A Playlist for the Week: The Nighttime Driving Mix

This playlist has one and only one criterion for membership: if I can picture it as the soundtrack to a scene in a movie where someone is driving in a car late at night, it’s in.

In general, you’ll find that many of them are variations on a theme popular in car commercials: soft but driving drum beats, rounded electronic tones, and mellow vocals. I think that’s because these songs make it sound like you might be driving through a big city somewhere, which suggests that you’re a big fancy guy, which suggests that you can afford to buy a luxury car. The kind of guy who has all kinds of dramatic wheelings and dealings going on during the day, but by night is ready to just kick back and drive to jazz bar. And And I’m a sucker for that kind of mellow drama.

Still, there are a few songs that break the mold at least a little bit. And on the whole, I’m pleased with the result. If you’re stuck at a desk late at night and you wish you were behind the wheel of a brand new Audi headed out on some chill out adventure, give it a listen.

Comments on the songs below the fold, but they’re shorter this time. I’m working on being concise, I swear!

1. Don’t Panic– Coldplay

This is that one song you always thought was called “Beautiful World.” It’s early Coldplay foreshadowing “Speed of Sound.” Only this one is much better. Not one of my top favorite Coldplay songs usually, but it is whenever I’m in a “nighttime driving playlist” mood.

2. You’ve Got The Love–Florence and the Machine, Remixed by The XX

To anti-paraphrase that guy on all the infomercials, “Don’t be fooled by the cheap original! Accept only this substitute!

A brilliant remix, Perhaps the best ever. And I love the a capella break in the middle where she sounds like she’s doing a trade-off duet with herself.

3. Teardrop –Massive Attack

You know it as the “House” theme song, in which case you are in for a surprise. The vocals change the feel of it somehow, without actually changing the overall mood.

You may also know it as “that song Jose Gonzales covered,” in which case you’ll be annoyed I included this version. It’s not the better of the two, but it is the one that fits the theme of the day.

4. Signs of Love– Moby

Probably two out of every three Moby songs belong on this list. But for variety I’ve only included this one.

Like most  predominantly electronic musicians, Moby’s songs use only a few lyrics, and repeats them a lot. But for my money, Moby is unique for making those lyrics really count.

5.  Mmm mmm mmm– Crash Test Dummies

I once dated a girl who absolutely hated this song. It’s not the reason we broke up, but, it could have been. I really like it.

Why? Not because it’s a good song. It might be, I wouldn’t know. I’m too biased to be able to tell now, because all I can hear is the Weird Al parody of it, which is, for my money, his best parody ever, and also one of the songs that makes me most immediately nostalgic for childhood sleepovers. So the original might be a rotten song, but I can’t tell. It will always make me smile.

6. Closer to You

The best track from the worst Wallflowers album.

7. Come Downstairs and Say Hello

Hey, Guster’s new album came out today! It’s a good time to revisit some of their best old tracks. Like the preceding, this is an unusually electronic track from a band known for it’s guitar sound.

8. Acoustic #3– Goo Goo Dolls

Not a huge Goo Goo Dolls fan, but this song is pretty good. And under the right circumstances (definitely not a bright city lights circumstance, though!) I think it is a perfect nighttime driving song.

Also, I went to high school with the nephew of the lead singer. How fun.

9. Boy With a Coin– Iron and Wine

Man this is an excellent band.

10. El Manana– Gorillaz

My favorite track from “Demon Days.” Takes me back to night time driving from the high school era.

11. Untitled 1 — Keane

Lots of Keane songs could be on this playlist (although I have to say, I’m really only talking about their debut album; I stopped listening after that.) Anyway, after much deliberation I went with this song, mostly because the others tend to have vocals that are too spritely for a “nighttime” mix.

12. Train in the Distance — Paul Simon

See, I told you they weren’t all car-commercial songs. Although if it were, I would buy that car right away.

13. Destiny — Zero 7.

This is just pretty much the archetypal entry in this playlist. I just love this song, although it’s best moment is the first few seconds before the vocals kick in. It’s one hell of a soundscape, and one that only makes sense to me if I’m passing Pittsburgh on a highway.

14.  Better Be Heaven — Stars

With a name like “Stars,” this band had to appear on the list. But it took me a surprisingly long time to find the right one. They’re too damn happy in general. You have to be a little more pensive to be a nighttime song. This one’s still not quite there, but, it’s as close as it gets.

Incidentally, the same girl who hated “Mmm mmm mmm” introduced me to this band. So her taste isn’t all bad. In fact, on the whole it was pretty excellent. Just that one flaw.

15. White Flag– Dido

Shut up. I’m not embarrassed by how much I like this song.

16. 1979 — Smashing Pumpkins

I’m crazy about this song. And it’s an obvious inclusion for the playlist because, well, just check out its music video. By the way, I’m also crazy about that video. When I’m 30, I hope someone writes a song just like this called “2006.”

On the other hand, Billy Corgan was only 12 in 1979. Hmmm…

17. Consequence — The Notwist

I love this little German group.

18. Perfect Circle — R.E.M.

If you know R.E.M., You must be astonished that I used this song and not “Night Swimming.” Indeed, Night Swimming has the perfect lyrics for a nighttime drive. But I actually don’t like the way the album version sounds. Why is the piano so flat and emotionless? I dunno.

Okay, back to the song at hand. I really really really like early R.E.M. and this one, in particular, makes me feel like I’m driving to a fancy physics conference or something. Unlike “Night Swimming,”  the piano (and the way it meshes with the drums) is a real asset to this song. It sounds like the future to me, albeit maybe the future as imagined in 1983.

19. Brothers on a Hotel Bed — Death Cab for Cutie

Probably my favorite track from the excellent album “Plans.” Once again, it’s the drums that turn it into a nighttime song. What great stuff. And what lyrics. Death Cab may be one of the only bands left that can write lyrics replete with both imagery and genuine meaning. It seems like everyone else is content to just write random words and hope they sound poetic by virtue of their being unusual or their involving fireflies.

20. All Alone in Kyoto — Air

My favorite Air song. I tend to like them best when they’re not singing. Their instrumental tracks are just delightful.

Incidentally, if “Perfect Circle” makes me feel hi-tech in an 80’s sort of way, this song makes me feel like I work on a space station. I just love it.

Man, I’ve been quite effusive in my praise for the songs on this playlist, haven’t I? I guess I’m just a nighttime music guy at heart.

21. Driving Fast Through a Big City at Night — Bright Eyes

This isn’t really part of the playlist. Think of it as that annoying mix of sound (that you wish you could say was cool, but which really isn’t) which show up as a pointless “bonus” track at the end of an otherwise excellent album. We could call it “Revolution Number 21” if you like.

So why did I include it? Well I mean… look at that title! How could I not?


About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

2 Responses to A Playlist for the Week: The Nighttime Driving Mix

  1. Evan West says:

    If It helps anything I like White Flag to! haha unfortunately that and Don’t Panic are pretty much the only two songs on hear I know, but I might have to check the other ones out to now.

  2. Mitchell Kosht says:

    Love it. A song to submit for your late night driving consideration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P7f3_Db2R4 Especially good if you happen to be a wee bit tipsy from sipping whiskey out of a flask in the back of a bus driving through NY… or so I hear.

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