Nighttime Driving Music

I don’t know why, but some music seems better suited for driving at night than other. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s a quality in the music itself, or maybe it’s all of the above. Regardless of the why, these are some songs, albums, artists I like to put on during nighttime cruises . . . or that make me feel like I’m on one in broad daylight.

Rush, Moving Pictures

Maybe it’s because this album has “Red Barchetta” on it, a song about a car, but I think there’s more than that. From the opening synth blast and drumbeat of “Tom Sawyer” to the fade out of the new wave/reggae “Vital Signs,” there’s a dark mystery all over Moving Pictures. Rush’s best-selling album and arguably their best-known. Moving Pictures has a great nighttime vibe.

I chalk it up to Geddy Lee’s increased use of keyboards, providing splashes of color to moodier songs like “Witch Hunt,” “Vital Signs,” “Tom Sawyer,” but also to the album’s more major key songs like “Limelight,” “Red Barchetta,” and “The Camera Eye.” And of course, the instrumental “YYZ” makes for great speeding-down-the-highway music.

Runners Up: I’d also consider the albums 2112, Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, Counterparts, Test for Echo, and Clockwork Angels as good nighttime drive music.

The Smiths

The Smiths were made for midnight drives. Morissey’s poetically snide tales of frustrated romance, sketchy characters, and general dissatisfaction with the world combined with Johnny Marr’s layered, evocative guitars is an intoxicating blend for nocturnal journeys. Add the driving rhythm section of bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce–who provide more stomp and heft than you’d expect for songs like this–and you have the perfect complement to your drive.

As far as particular albums, The Queen Is Dead is the obvious choice–I mean, it has “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” a song about driving at night–but I’m also very partial to Meat Is Murder. But you can’t go wrong with any album.

Blur, Parklife

Parklife‘s lead-off track “Girls and Boys” makes you feel like you’re in the Euro-trashiest dance club to end them all, and the album just gets better from there. Dark sensuality is all over Parklife, from the evocative romance of “To the End,” the desperation of “Trouble in the Message Centre,” which sounds like a lost Cars tune (another great nighttime driving band), through the soaring “This Is A Low,” Parklife, more than any other Blur album, sounds made for staying out until the sun pokes over the horizon. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Bowie-esque “London Loves,” my personal favorite track on the album.

Runners Up: 13 is also worth a spin while driving at night. It sounds like Blur’s edgiest songwriting impulses mixed with Pink Floyd, and that’s a good thing.

Interpol, Turn On the Bright Lights

Interpol is another band that sounds fit only for listening to when the sun goes down, but there’s something special about their legendary debut Turn On the Bright Lights. It has that jittery nerviness coupled with danceable bass and drums that characterized much of the brief early-00’s New York City rock renaissance, but Interpol always seemed smarter than your average hipster.

For starters, the songwriting is fantastic, and Paul Banks’s stentorian voice is the perfect delivery mechanism for his obtuse lyrics about lost love, hedonism, and the city the band called home. Daniel Kessler’s driving, pinpoint guitars and the rhythm section of bassist Carlos D. and drummer Sam Fogarino give these songs a solid swagger that grounds the soaring melodies.

Listen to “PDA,” “Obstacle 1,” “Say Hello to the Angels,” “Roland,” or “The New,” and tell me I’m wrong.

Runners Up: Antics is also a solid nighttime listen, and I’m coming around on El Pintor and this year’s Marauder as well.

Primus, Tales from the Pubchbowl

“Over the Electric Grapevine” is another song about driving at night, brains fried and nerves frazzled from all the miles, but the entire disc has a nighttime quality. Maybe it’s the warped subject matter–the creepy scientist of “Professor Nutbutter’s House of Treats,” the flying elephants of “Southbound Pachyderm,” the backwoods slice-of-life provided by “Del Davis Tree Farm,” the drug dealers gone bad of “On the Tweak Again,” and of course one of Primus’s most memorable characters, the horrid elementary school teacher “Mrs. Blaileen.”

I’ve often described Primus to people who’ve never heard them as, “Imagine if you had a nightmare, but it was funny instead of scary.” It that sounds like your cup of tea, give Tales from the Punchbowl a try. Oh, and it’s the one with “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” on it.

