FUCK THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS. I have never, and will never, desire a from-California-to-California road trip while flowing my hand in that silly sea-wave gesture out a car window to the tune of “Road Trippin'”.
If this sounds harsh, I apologize. I just meant to weed out anyone who might be offended at the fact that the proceeding list happily omits the RHCP, not to mention that shitty Norah Jones song that appears on so many bloggers’ playlists; “It’s My Life”, which V. and I were subjected to a torturous a cappella rendition of on a recent shared tuk-tuk ride in Laos; anything off the soundtrack from Into the Wild; and, hopefully most obviously, the entire discography of the too-aptly-named Journey.
We’ll start with the least obvious (or least-known, anyway) and work our way towards what I think passes for mainstream acceptance.
#10. The Aquabats – “The Wild Sea”
It’s goddamn impossible to listen to this high-school hit and avoid getting pumped the fuck up. “Sailing on and on and on and on/ Into the ocean, into the sun/ My boat, a viking, my dad and me /On the wild sea.” Excuse me: a goddamn viking? The imagery is as gorgeous as it is baffling, and the riff is as catchy as it is invitingly sing-alongy. Really captures the silly childlike imagination that travel forces us into, where the world seems forever big and you suddenly struggle to form basic sentences.
#9. M. Ward – “For Beginners (AKA Mt. Zion)”
A better lonesome train tune than outright pump-up song, coupled with foggy lyrics I won’t even try to decipher. But there’s a kind of innocence Ward sings with here that I really like, and which isn’t present all the time in his sleepier songs. “For Beginners” more accurately and honestly describes that existential feeling of “Wait-why-am-I-in-insert-country-right-now?” than most pop tracks can hope to.
#8 & 7. Bright Moments – “Travelers” & “Tourists”
I don’t usually gush about indie pop-rock bands, but fuck me I love this album. Natives is a consistently creative and inspiring set of tunes centred around the very theme of travel, and while “Drifters” and “Traveling Light” are solid and introspective tracks, it is without question the energized “Travelers” that takes top prize with its bouncy horns, Latin shake and delicious groove.
Problem is, every time I turn the album on I intend to skip straight to my favourite song, instead getting caught in the net of hypnotic synthesizers lain by “Tourists”, the album’s opening track. So we’ll toss ’em both on ’cause, the hell with it, I love ’em both.
#6 & 5. Tom Waits – The Rain Dogs Bookend Special: “Singapore” & “Anywhere I Lay My Head”
The night before V. and I ourselves “set sail for Singapore”, we arrived in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, just a hop away from the swanky city-state. A heavy evening rain locked us in our hotel room near the train station, and we wound up fighting over something I’m sure neither of us can remember. (Well, I can’t remember, anyway; I dare not taunt her to try, lest she remember for good.) But eventually the rain stopped and we decided to escape ourselves and see the city. We passed through a lovely night market where she cheered herself up with some cheap earrings and I stocked up on dried fruit, and we eventually reached the southern harbour, which offers an uninhibited panorama of Singapore all lit up. It was gorgeous; we paused and took pictures for a while before deciding to sleepily lumber back to our hotel. All the while, Tom Waits’ raspy croon rang through my head: “We sail tonight for Singapore/ We’re all as mad as hatters here…”
“Anywhere I Lay My Head” is, meanwhile, just a song that just oozes with the tragic loneliness of life on the road, especially the lowered standards that accompany it. I will literally sleep anywhere when I’m traveling, and am sometimes convinced V. is the only thing keeping me from appearing homeless. The way the last few lyrics bleed into that triumphantly dizzy horn finale are too perfect, and it all ends much too quickly.
#4. Gogol Bordello – Wonderlust King
Even without its bizarrely inspirational music video, “Wonderlust King” accomplishes two things: First, it makes you want to move around your bedroom; second, it makes you want to move the world. How can you be a man if you’ve not traveled the Seven Seas? (“Yeah, Seven Seas–at least!“) It’s a near-impossible adventure travelogue, which makes for pleasant emotional removal when all you want to do is join in the global mosh pit before the miscellaneously post-Soviet-sounding Gogol Bordello: “Chinese moving in building discoteques/ Homemade sex toys and whatnot/ Yeah, and why not?/ Well at least it’s something different/ From what they got in every other airport.”
#3. Iggy Pop – “The Passenger”
To be honest, a lot of Lust For Life qualifies for this list (“Lust For Life” is a terrific travel song; “Sweet Sixteen” is, well, not), but “The Passenger” ranks foremost for me because it emphasizes wandering aimlessness in a not-totally-hopeful way. The concept of the “philosophical drifter” has been adopted by so many straight-out-of-college white kids, myself included, that it’s easy to romanticize travel as just a thing you might do for a few months before grad school. “The Passenger” is very expressly not about that kind of travel. Iggy sounds genuinely hopeless, traveling not for kicks but out of some necessity to keep the party going elsewhere once it’s expired wherever you are. “We’ll ride through the city tonight/ See the city’s ripped insides/ We’ll see the bright and hollow sky.” I can’t necessarily relate to all of it, but I dig the hell out of it.
#2. Edward Sharp – Home
This song is just so goddamn singalong-able that it’s hard to resist. And that whistling bridge! And the way the girl chimes in! It’s very catchy, and really quite sad because of the silly nostalgic emotions it dredges up, as it was inevitably played during my first year in Korea, which meant equally inevitable singalongs over alcohol and bouts of homesickness and group hugs and the like. So, memories.
#1. Simon & Garfunkel – “Homeward Bound”
Have you heard these lyrics? I feel sappy just including it.