Given America's love of music, and driving, and given how well music and driving go together, I'm kind of surprised that as a culture, the United States has decided that one song, and one song only, be used as the driving song.
That song, of course, is Radar Love, and it's a great song, to be sure. Anyone who ever listened to Radar Love has felt the pounding, driving beat grip them and work its way into their bones and make them want to get into a car and go driving, or, if they're in the car already and driving, felt the music make them want to hit the pedal harder and pass that guy in front of you, the one who's got his giant coffee mug resting between his knees and an Egg McMuffin in his left hand, kind of hanging out the window, and he's tapping his hand on the steering wheel as though it's in time to the music, but it's pretty obvious that he's actually listening to NPR. God, I hate that guy.
But I, like everyone else, love Radar Love, and whenever it comes on I feel the urge, just like you do, to drive... at least until the song becomes monotonous, which happens about 30 seconds into it, after which I start thinking Okay, well, how long does this go on? Then, at about 2 minutes, my mind is all "All right, let's wrap it up," and then, by about 15 minutes into the song, I'm thinking "Okay, all ready, Jim-Morrison-Wannabe, we get it, you're driving!"
Look, I'll just say it: Radar Love sucks. Okay? There. We can all breathe easier and relax and admit that as a culture: Radar Love is just Autobahn with a fancy guitar lick:
And the suckitude of Radar Love is only enhanced by the fact that whenever the subject of driving comes up, in movies or TV or, probably, books, the song Radar Love seems to accompany the driving scene/talk/paragraph. And okay, maybe it's not in books yet, but I've already started incorporating music into my books, and with the iPad having been invented for the sole purpose of helping Steve Jobs put Jeff Bezos in his place, (a personal grudge being the reason you and I will now have to pay more than $9.99 for books), how long can it be before Steve Jobs steals my idea and forces you to listen to Radar Love everytime John Irving mentions the blue Camaro? Not long, that's how long.
The Entertainment Industry does that a lot -- they pick one song, and make it a representative of one thing. When someone's got something to overcome, they'll be told Don't Stop Believin'. Got some wacky errands to run before a big event? Your tasks will be accompanied by Walkin' On Sunshine. Everything not quite right in your world? You'll hear this in the background:
And "Radar Love" is among the worst offenders of the overused song, appearing in 20 movies, 34 TV shows (including twice on The Simpsons, showing again how bereft of new ideas that show is), 4 car commercials (and five other commercials, including, weirdly, an ad for a White Lion concert tour...) and, holy macaroni, I was right...
That's right: thirty-four. Radar Love figures into at least thirty-four books. Thanks a bunch, Steve Jobs. Why don't you go pick on someone else for a while?
"Radar Love" is even played by toy cars -- how many toys can you think of that play your favorite song?
All of that information comes courtesy of "Radar-Love.net," a website devoted to promoting the cult of Radar Love and also of promoting weird pictures of large-eyed naked green ladies for some reason, and all of that information is enough to make me say enough. Radar Love should not be our go-to song for driving -- it's overused, too long, too boring, and, also, not versatile enough. Not every driving scene is the same, Big Entertainment.
It's time to do what this post promised, and pick out some new driving songs that you can listen to when you drive, or when you want to drive, and that hopefully you'll hear when your movies, TV shows, toy cars, and books, talk about driving. Here's
The 8 Best Driving Songs You Should Use To Replace "Radar Love."
1. I Want To Hold Your Hand: The Beatles.
So you like the opening riff in Radar Love and want a song that similarly inspires you, revving up the music like you rev up your car?
Don't you know that revving up your car is bad for it? Plus, it's really annoying to me that you do that when I'm sitting at the light ahead of you. What do you want me to do, run the red light? Back off, buddy! We're living in a society here.
I Want To Hold Your Hand starts with a guitar riff that mimicks the act of revving up or starting a car. Imagine yourself sitting at the starting line, playing the part of Danny Zuko, and as the guitar riff plays you smash the gas pedal down and think "Why is it okay that Kenickie likes Rizzo, but not okay that I like Sandy?"
Then you banish those thoughts and take off on the race: Only rules is, there ain't no rules. And behind your racing engine and dangerous driving is The Beatles -- singing about something that only sounds innocent but leads to more trouble.
2. Dance Hall, Modest Mouse.
Maybe it's the beat you liked in Radar Love. If so, check out the driving force behind Dance Hall, a thumping, pounding, beat that jumps into your temple and presses down on the part of your mind that makes you press down on the gas pedal (it's right there behind the medulla oblongata, but scientists won't admit that part of the brain exists.)
3. 7th And 17th, Pela.
Not every drive is a race to the finish, there, Racer X. Sometimes you're in your car, and you've got the kids in the backseat, and your wife at your side, and you're driving along on a country road that winds and twists past a lake that's barely visible through the trees, which themselves are barely visible in the blaze of gold and orange and yellow that's shining around you as the bright September sun lights the sky, and you're pointing out the landmarks on the way to take the kids to see where you grew up...