Runners Up: Frizzle Fry, Pork Soda, Brown Album, and The Desaturating Seven are also fine choices for nighttime driving.

David Bowie

My love and admiration for David Bowie’s music knows no bounds. I listened to him a lot when I made my weekly drives up and down the eastern seaboard, and two albums always found their way into my stereo: Station to Station and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Both sounds made for nighttime driving . . . with or without the cocaine.

Scary Monsters is the more obvious of the two. In typical fashion, he released an album in 1980 that basically set the template for 80s rock. Listen to “Fashion,” “Teenage Wildlife,” or “Scary Monsters” to hear what I mean. These songs are danceable, aggressive, and melodic, with Robert Fripp’s atonal guitar squonks flying around all over the place. Jittery, cynical, and nervous. The big hit was “Ashes to Ashes,” a sequel to Bowie’s earlier hit “Space Oddity” that depicts the madness which comes from being lost in space. Definitely a trip.

And then there’s Station to Station. I’d listen to this album at least once during those endless drives. The title track’s spiritual yearning and ultimate failure is oddly alluring, a five minute groove that turns into the emptiest, coldest sort of religious rave you can imagine: “It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine/I’m thinking that it must be love . . .”

That’s how driving for ten hours at night can make you feel.

The Police

Aw yeah. The Police were 80s gold. Mssrs. Copeland, Summers, and . . . uh . . . Sting produced some of the most darkly romantic music of the late 70s and early 80s. “Every Breath You Take” is an obvious nighttime song, of course, but don’t discount the rest of their catalog. I recommend you buy the excellent Message In A Box boxed set and listen to it from start to finish on a long drive . . . even the Synchronicity album, which a lot of people seem to dislike for some reason. Hell, every little thing they did was magic . . .

Well, most. “Mother” might be the worst song written by anyone, ever.

Tomahawk, Tomahawk

A supergroup featuring vocalist Mike Patton of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, and Fantomas, guitarist Duane Denison of the Jesus Lizard, drummer John Stanier Of Helmet (now with Battles), and bassist Kevin Rutmanis, formerly of The Cows and The Melvins, Tomahawk’s self-titled debut is a perfect mix of tight, terse rock energy, riffs with a country/blues edge, and frenetic, barely contained madness. More than the rest of the band’s catalog (which is quite good), Tomahawk‘s songs evoke a ticking bomb, the music given a dark energy.

It’s mostly minor key, which helps, but Denison’s chorused arpeggios contrast brilliantly with his heavier riffs, and when the band finally detonates on tracks like “Pop 1,” “Flashback,” “Jockstrap,” “God Hates A Coward,” and “Laredo,” watch out. But it’s the moodier songs like “Sweet Smell of Success,” “Point and Click,” the cop-show theme like “Honeymoon,” and yet another song about nighttime driving, “101 North” that gives Tomahawk a place in my late-night driving rotation.

I could go on and on about good nighttime music. I expect to do a part two sometime soon because there is a lot of fantastic nighttime driving stuff I left out here: Mastodon, Pulp, Frank Zappa, Prince, The Secret Machines, Coheed and Cambria, Radiohead, and Faith No More, just to name a few.

Yeah, I’m pretty much a rock guy. This should come as a surprise to no one.

In the meantime, what is some of your favorite nighttime driving music?


  1. Some quality cuts there, man. Rush, Primus, Blur/Gorillaz, and The Police are all on my short list. The trick with driving music is finding tunes with enough energy to keep your brain engaged, but not so over-the-top that you arrive more exhausted than when you left.

    For short late night trips, stuff like Babymetal, Dragonforce, Van Halen (David Lee Roth era), and high-energy techno work great.

    For longer trips, you need something slightly less intense. I’ve been listening to a lot of Lincoln Brewster lately. But my staples would include (besides the ones already mentioned): ZZ Top, Van Halen (Sammy Hagar era), Gorillaz (any album except “The Fall”), Family Force Five’s “Dance or Die”, Pink Floyd’s “Momentary Lapse of Reason” and “Dark Side Of the Moon”, The O. C. Supertones, Tower of Power, DC Talk’s “Supernatural”, Audio Adrenaline’s “Kings and Queens”, Audioslave….

    This could go on forever, but you get the idea.

    Liked by 1 person

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