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The Ultimate Driving Playlist

These Songs Will Make Your Car a Concert on Wheels

Recently getting my driver’s license has brought new meaning to the phrase “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” Indeed, I have found in the past few months that little outcompetes the fun that is driving with a great playlist (although my friends will relentlessly remind me that I am simply in a “honeymoon phase”). Consequently, I figured it appropriate to base my next GAP article on some of the songs I listen to most in the car. Whether your therapeutic drive consists of gleeful melodies or angsty ragers, this list involves something for everyone. You can find the playlist Gap III on my Spotify that includes all of the songs referenced in this article on it.

“Hurts Like Heaven” by Coldplay
This tune gives me a rush of serotonin like no other. In fact, I must limit myself to playing it in the car only when I am not driving so as to protect the safety of drivers and pedestrians around me…headbanging and steering are not friendly companions. Coldplay has uniquely found its way into my sad playlists (queue: all of Parachutes, save “Yellow”) and most of my happy ones, too; its ability to generate such a range of emotions from its listeners is likely why the band is so popular. If you like “Hurts Like Heaven,” both “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” and “Charlie Brown” off of the same album (Mylo Xyloto) are worth a listen.

“Open Season” by High Highs
I had no idea what open season was until I wanted to include High Highs’ tune in this article, but my research (i.e. approximately 40 seconds spent on Google) has led me to appreciate it all the more. Literally, open season refers to a period of the year when restrictions on hunting are lifted, but the phrase can be used in any context to signify a moment in which limits are abandoned or disregarded. Thus, the song’s title reinforces the feeling it elicits from its listener: a wholehearted release. Even in the dreary, gray winter-to-spring transition weeks, Jack Milas’ wispy vocals paired with folky instrumentals make me effortlessly romanticize the liberating feeling of driving, regardless of my whereabouts.

“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire
Fair warning: This song is dangerously capable of inducing road-rage. In a riveting melodic and vocal riot, Arcade Fire encapsulates the existential crisis a seemingly endless destruction of the planet for the sake of societal development poses on the brain. In other terms, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” is like the infernal cousin of “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell. The song begs the overwhelming question, “When will we have done enough?” whose insolubility could torment one’s conscience for a drive of any duration. Arcade Fire maintains their highly-stimulating, chaotic sound with songs like “Ready to Start” and “Reflektor,” which are both worth a listen as well.

“Humbug Mountain Song” by Fruit Bats
Even more mountains! This song’s twangy banjo and riveting beat unearth from me a fresh sense of adventure despite its ironic title. Its first two lines, “The first time I realized I was living in this world/I was probably looking at the sky,” particularly resonate with me, though I cannot pinpoint why; perhaps it relates to the utter delight a sunset drive with this tune brings. Whether driving in an actual mountain range (I was first introduced to “Humbug Mountain Song” when heading to a trail in the Appalachians) or simply cruising down the Merritt, this song can make any car trip feel like a thrilling escapade.

“That’s the Way” by Led Zeppelin
Frankly, words cannot explain the way this song makes me feel as well as emojis can (see the below image). It candidly captures the mix of slight defeat and overwhelming contentment that comes from realizing that some things are out of personal control. Because of this, “That’s the Way” is the perfect driving song after a long day of both literal and metaphorical tests; within seconds of recognizing its jumbled mandolin and acoustic guitar intro, my nervous system seems to have self-regulated, and my focus turns solely to Led Zeppelin’s blissful sound (and road signs, I suppose). The band’s better-known “Going to California” also makes for a satisfying car tune.

“Malibu” by Hole
This song instantly brings me back to many 4:30 PMs in August spent returning home from the beach; something about Courtney Love’s gruff voice parallels a damp, sandy beach towel grazing my sun-crisped skin. The tune’s lyrics only encourage me to indulge in reminiscence with images of walking into waves as the sun sets and “oceans of stars.” When staying present seems to offer modest benefits (specifically, those weeks between Presidents Day weekend and Spring Break in which coursework intensifies and motivation rapidly diminishes), “Malibu” provides me with a perfect 3-minute-and-fifty-second escape.

“Anywhere With You” by Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers is one of my all time favorite artists. Her distinctive blend of folk, electropop, and indie (“folktronica,” as some music nerds call it) invites an impossible-to-resist feeling that she accurately describes as “feral joy.” With this in mind, it is easy to understand why songs by her are great for the car: they have the power to make an absolute blast out of even the most mundane trips. This holds especially true for “Anywhere With You,” which uses aimless driving to illustrate the power of embracing the unknown. My favorite lines in it are (though ironic, given the entire theme of this article): “Roll the windows down, kill the radio/I’d rather hear the wind than hear that song I’m supposed to know/by some stupid bro.”

“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon
In my mind there is a genre of music called Happy Little Songs which Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” fits perfectly: Its lyrics are utterly nonsensical (Who is Mama Pajama? Why is she running to the police station?), but its power lies in its inexhaustible ability to boost my mood. For this reason, I listen to the tune almost every day when driving to school…add an energy drink or two to the equation, and by the time I reach Ms. Tarrant’s desk I feel ready to face the day.



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About the Contributor
Natalie Bunnell ‘25
When not writing for GAP, Natalie is often found making new playlists on Spotify, cooking dinner for her friends, and hanging out in nature.

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