Chicken Skin: The Summer Road Mixtape - Best of Summer Week


By Gabriela Kalter

Photo by Tiberiu Ana.

Chicken Skin is a new column to the BreakThru Radio arsenal that gives us an outlet to discuss our not-so-guilty pleasures in music and culture. Why? Because when we’re not crafting podcasts full of the latest and greatest independent music for you all, our undying preadolescent affection for Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” needs to be logged in the great annals of human experience that is the interwebs. That’s why.

With the arrival of summer comes a long list of anticipated activities. Potential summer plans have us realizing once again just how broke we are, and how many possibilities for adventure lay ahead of us in the sunny months on the horizon. Undoubtedly a warm weather staple, and most definitely a personal favorite, is the summer road trip. Ah, the magical thrill of exploration and the familiar taste of gas station food – just you, the open road, and dozens of empty wrappers on the floor as a reminder of the obscene amounts of Cosmic Brownies and other Little Debbie snacks you’ve already consumed.

If the wind running through your sun-streaked hair isn’t enough to make you want to hit the highway, consider the road trip as a shining opportunity to blast your favorite tunes on your car speaker’s loudest dial with the windows rolled down and the sun roof wide open. Whether you’re cruisin’ solo, or your best friends are along for the ride, the music you play can set the tone for your entire trip. So you must not only choose wisely, but also deliberately, as the jams that are chosen will ultimately lay a foundation for the vibes of your summer journey.

We all have personal favorite music collections that we prefer driving to, and strong opinions about the musical choices of our peers (particularly in regards to how they relate to and compare with our own.) But, in the spirit of letting my freak flag fly with minimal shame, I’ve compiled a list of songs that would make it onto my road trip mix tape and you are going to love it, even if you hate it.

Disc One: Classic Tunes for Highway-Head-Bopping and Steering Wheel Drumming

1. “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield

Ever since my preteen purchase of the 13 Going On 30 soundtrack, this ‘80s anthem has had a special place in my heart. So, what better way to kickoff the summer road trip mixtape than with a passionate classic that presents the perfect sing-along opportunity? The moment the signature opening chord progression rings in your ears, it’s basically impossible to resist the urge of chanting every lyric. If you don’t know all of the words to Rick Springfield’s iconic “Jessie’s Girl”, it won’t take long for you to catch on. As you’re working on your memorization, the song is perfectly suited for some prime air guitar playing.

2. “Train in Vain” by The Clash

This is not only an essential classic, but also upbeat and fun, giving us our Brit Punk fill while maintaining a relative lightheartedness in tone. I love this song because it’s just really fun to listen to, and isn’t that reason enough? It’s that good. Don’t waste another second not listening to this gem.

3. “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan

I love everything about this song, and despite its commercial overplay in the summer of 2010, it remains a personal favorite. It’s an anthem of youth, freedom, and growing up. The song’s hopeful energy takes form in a rhythmically tribal arrangement infused with an afro-hip-hop production vibe. It’s all good things rolled into one song: optimism, encouragement, defined drum sequences, and a hip-hop aesthetic.

4. “Slide” by Goo Goo Dolls

You know those songs that fill your gut with that ‘90s nostalgia, bringing you back to awkward school dances, camp bus rides, and the Z100 Morning Zoo with Elvis and Elliot (remember Elliot!?) Anyways, this song brings me back. It shakes my senses so that I can almost smell that distinct citrus quality that characterized the Avon sunscreen I wore throughout my childhood. I welcome just about any resurgence of ‘90s classics, and Goo Goo Dolls satisfy that throwback urge within me.

5. “The Horizon Is A Beltway” by The Low Anthem

I first saw The Low Anthem at The Newport Folk Festival, so maybe my brain automatically associates them with road trips, but this song was made for traveling the highway. Its bluegrass vibe and folky foundation give it the necessary road trip persona. When it’s played loudly on your speakers, there’s something that takes over, making you feel one with the countryside and at peace with the unknown.

6. “Move On” by Jet

I don’t think this needs much explanation, but “Move On” by Jet is a road trip necessity. The title itself should convey why it’s appropriate, and coupled with the strangely uplifting yet melancholic rhythm, this song is an instant road trip staple. The evocative vocals sing, “It’s such a waste to look behind you, you should be lookin’ straight ahead.” I don’t think there’s a better message for embarking on a journey and moving forward.

