Don't drive. Can't drive. Won't drive.
I don't drive. I can't drive. I won't drive. That last one is still open to argument I guess, because I have no idea what the rest of life holds in store and there may yet come a time when circumstances dictate the need to drive, but to be honest I really can't see it. People who drive, have driven all their adult lives are always looking at me aghast and wondering how I get by without driving, and the truth is that although there's often been someone close I could rely on for a lift in times of need, I've managed to exist very easily without it. If anything I'd say my life was richer for not driving, but that's a matter of opinion and I know others would argue the opposite, and that's just fine. I do think that never having driven has given me a different perspective on things, and my perspective on some kinds of music is certainly one of those things.
I was always (and to a large extent remain) skeptical of 'Rock' music that makes pretensions to sounding 'grand' and 'epic'. I don't think it fits with the British geography, it doesn't fit with our realities; is instead a means of escapist fantasy, which is just fine of course, it's just I prefer my fantasies to be a little stranger perhaps. It really struck me when I went to the USA for the first time, and spent a great deal of time driving around the South in a Ford Thunderbird with my friend Jon. I had brought tapes of my beloved Brit Indiepop, and boy, did they ever sound stupid coming out of the speakers of that car as we sped along highways, taking in vistas that just never seemed to end. It just seemed so dreadfully WRONG, as wrong as the sounds of the American driving Rock I'd always laughed at sounded (and still sound) in the UK. And in the same instant I could see why some Americans would want to listen to our British Indiepop; there might be the same escapist fantasy in hearing Bubblegum Splash sing about the 'last train to Yeovil Junction' as some English folks might get carried away dreaming about 'Route 66'. Well not quite, but you get the idea.
So of course there are records that are great driving records, just as there are records that are great sitting in your armchair taking in a Sunday afternoon records. Remember Warp with their Electronic Music For Listening series? Did people laugh at that idea? A little… but not as much as they might laugh at the idea of Driving Compilations. Which is stupid and snobbish, and which is why I decided that instead of laughing, shrugging and tossing American Dream: 36 Drivetime Classics straight into the 'school magazine prize' pile, I would write this. And more than that, I'd actually listen to the record! So here goes…
We kick off this double CD collection with The Doobie Brothers' 'Listen To the Music', which is no bad beginning. The Doobie Brothers made some fine records, and a track that says 'Listen to the Music' is an obvious way to start off a mix. I mean, come on, wouldn't you?
Who is Shawn Mullins? I have no idea. Is 'Lullaby' about some washed up child moviestar or something? It may well be. It all sounds rather quaint in an obvious rawk manner. Were Soul Asylum ever quaint? I have no idea. Didn't one of them date Winona Ryder at one point? I think I made that up… I was just looking for one more reason to hate Soul Asylum.
Why, of all REM tracks, choose 'The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight' for a driving compilation? It might just seem strange to me because by the time of this LP (wasn't this the one with 'Man On The Moon' on?) I had pretty much lost interest and faith, or it might just be the knowledge that they had far greater driving tunes in their misty past. I remember the storming Pop moment of 'Can't Get There From Here' playing pretty much non-stop in Jon's car during the summer of '85, and it's a fine memory. Maybe someone else has a similar memory with this song, which would be fine of course, but… I like the line about candy bars.
'Walking In Memphis' makes me laugh; a song about walking on a record for driving. Irony is all around us. I walked in Memphis once. I didn't see the ghost of Elvis. 'The Heat Is On'. Was that in that Eddie Murphy movie, Beverly Hills Cop? I seem to recall something like that, but I might be wrong because my memory from those times is seriously defective and I make up so much that fiction clouds everything. It's as it should be after all; we should all be reinventing our histories every day that passes.
Hey! Andrew Gold! 'Lonely Boy'! This was my theme tune. No really, it was. I swear the truth is that there's a whole load of folks my age out there making out like when they were kids they were affected deeply and genuinely by someone so obtuse and obscure you'd have to shake their hand and say 'yes you were indeed a visionary twelve year old', but the truth is they were listening to Radio 2 cos that's what their Mum played every morning before school (it was the Terry Wogan show) and that songs like 'Lonely Boy' etched more of a lasting image on their psyche than they would care, not to say dare, to admit. And needless to say I was joking when I said it was my theme tune. When I was twelve my theme tune was actually Elvis Costello's 'Less Than Zero.'
