I’m a rocker through and through, a self-proclaimed “slave to the groove.” Music is quite possibly mankind’s greatest contribution to the universe. It’s something that if aliens ever do come down to visit us, I hope someone immediately hands them a copy of “Pearl” (Janis Joplin), “A Love Supreme” (John Coltrane), “Axis: Bold as Love” (Jimi Hendrix) or anything by Kitty Wells and Hank Williams.
As a features writer, I spent a lot of my time driving to and from assignments. One day I’m on a back road in search of a moonshiner, the next rocketing down the highway to cover a football game or weekend festival. And I love that time, just cruising. There’s something magical about a sunset drive, windows down, hands steady on the wheel, eyes aimed forward toward destinations unknown. The open road is truly a wonderful place. The soundtracks to these trips are all over the map, from Miles Davis to Dr. Ralph Stanley, AFI to The Black Keys, Robert Johnson to Daft Punk. I love it all.
With that said, I always have a handful of essential albums one must (must!) have when embarking on any summer road trip. They are as follows …
“Exile on Main Street” – The Rolling Stones (1972)
It’s the Stones, baby. Holed up in France during a tax feud with the British government, the group took refuge in a villa near Nice to record this masterpiece. Spewing a tough-as-nails mixture of rock, blues, country and gospel, the album is the essence of the nitty-gritty, an ode to midnight romps, booze-addled shenanigans and trying to find reality in an otherwise distorted existence. Pouring a wide array of brass instruments over the songs, the record remains a cornerstone of what an album could be and where it could go.
Key Tracks: “Tumbling Dice,” “Torn and Frayed,” “Happy.”
“Workingman’s Dead” – The Grateful Dead (1970)
Through a recent drug bust and enormous financial woes, the psychedelic rock ensemble came together and created their most stripped down and emotionally charged offering. Shifting from Americana-styled ballads to pedal steel honky-tonk, the record tells the story of a wild, untamed land that many felt America was no longer by 1970. It’s an album of solace, sadness and serendipity – a feeling the band members have carried with them to this day.
Key Tracks: “Dire Wolf,” “New Speedway Boogie,” “Cumberland Blues.”
“Greatest Hits” – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band (1994)
He’s the Detroit rocker whose veins are a roadmap of America. When Seger echoes out of your speakers, one is immediately transported to the open road, to forgotten heartaches and moments where the possibilities seamed endless. One could easily go through a whole paycheck pumping dollar bills into the jukebox just to hear another of his hits. He remains the common denominator between every walk of life and everything cherished across this great big, unfolding landscape.
Key Tracks: “Night Moves,” “Against the Wind,” “Mainstreet.”
“Chronicle, Vol. 1” – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1976)
It is quite possible that there isn’t such a thing as “a bad CCR song.” And that sentiment holds true with this compilation. Filled with the razor-sharp guitar, voice and vision of John Fogerty, it’s the soundtrack of its generation – fierce, aggressive and confrontational. From the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights Movement, each melody was an anthem for its time. The record remains not only a time capsule, but also the eternal battle cry for injustice, serenity and peace.
Key Tracks: “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son,” “Long As I Can See the Light.”
“Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?” – Harvey Danger (1997)
Who the hell is Harvey Danger? Well, good question. You always need one dark horse, one out-of-right field pick, and this late 1990s alternative rock gem fits the bill. Though the album is known as a one hit wonder for “Flagpole Sitta,” the MTV generation quickly discarded the other melodies once the next big thing hit the radio. From the opening guitar riff to the final bow of feedback and distortion, the record paints a picture of a lost and misguided generation just trying to make sense of what they see in the mirror.
Key Tracks: “Carlotta Valdez,” “Jack The Lion,” “Terminal Annex.”
1 Renowned bluegrass/gospel group Balsam Range will play at the Cowee School in Franklin on Aug. 17.
2 The off-beat romantic comedy “Almost, Maine” opens Aug. 22 at the Highlands Performing Arts Center and will run on select dates through Sept. 1.
3 Rising string band Strung Like A Horse performs at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva on Aug. 17.
4 The Maggie Valley Summer Rally will be Aug. 16-18 at the festival grounds.
5 The Big Nasty Jazz Band hits the stage at the Saturdays on Pine concert series in Highlands on Aug. 17.