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Sound Selection: What makes for great driving music?

Sound Selection: What makes for great driving music? image

Eric Tipan / Kelvin Christian Go | November 09, 2017 09:34

The science and elements that make up a great soundtrack for a drive

So you just got a brand new car and you’re eager to put just the right collection of MP3s (or streaming app) to make your first drive the perfect one. You’ve scoured the world wide web for lists from various sites but none really hit the right notes. Some are too heavy, others uber soft and you can’t stand all-indie and most are overly pop.

Different folks have different strokes. Each has their own unique taste in music and that includes you. What you need is to DIY this to make it appeal to your exact audial requirements.

After being a music industry insider for more than two decades, I detail the things you need to consider before hunting down the right songs to populate your personal playlist.

What makes for great driving music?

Mood

It all obviously starts with you of course. Songs sometimes set the mood for you once you’re behind the wheel but unconsciously, you actually choose the music, whether on the radio or on your iPod, to fuel what you already feel deep down inside.

Remember that scene in ‘Jerry Maguire’ when Tom Cruise’s character, after getting verbal confirmation from Cushman’s father’, can’t seem to find the right music to sing-along to so he kept changing stations until he picked up ‘Free fallin’’ from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Jerry had so much adrenaline that he wanted to burst into a song and that’s kinda like how we all are when we get in the car and start flipping stations until we get one that’s playing the song we really like.

With technology allowing you to bring your music library with you, your collection of favorites is now right there at your fingertips. All you need to do is put it together.

You can be ala Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘As good as it gets’ and have a playlist for every occasion. That’s the beauty in the versatility of these MP3 players, your mobile devices, and even the infotainment system of some now models these days.

What makes for great driving music?

Song intro

Probably the most essential part of a song, especially if it’s going to be part of your driving playlist. It doesn’t matter if it gets to the vocals right away. The main thing is, if it sounds great instantly.

When you’re behind the wheel, you want your song to get with the program immediately. You want it cranked up, as soon as the engine does because nothing ruins the moment more than a song that just takes forever to ‘get there’.

If you’re in a brooding mood, its profound introspectiveness should kick off right away; while if you just closed a major account, an up-tempo, rah-rah track should definitely be in order. That way, every second you’re in the car are moments that keep you in a good mood for the drive ahead.

And again, there aren’t any fast and hard rules here. It all depends on the music genre you like, the message it sends to you and the mood you’re in.

What makes for great driving music?

Genre

This is where it gets real tricky. As a radio personality and a motoring journalist, I’ve come across numerous driving playlists from various genres and some of them made me go, hmmmmmm. But that’s just me and my bias for and against certain genres.

If you already cast a wide net when it comes to music appreciation, the genre of choice will largely depend, again, on your current mood. In general terms, pop will be upbeat, rock is loud and garish, jazz is easy-listening and R&B is groovy. There will be exceptions to the rule, of course, like the pop love song, a rock ballad, and all of Miles Davis’ stuff.

If your only musical persuasion is R&B, start with that. Check out the artists, their music and explore its boundaries to see how far your taste goes.

Use it as a springboard to explore related genres and if you’re grounded enough to know the exact sound and tone you’re looking for in your driving music, you can begin surveying completely different and unrelated genres.

Again, there isn’t any wrong or right answer here. Music is like beauty, it’s in the ears of the listener. No one will judge you based on the music you listen to because that’s just dumb.

But good luck looking cool listening to Yanni.

What makes for great driving music?

Lyrics

This section, again, is relative. If you’re looking for some inspiration, good luck getting it from Culture Beat’s ‘Mr. Vain’ or finding the meaning of love from Haddaway.

Those two songs may possess no real essence but if you’re just about to head out for a night on the town, you’d be remiss not to blast them through the car speakers. But since you don’t party every night, let’s look at why well written lyrics are key to choosing majority of the songs you’ll listen to during your time behind the wheel.

Driving, for most people, is something done alone, for at least a portion of the drive or maybe even the whole way. It’s sort of a meditative time for drivers because of the relative solitude, with nothing but your thoughts to keep you engaged.

Songs and its lyrics are strategic in keeping you in the mindset you’re in or shifting you to another.

A friend told me of the time a radio DJ played ‘The living years’ by Mike and the Mechanics that reduced him to tears while he was driving. The song’s about a son regretting not fixing his relationship with his father while the latter was still alive. It may seem like an overly simple scenario but when the words are masterfully crafted like in this song, it can make a tough, grown man cry.

If you’ve just been dumped, I suggest Whitesnake’s ‘Here I go again’ to help you accept reality in a more positive way but if you want to go the angry route, check out ‘I hate everything about you’ by Ugly Kid Joe.

