect amount of variety for when you can’t switch between songs or albums with ease. Even more incredible, each track is extremely intricate, with tiny flourishes buried within the melody, making each relisten of the album a metaphorical Easter egg hunt. You might still be searching for new details when you finally arrive at your destination, making this album endlessly entertaining for a long road trip.
“folklore” and “evermore” by Taylor Swift: Okay, we know that it’s technically cheating, including both of these albums on the list. However, given that these sister albums are truly intended to be understood as one continuous experience, it’s only fair they get equal playtime. Besides the fact that Swift’s vocal prowess and lyrical skills on these records cannot be beaten, these albums work together to tell a story that is at once delightful and heartbreaking. Simultaneously Swift’s most mature and introspective albums to date, “folklore” and “evermore” are perfect road trip additions in that they are captivating and haunting from start to finish. While Highway 63 may be incredibly monotonous, each track on both of these albums is intriguing, emotional and tells a miniature opera in less than six minutes, both for new listeners and diehard fans. There’s always something new to discover that you love, making a road trip, where you could listen to an album more than once, the perfect time to give these two a listen.
“The Similitude of a Dream” by The Neal Morse Band: Let’s get one thing straight, this is a double album loosely based on “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. In other words, pure nerdiness, but don’t let this fact dissuade you from giving the album a listen. It’s a wonderful album about one’s spiritual journey, and the best part is that the religious message isn’t simple and obnoxious like the bulk of Christian radio. Instead, we have a relatively nuanced portrayal of the struggles one faces when seeking enlightenment, and as a result, we get a proper story of self-discovery rather than empty platitudes about the greatness of God. The metaphors used aren’t exactly subtle 一 blame the original source material for that 一 but one can forgive this fact given the rich layering of sounds, tasteful repetition of melodic ideas and the dynamic performances from the band. Combine all this with the lengthy runtime of 106 minutes, and this is a worthy album for the car.
“The Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance: A rock opera of epic proportions, this album is, from start to finish, energetic, passionate and very loud, which bodes well for a long road trip. If you’re feeling a bit sleepy behind the wheel, you need just listen to a few bars of “Dead!” or rock along to “Welcome to the Black Parade” to feel wide awake. However, this concept album has much more than its high energy going for it, as it tells the story of a man who, upon receiving a terminal diagnosis and suspended in the moment of his death, reflects on his life and the experiences that have brought him to the moment. Each song is both an individual thread in the fabric of the album and serves as its own story, and the complexity of the concept in itself is enough to puzzle over for a long road trip. Further, some of My Chemical Romance’s most popular and well-known hits come from this album, and it’s hard not to sing 一 or shout 一 along. Widely considered by many My Chemical Romance fans as the band’s best album, both musically and conceptually, it definitely provides an essential addition to your road trip checklist.
“Out of the Wasteland” by Lifehouse: You can’t argue with quality. Each song on this album checks all the boxes, including incredible vocalism, brilliant instrumentation and intriguing lyrics. Each song on this album blends lyrical and musical poetry so convincingly that the listener has no choice but to be enmeshed in Lifehouse’s world for the length of the album. Perhaps what stands out the most, however, is the incredible use of chords on each song. Although the pop-based nature of this album lends to some restriction on complex chord progressions, many of the chords on these tracks are so beautiful and captivating that they verge on heartbreaking 一 take, for example, the Gospel-influenced a cappella worldbuilding on “Yesterday’s Son,” the desolation reflected in the hauntingly hollow chords on “Runaway” or the half-joyful, half-desperate background vocals on “Stardust.” This album also withstands relisten after relisten and is a perfect balance of high energy, upbeat jams with slower, more introspective and delicate ballads, making it an excellent highway companion.