Photo by Taylor Stout

My Life is a Road Movie

For a successful road trip, the right soundtrack is just as important as a full tank of gas. Taylor Stout shares some of her favorite songs for long drives on open roads.



I spent every August of my childhood in the backseat of my family’s car, traveling along California’s coast between Los Angeles and Monterey. The drive lasted about seven hours. My dad always drove and my mom always sat shotgun. He had his leather driving gloves and aviator sunglasses; she had trail mix and paperback novels.

If they had conversations during this time, I didn’t catch any of them. I listened to music through headphones and leaned my head against the window, watching the world go by. My technology shifted as the years passed, from a pink portable CD player with Barbie stickers to a hand-me-down iPod Shuffle stocked with someone else’s songs.

It’s been years since those drives, but a well-soundtracked road trip remains one of my favorite things in the world. I traveled back home to California this August for the first time in over a year, and when my mom asked me how I wanted to spend my time, I just knew I wanted to drive up the coast. The destination didn’t matter. I threw together a playlist and we drove from Los Angeles to Morro Bay.

On a long stretch of highway, the right music can turn the mundane into the meditative. It can spark a conversation between you and your travel buddies, whoever they may be. If you’re driving alone, it can bring a rhythm to the flow of traffic that makes you feel a part of a larger collective.

Here are some of my favorite songs to soundtrack long drives. They may not fit together in any logical way, but they all kept us moving forward and singing along for miles.

Check out the expanded playlist here.

“On My Side” - Dehd

A lot of songs can make me feel happy or calm, but “On My Side” makes me feel resilient. In the unabashed and energetic grit of Dehd’s music, I hear a world where I can be conflicted and messed up and still survive. There’s real roughness and weight in this song, and the bouncy guitar propels the speaker towards what lies ahead. It makes me believe that I’ll be alright.

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” - Diana Ross

Since I brought up my old portable CD player, I’ll admit: I started listening to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” because I had a CD of the 2005 Chicken Little movie soundtrack when I was six. Diana Ross speak-singing the verses of this song has been one of my favorite moments in music ever since. This song is one of my most enduring road trip listens. We all want something on which we can depend and never worry, no matter how far we go.

“Hard Drive” - Cassandra Jenkins

Listening to “Hard Drive” feels almost like meditation. Jenkins flows between spoken word and singing, building an atmospheric world full of idiosyncratic characters along the way. In one scene, she’s behind the wheel, changing lanes, when her friend reminds her “to leave room for grace.” She drifts from encounter to encounter, winding up at the simple but evasive conclusion of breathing deeply and attempting to put herself back together.

“Boys” - Indigo De Souza

Indigo De Souza’s debut album I Love My Mom is characterized by intensity and restlessness. However, the title track of her debut EP Boys takes a different route. Airy vocals and a lighthearted melody cast a sweet veil over mysterious encroaching darkness. Calm and angelic, De Souza sings, “Lord knows I’ll be losing it soon.” There may be bad things behind you or approaching, but for now, you’re right here, letting the wind hit your face as you lean out the passenger side window, feeling good.

“Trains Across the Sea” - Silver Jews

When you’re driving on highways through empty fields and strip malls, time can slip and stretch around you. On “Trains Across the Sea,” David Berman sings, “It’s been evening all day long,” and later asks, “Half hours on earth, what are they worth? I don’t know.” Something about the sound of this song reminds me of tires on asphalt. It’s a slow build based on steady repetition. Berman’s gravelly voice and casual poetry evoke the debris kicked up by forward motion. 

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