Very Specific Playlists is a weekly feature in which Jezebel staffers make very specific Spotify playlists based on their weird proclivities.
When I was a kid, the highlight of my summers were the road trips we’d take as a family. My parents in the front seats, the three of us in the back seat. We liked each other most of the time, so the trips were fun, most of the time. Over a series of summers, we went all over the country by car; my parents thought we’d see more important places that way (I’ve been to 43 states!). But while the scenery changed, from the eerie suddenness of the Black Hills of South Dakota to the cliffs of Sedona, Arizona to the hot humid plate of the Mississippi Delta to the salty chill of coastal Maine, one thing remained constant: the Dad Jams my father played in the car stereo, over and over. To this day, when I hear any of these songs, I think of a moment from one of those vacations. And to this day, I still like these songs, for better or worse.
Listen to this playlist at Spotify here.
1. The Clash, “Train in Vain”
One time, when we were driving in rural South Dakota, we somehow took a wrong turn (a feat in a part of the country with so few roads). “I think we’re going the wrong way,” said my mother as we drove for several minutes past fields dotted with bored-looking cows. Eventually we passed a sign that said “WELCOME TO SOUTH DAKOTA.” We had been under the impression that we were already in South Dakota. My dad stopped the car just beyond the sign. “WELCOME TO NEBRASKA” said the other side. There were no other cars on the road, so we all got out and posed by the WELCOME TO NEBRASKA sign. My sister, who was three, took her shirt off and wouldn’t put it back on. In the picture, she is standing on one leg like a stork, her little right foot cupped around her left knee.
2. David Bowie, “Changes”
Until I was way too old, I was certain that the lyrics of this Bowie jam were “J-j-j-j-jane Jazz.” I thought Jane Jazz was, like, a cool girl David Bowie hung around. I wanted to be like Jane Jazz, whoever she was. I sang along with the radio as my brother and I played travel Chinese Checkers in the back seat. “J-j-j-j-Jane Jazz!” I sang to myself. He laughed at me. I got really mad at him.
3. The Allman Brothers Band, “Jessica”
Because this song doesn’t have any words and is basically just a dad rockin’ out on the guitar for several minutes, my siblings and I would make up lyrics for it. I believe we were in Missouri at the moment we gave up and just started singing the word “Beer” on every note. Turns out, you can do that with a lot of songs. In response, my parents made a “No beer-beer song” rule for the car, a rule we broke almost constantly.
4. Paul Simon “The Boy in the Bubble”
Julianne described Paul Simon’s “Graceland” as “the ultimate Dad album.” Which: fair. My dad loved the shit out of that album. But as an adult, I’ve started to love it apart from the ways my dad did. And nothing can elicit feelings of nostalgia for my pre-9/11 childhood like the line “these are the days of miracle and wonder.”
5. Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Jackie Wilson Said”
Upbeat songs like “Jackie Wilson Said” made 10 hours in the car slightly less bad. Upbeat songs do not alleviate the stress of seeing your father pulled over by a Smoky the Bear hat-wearing trooper in Montana who informs the whole family, sternly, that just because there aren’t any posted speed limits doesn’t mean that people can drive like maniacs.
6. Steely Dan, “Peg”
An entire subgenre of my dad’s favorite songs (including Steely Dan’s “Peg”) was devoted to music that could be dramatically sung to my mother in an enclosed space, who would in turn get annoyed. My dad found this very, very funny. So did we.
7. Dusty Springfield, “I Only Want To Be With You”
My parents wouldn’t take us to amusement parks (“They’re plastic,” my mom would sniff) or stop in chain restaurants if there was a local alternative. Because of this, our meals on vacation were usually had at tiny cafes on main streets, the sort of place where everybody turns and looks at you when you walk in, and they keep looking for an uncomfortably long time if they’ve never seen you before. The sort of place that’s always playing Dusty Springfield.
8. Dire Straits, “Sultans of Swing”
My dad is one of six boys, and has a huge extended family. Most of them are pretty athletic. Several of his brothers and cousins formed a softball team in the ‘80s that they called “Ryan’s Hope” after the soap opera. They’d run onto the field to “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straights. The team won something like 60 games in a row over the course of three seasons once. The other teams in the league—hobbyists and officemates and non-athletes— really fucking hated them.
9. Carole King, “Sweet Seasons”
On one trip, my siblings and I started singing “This is the song that never ends,” as kids are wont to do. My mother pointed out that if the song never ended, then we would be singing it until we died. We countered by adding “until we get to the campground” to the end. My parents countered that by stopping for ice cream and making us wait in the car and sing The Song that Never Ends Until We Get to the Campground until they returned to the car. They definitely won that round.
10. Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”
I have no idea why my dad was so bananas for this song; it’s so long. It’s an incredibly nonspecific “American Pie.” But no road trip was complete without at least one or two listens to this song. Once, we drove the entire diagonal length of the state of Alabama in a day.
11. Eagles, “Take it Easy”
The day we actually passed signs directing traffic to Winslow, Arizona was the day my father did not stop singing this song.
12. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Up Around the Bend”
The first time I ever saw the ocean, I was 13 and on the southern coat of Alabama. I didn’t wear enough sunsceen, and the next day’s drive up to Montgomery was agony. I remember touring Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church, my parents reverently silent, my face twisted in agony. I prayed to God that my sunburn would get better. God was like LOL enjoy the next week, idiot.
13. King Harvest, “Dancing in the Moonlight”
One of the last trips we took before my high school hyperachiever life got too crazy was one to DC. I was sullen and cranky, keeping a diary in a spiral notebook that consisted entirely of complaints about my family. I took photos exclusively of the butts of monuments. Even this song couldn’t cure my sour mood.
14. Jim Croce, “Operator [That’s Not the Way it Feels]”
This one is a bit maudlin for a road trip mix, but it reminds me of the night my brother cried after we arrived at a rental cabin in Montana on the second to last night of a trip out west. He cried because he said he didn’t want to go home. He wanted to move to Wyoming and be a cowboy. He’s a lawyer now.
Art by Tara Jacoby.
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