7. “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups

This song is great for so many reasons, let me just name a few. First, there’s a crescendo quality about it that builds energy from its subtle introduction to the rock-out ending. What’s more, the slightly raspy yet defined vocals make this song into a signature anthem that lasts over five minutes, a strong road trip mixtape selection.

8. “Time to Pretend” by MGMT

I know this song has been massively overplayed, even the odd opening sounds effects sometimes inspire a gag reflex amongst those who are tired of it. But, this track had to be included because it speaks volumes to that colossal feeling of directionless uncertainty that we young people often feel upon exiting school and entering the real world (whatever that is). “Time to Pretend” lists all the things we are afraid of missing and losing as a consequence of growing up. I don’t care what anyone else says about it, this song has become an iconic representation of our wasted youth and lost generation.

9. “Awake My Soul” by Mumford & Sons

One of the standout tracks from Mumford & Sons’ first album, “Awake my Soul” is filled with such spirit and wrenching emotion that it will undeniably do just that: awake your soul. The gradual build from the song’s softer introduction to its eventual soul-pouring, belted send off defines just how epic this anthem really is.

10. “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

Not that this needs any explanation, but Bobby D’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is a quintessential song for any nomadic journeyer traveling along the open road. It speaks to the freedom of living life like a rolling stone, always moving without a sense of belonging, without a home. Sure, there’s an apparent sadness in the lyrics and Dylan’s overall delivery, but that may be precisely what makes it such a resonating and always relevant classic. It’s just too good not to include.

[End of Disc One.]

There’s both serenity and indulgence involved in driving on the open road. Disc One of the mixtape comes to a close (as all good things must) and you’re chillin’- staring out at the highway through your aviators, lighting up as the promise of the unknown waits to be discovered. It’s time to get pumped, and that, my road trip adventurers, is precisely why they invented a Disc Two.

Disc Two is here to elevate the energy and bring life back to any passengers who have understandably succumbed to the enticement of napping on a long-drive. But, the driver needs stamina and this collection of girl-power pop is sure to do the trick. These songs bring out your inner diva, your inner princess-warrior-gypsy-diva. So, this is for singing at the top of your lungs while gliding down I-95, not caring if anyone can see what a complete goof you are.

Disc Two: Pump-Up-Girl-Power-Sing-At-the-Top-of-Your-Lungs- Songs

1. “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine

One summer day in 2011 (or 2010), my friend picked up my neighbor and I in her black convertible to do some window-shopping. The top was down as we hit the highway, and Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over” blasted through the speakers. Florence Welch’s vocals jumped out of the speakers and into our hearts – it all came together to create this infinite moment of joy and youth and freedom. It was a moment in time that I always remember, characterized by this light that filled us and brightened our spirits. If you’ve never tried this, I very strongly suggest that you make it a priority.

2. “Tears Dry On Their Own” by Amy Winehouse

There’s no doubt about this: the world lost an immensely gifted songstress when Amy Winehouse died. I’m not including this track merely as an ode to her and her premature passing, but because it genuinely ranks high as one of my all-time favorite songs. It’s about resilience and strength. Best of all, it delivers a message of girl power without resorting to perkiness or pop. “Tears Dry On Their Own” conveys the beauty and importance of inner strength through the honest blues riffs and R&B hooks. The tragedy of Amy Winehouse only enhances the evocative soulfulness of the song, making it an absolutely perfect song to belt as you coast along the highway.

3. “Beautiful” by Carole King

Folk goes together with the open road like peanut butter and jelly. They just mesh. So, including one of the great folk matriarchs in my summer road trip mixtape seemed like a no-brainer. I like songs that tell me how to feel better in explicit instructional form. So, when Carole tells me to wake up every morning with a smile on my face and show the world all the love in my heart, I feel prepared to implement this sense of girl power with the plan, which she has so kindly laid out for me.

4. “Another Dumb Blonde” by Hoku

If you’ve never heard of Hoku, the Hawaiian pop sensation from the late ‘90s/early 2000s, then you’re welcome. Your life will never be quite the same. “Another Dumb Blonde” is the first single off of Hoku’s self-titled album, and it’s a girl power pop anthem if I’ve ever heard one. This CD is one that I would bring on family vacations and force my Dad to play in the car over and over again. Though they may have protested at the time, I like to believe that my family loved those Hoku moments and somewhere they’re thanking me for exposing them to this tropical pop princess. You’re welcome, family.