And here come Santana with 'Black Magic Woman', not included surely, just because Carlos is the flavour of the times with his multi-Grammy winning streak so much in the consciousness of all fine middle-aged music purchasers? Well strike me down for being such a cynic. Actually I don't mind Santana as much as I used to, although I cant quite get past that whole 'he's a great musician' thing. It's like Clapton; I don't give a toss if he's a 'great' guitar player; it all sounds like self-indulgent public masturbation to me. Santana are a bit like that; sure, great 'musicianship' but beyond that? It's kind of dull. The word was that Appliance were heading down a funky Santana direction last year; all bongos and percussion. But then they were told to ditch the bongos… I mean, a Mute band with bongos and referencing Santana? Heaven forbid. I'd still have liked to hear it.
CD2 kicks off with the sound of the Jefferson Airplane. What more do you need to know about The Jefferson Airplane? The song is called 'Jane' and I feel certain my friend Michelle could tell you a great deal more… not that anyone would listen mind you. Was this a precursor to soft-rock-metal? I dunno.
Of course no 'driving' compilation would be complete without the definitive 'Drive' by The Cars. I always thought this was a pretty song, although it baffled me when it somehow became some kind of 'tragic' song circa Live Aid when it seemed to be associated with images of starving African children. Can anyone enlighten me and explain just how, and why, that came about? I always thought it was just a pretty corny love song… and that's corny in a good sense.
Marino took a swipe at Dylan recently in these very pages, and on this he (Dylan that is, not Marino) contributes the rather swinging 'Positively 4th Street' which actually stands out as being kind of out of place; awkward and snotty, which I think is how Dylan should always be remembered.
"'(Don't Fear) The Reaper' is a Cult classic." I always thought that was a great line to write, and really this song DOES feature the best harmonies the Cult have ever done. I think. I wouldn't really know. But it just goes to show, doesn't it… that line about being a Cult Classic came from the first issue of the first 'Punk' fanzine Sniffing Glue. Makes you think doesn't it? Everyone knows this song, and fuck it, it does sound great, perhaps because you know it inside out despite yourself. Well maybe not if you're a teenager, unless your Dad keeps playing it. Or more likely your Grandad.
Boston! 'More Than A Feeling'! This is a great Pop song. I mean, this song just KNOWS what a Pop Moment is all about… more than a feeling… fuck YEAH. It's like when Tony Morley interviewed Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and found himself excitedly agreeing with Dickinson about what music should be remembered for, and that was Moments. It doesn't matter what music you choose, and I know for a fact that Boston would choose such different moments to me that's it's almost stupid to make the comparisons, but the truth is that with this song they got the facts dead right.
R!E!O! Speedwagon! I had a friend once who was the owner of just a handful of records. He had a couple of Madness records, OMD's Dazzle Ships, and a load of REO Speedwagon. I always thought it was a strange collection, but then people are strange, and so what? Everyone knows 'Keep On Loving You'. It's a classic! Yes it is! It is great Pop because it speaks in obviously direct language. 'I don't wanna sleep, I just wanna keep on loving you.' How can you argue with that? You can try, but you just end up sounding like a prude and bore, and that would never do. And actually thinking about it all again it might have been a lot of Supertramp albums he had and not REO Speedwagon at all, but so what.
More Santana on CD2. 'Oye como Va' is this side's track. The only artist to have two tracks on this collection. Dangit, these Big Record Companies sure know their markets don't they? Of course they do.
The Byrds 'So You Want To Be A Rock'N'Roll Star' still rocks my boat. It still sounds so spectacular, so vicious and celebratory all at once. It's a truly great Pop Song, and there is no argument about such a statement. Some facts are irrefutable.
And there you have it… that was a potted tour of the American Dream. It's been a hell of a ride. Now where's that Driving School?
(The American Dream has 36 tracks and is a Sony Music TV/Warners ESP double CD collaboration.)
©Alistair Fitchett 2000