Music is with me every step of every day – and on my first visit to 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. And I should say I was on the West Coast (obviously) and in a little gated-community beach-town where the ex-hippies flock for their weekend and holiday-getaways. So maybe not so surprising…
Anyway, classic American bands…
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 full-time 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.
On a second visit to America we enjoyed Jonathan Richman’s then-new album, and of course part of that was preparation for seeing Jonathan Richman. We listened to Bill Frisell’s Big Sur too. And a bit of Lionel Richie. We listened to The Beatles and Wilco and all sorts of other things, not always – just – American music. But we did find it classic to be burning down the highway and listening to classic American rock. And if I had my time again…I would have taken Bob Seger’s Greatest Hits.
Jef and I would have driven down to San Francisco with Main Street 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.
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?