So pick and choose what’s to be included in your collection because they have the potential to stroke your heart strings or tease your mind with all sorts of ideas.

Remember the scene from Entourage (the movie) where Ari was listening to a motivational CD because he needed pumping up for an upcoming task?

My point is, it need not even be a song you’re listening to inside the car.

What makes for great driving music?

Tempo

This section should be taken in to heavy consideration because of one major aspect of driving, safety.

I love rock, grunge and even heavy metal as much as the next guy but listening to these genres gets me in a sort of aggressive/fight mode or in a state of mind that makes you feel like driving through a wall.

That’s not good for so many reasons if you’re in control of a powerful machine.

And that’s just not me talking.

A study made by the United Kingdom’s first & longest-running insurance comparison site Confused.com shows how much tempo and song pace affect our driving demeanor.

The study involved four men and four women tasked to drive some 805 kilometers, the first 400 km without music and the last 405 km with music.

An onboard camera captured their physical state and reaction during the entire drive, which was later viewed by London Metropolitan University Psychologist Dr. Simon Moore.

"Music that is noisy, upbeat and increases your heart rate is a deadly mix. Fast beats can cause excitement and arousal that can lead people to concentrate more on the music than on the road. In addition, a fast tempo can cause people to subconsciously speed up to match the beat of the song," said Moore.

According to Moore, songs you should listen to while driving should have beats per minute (BPM) that’s at pace with the human heartbeat, which is at 60 to 80 BPM.

To give you an idea of how slow these songs are, ‘Under the bridge’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers is at 82 BPM already. So is ‘Miss Jackson’ by Panic! At the Dicso and ‘Hard habit to break’ by Chicago.

But that’s not to say that your choices will be limited. Akon’s ‘Smack that’ is at 60 BPM and so is The Nylons’ ‘The lion sleeps tonight’.

If you’re sold on the study and want a playlist based on it, here’s their list of top 10 safest driving songs to get you started:

"Come Away With Me" - Norah Jones

"Billionaire Feat. Bruno Mars" - Travie McCoy

"I'm Yours" - Jason Mraz

"The Scientist" - Coldplay

"Tiny Dancer" - Elton John

"Cry Me a River" - Justin Timberlake

"I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" - Aerosmith

"Karma Police" - Radiohead

"Never Had a Dream Come True" - S Club 7

"Skinny Love" - Bon Iver

I’ll have to check you for a pulse though after the drive because these songs may either drive me mad or send me flatlining.

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Personalized playlist

That’s why I go back to personal taste and preference.

"Listening to music you don't like can cause stress and distraction and this also negatively affects driving," added Moore.

I couldn’t agree with the good doctor more.

Listening to that list may actually force me to drive into oncoming traffic because those tracks are just right behind New Age music on my list of Do Not Play in the Car, Ever.

Sure, Norah Jones is an awesome singer – I even played her tracks on 103.5 K-Lite – but that doesn’t mean she’s my go-to artist in the car.

What makes for great driving music?

Songs set you up during the drive for what you’re about to do or the location you’re headed to. Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny love’ may just send me half-way to a coma by the time I get to work and it surely ain’t driving music on a trip to the beach.

That is what makes playlists so vital because you’re never in just one mood all the time. You’ll want Sting’s ‘When we dance’ during your 15th wedding anniversary but Eminem’s ‘Till I collapse’ as you drive to the gym.

It really all boils down to the genre you dig, your mood and simply what music you’re into at the moment.

Don’t feel bad if the playlists you see on the Internet do not appeal to you. That just means you’re unique and nothing but a personalized one will satisfy your inimitable taste.

To get you started, below is a sample by-decade playlist you can start tinkering with until you complete your own personalized set of songs. Enjoy!

1980’s

More to lose by Seona Dancing
Dreams by Van Halen
Here I go again by Whitesnake
Invisible touch by Genesis
Power of love by Huey Lewis and the News
Motortown by The Kane Gang
Word up by Cameo
Boom there she was by Scritti Politti

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1990’s

Soul to squeeze by Red Hot Chili Peppers
He got game by Public Enemy feat. Stephen Stills
A certain shade of green (acoustic version) by Incubus
Damn I wish I was your lover by Sophie B. Hawkins
Newborn friend by Seal
The one and only by Chesney Hawkes
Love song by Sky
Freedom ’90 by George Michael

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2000’s

Gooey by Glass Animals
Flake by Jack Johnson
Chocolate by The 1975
Sweetest girl by Wyclef Jean feat. Akon, Lil Wayne and Niia
By my side by Great Good Fine Ok
Absolutely by Ra Ra Riot
Hey ya by Outkast
Magic by B.o.B. feat. Rivers Cuomo