5. “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree

What’s better than an inspiring ‘90s tune that tells you explicitly, in list form, what you’ve got to be? Nothing. There’s nothing better. “You Gotta Be” remains one of the greatest one hit wonders that ever did hit us. I know little to nothing about Des’ree, but am eternally grateful to her for this vibrant song that spells it out for us: bad, bold, wiser, hard, tough, stronger, cool, calm, stay together – these are the ways the we’ve got to be.

6. “Crazy Beautiful Life” by Ke$ha

This song epitomizes the very philosophy that I so love about Ke$ha – life is about enjoying every crazy, messy, drunken moment as no one else but your unedited self. This ‘make the haters your motivators’ message is apparent in the loudness and bluntness of this pop jam and that is exactly what makes it the perfect song to belt out at your loudest interval while riding down the highway. Driving somehow makes the chaos of life seem more beautiful, and that’s why this song was undeniably a shoe-in for Side Two of the road trip mixtape.

7. “Since You Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson

I’m still blown away by how many #1 singles Kelly Clarkson had on her album, Breakaway. Literally, every song was a commercial success. Every song was played on the radio (maybe too many times) and they’re each memorable for distinguishable elements. “Since You Been Gone” hit the pop charts with gusto and truly remains a pop rock anthem not quite paralleled by any other. It’s about promoting vigor and girl power, but it does so with an edge and a darkness that make it all the more relatable. I love this song because it turns the fire of anger into the fire of endurance and survival, encouraging those who dare to sing along to keep on fighting the good fight, especially when it feels impossible.

8. “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae

The music video for this song accurately portrays the effect that this little diddy should have on you. Corinne Bailey Rae is joyfully singing her melody as she gleefully rides her bike through peaceful grass fields. It’s this aura of lightheartedness and innocence that make this song an instant classic and summertime go-to. With an opening verse that pays evident homage to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, “Put Your Records On” carries on the reggae legend’s air of worry-free living and the copasetic approach for really having fun. So go ahead and let your hair down because this one is for shaking off the stress, breathing deeply, and living freely.

9. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Miley Cyrus

No it’s not the original by Cyndi Lauper, but that doesn’t mean it’s not equally spunky and energetic. This cover has all the pep and fun-loving vibrancy of the original, but Miley’s voice offers a refreshing edge, which brings an updated element of modernity to the classic girl-power tune. Singing along is irresistible when this track comes on. I like to sing at the top of my lungs and pretend that I’m performing in concert to an audience with a much needed energy makeover and confidence boost.

10. “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer

Here’s another track that continuously triggers my ‘90s nostalgia. I’ve never listened to anything else by Sixpence None the Richer, nor have I any desire to, because frankly, they’ll never create anything as epic as “Kiss Me”. It’s an iconic song, embodying the adolescent romance of its decade. It encompasses the essence of every ‘90s teen movie or romantic comedy, neatly leading the narrative into a happily-ever-after conclusion. Whether the final slow dance was shared between Freddie Prince Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook, Heath Ledger (R.I.P.) and Julia Stiles, or Melissa Joan Hart and Adrian Grenier – “Kiss Me” was playing in our hearts, regardless of whether or not it was actually playing in the movie.

The point is, hearing this song is like seeing your best friend from sleepaway camp; the friend who greatly contributed to the tone of your adolescent summers, and reminds you of how naive you used to be about life and love, and how nice that was.

So there it is, my summertime road trip mixtape. Disc One for those timeless classics and Disc Two for hyping up that sense of girl power. Of course this collection won’t last more than a couple of hours, so it’s definitely good road trip foresight to have a large variety of music up your sleeve. There are even some pretty cool apps that help you out when you’re feeling lost in the musical abyss.

RoadTrip Mixtape, a web app from The Echo Nest, generates a playlist for your road trip travels upon inputting your start and end points. The app uses Google Maps to track your location, and then provides a unique playlist for each leg of your trip, featuring the musicians and bands who got their start in the cities you’ll be driving through.

Once you’ve exhausted your supply of CD’s and old school tapes, it could be kind of nice to resort to mobile apps for your driving soundtrack. When you’re cruisin’ down the open road, the right jams are paramount, and luckily there’s an endless array of brilliant songs to choose from. Drive safe!