... and when you do that drive, what are you going to listen to? You're going to put on 7th and 17th, and watch the shadows flicker over your dashboard as you near the street you lived on until you were 17.
4. O My Cherry, Pas/Cal:
Some drives, on the other hand, will be across the great plains, vast expanses of land stretching between you and your loved ones, hundreds of miles of sameness that needs to be crossed so that you can stretch out on the clean sheets your wife has put on the bed for you that night, and feel your feet unclench as you look up at your own ceiling, memories of cacti and mesas and straight roads and wavery, heat-soaked horizons just that... memories, which play in your head to the tune of O My Cherry.
This song is such a good driving song that someone's already driven around to it:
5. Queen Of Hearts, Juice Newton
You'll notice that none of the songs so far mention driving. There's a reason for that: Driving itself is not so interesting, and doesn't lend itself to a good song topic. Driving isn't really a thing anymore, in America, not in and of itself. It's been a long time since cruising was a thing to do, and even longer since cruising was a cool thing to do.
Nowadays, when you're driving, you're driving to something or away from something -- and driving is a means to an end. That makes the choice of driving song all the more important. Not only does it have to have the right mechanics, like I Want To Hold Your Hand's opening guitar, and Dance Hall's beat, but it has to have the right feel.
Queen Of Hearts has the feel for the drive-away. That acoustic guitar riff in there feels like shaking something off -- hopping in your car, flipping your hair around, and driving off -- into the sunset, or the sunrise, it doesn't matter. What matters is what you're leaving behind, and what matters about that is that it's being left behind. Queen Of Hearts is the first song of the rest of your life.
5. Common People, William Shatner.
And the second song of the rest of your life is the one that has you kicking it into higher gear; this song (featured before on this site, here), as the cops/your ex-girlfriend/the corporate security goons who just realized you stole the one hard drive that'll send them all to jail come after you. You see them in your rearview mirror, you hit the gas, and turn the volume up and you hear the throbbing opening beat over Shatner's overly-calm narration:
And you know you're in for the ride of your life. Keep your head down, and your spirits up! "Common People" has all the hallmarks of a great car chase song: fast beat, constantly-rising crescendo, even a chorus that sets up an us-against-them vibe.
6. Steppin' Out: Joe Jackson.
But maybe your driving is more mellow: Maybe you're not on the run from those security goons. Maybe, instead, you're on that first big date with that really hot girl. Or you're going to revive the romance in your marriage. Whatever the reason behind it is, you've cleaned out all the empty Dr Pepper cans from behind the drivers' seat, gotten that old PB&J sandwich out of the glove box and thrown it away, and you've even showered... at night. You're all set to go pick up the lady of your dreams and put her in the car and whisk her away, but what song will accompany your magical night in the city (or, if it's prom, your "magical night in the amateurishly-decorated gym?")
Why isn't that song in every luxury car commercial?
7. A More Perfect Union, Titus Andronicus:
This song serves a dual purpose-- replacing both Radar Love and Born To Run as the song of choice to indicate that the protagonists are abandoning society. If you've got to put someone on a motorcycle and send them careening through Nova Scotia, if you've got to have someone race their car through the Appalachian Mountains after they've just dropped out of college to pursue their dream of becoming the first-ever one-legged cricket player, if you've got to demonstrate just how dramatically exciting it is as the Ace Of Cakes is transporting that wedding cake from Manhattan to a different part of Manhattan, the shouted lyrics and blurry guitars of A More Perfect Union will serve you just fine, advancing the action while making your not-so-subtle point. Bonus points for taking the line "baby we were born to run" from Born To Run and twisting it into something nihilistic.
8. The Bleeding Heart Show, The New Pornographers:
I've saved maybe the most perfect driving song to finish up the list. The Bleeding Heart Show is an ideal companion for any drive, whether you're heading to the grocery store because you're out of chocolate chip cookies and Mr F is sad and you want to cheer him up, or whether you've packed all your belongings into the back of the van and are heading off to college, or doing something symbolically in the middle of those extremes.
The song starts off like every drive: slow and familiar and plodding, as you make your way out of the driveway and through your own familiar neighborhoods, but before long, the song -- and you -- are soaring along into new territory, along Pacific Highway 1 or past Disney World or across that one bridge that leads into Maryland (there's probably a bridge that leads into Maryland somewhere), and just as that happens, the song fades from recognizable, words and music with specific meanings, to a generalized chorus that talks of having arrived too late but it doesn't seem, with the music soaring, that you're actually too late in a bad way... and the adrenaline boost you've gotten from the song carries you over any doubts you may have had along the way, pushing you ever forward, ever on, ever faster...
... until you get those cookies, and bring them back home. Or whatever. Because it's not about where you're driving to, or from... but what you're listening to while you drive.
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