Six of the best: tracks to drive to 

“Driving music” is a time-honoured tradition, but here are a few tracks that may take you by surprise

Orbital, Belfast

Orbital are the Godfathers of “intelligent techno”. Although named after the M25, the Hartnoll brothers’ lush, other-worldly soundscapes call to mind an interstellar galactic highway rather than the queue for South Mimms. Club runner David Holmes discovered the demo of Belfast on a tape Orbital left with him after he’d booked them to play the city’s Art College in 1990. Originally a B-side, and named as a thank you to the ecstatic reception they received the night they appeared, Belfast soon took on a life of its own. Still in the grip of sectarian violence at the time – calling it “the Troubles” always seemed mealy-mouthed to me, as a kid growing up there – Belfast is a comedown classic, its pulsing bassline and insistent melody delivering a soft landing to blissed-out ravers. But like so much electronica, it also works as a driving track, its melancholic undertow somehow matching the sweeping expanse of the countryside that abuts the Atlantic on the Antrim coast.  

Car: could be anything, provided it’s fitted with massive sub-woofers
Road: the Antrim Causeway coast

David Holmes, Rodney Yates 

That man Holmes again. Arguably Ulster’s finest musical export since Van Morrison, he’s a DJ turned artist and producer who began the ’90s playing underground dance tunes to the faithful, and ended it as film director Steven Soderbergh’s go-to-guy (check out his soundtrack to 1998’s Out of Sight and 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven). Holmes is a fan first and foremost, with impeccable taste and deep knowledge: from swaggering New Orleans funk to fabled French roué Serge Gainsbourg, he’s sampled a dazzling array of other artists. His album Let’s Get Killed was one of only four CDs I had in the car when I drove coast-to-coast from New York to LA in just four days, back in 1998. I got to know every beat and note, and 25 years later it still resonates. The track Rodney Yates is typical of its laid-back, sample-heavy feel: it’s pretty obvious why Soderbergh hired him. Drive around Brooklyn or West Hollywood with this playing, and you’ll be writing your own movie in your head. 

Car: 1969 Cadillac Fleetwood convertible
Road: Route 101, as it sweeps into LA

David Bowie, Look Back in Anger 

The third in the so-called Berlin Trilogy, 1979’s Lodger album reunited Bowie with perhaps his two most revered creative collaborators, Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti. Eno deployed his celebrated “oblique strategies”, encouraging the band – which included guitarists Adrian Belew and Carlos Alomar, and drummer Dennis Davis – to swap instruments and play backwards, among other challenges. The result was a fractured, angular sound that flirted with new wave in places. The album’s big hit was Boys Keep Swinging, a playful examination of male stereotypes accompanied by a gender-fluid video. That spooked the record company in North America, which released the blistering Look Back in Anger instead. Bowie’s vocal is outstanding – of course it is – but the track also showcases the man’s often overlooked knack for surrounding himself with astonishing musicians. In particular, Davis’s drumming and percussion work here is off the chain, a monster groove with some funky off-beats and relentless ride cymbal. Warning: it will make you drive faster. 

Car: BMW 2002 tii
Road: around Lake Geneva

Nils Frahm, All Melody 

Many musicians have home studios. But few are quite like the one in which German pianist Nils Frahm recorded the album All Melody. It’s located inside the Funkhaus, on the banks of the River Spree in East Berlin, which was once home to GDR state radio and a vast broadcast studio. Frahm laboured for two years to construct the space, including a bespoke mixing desk, but it’s the building’s concrete walls and spectral acoustics that give the music its extraordinary atmosphere. The 74-minute album is really a single piece, but the title track can be enjoyed in isolation: as Pitchfork noted in its review, ‘it’s in the echo and in the air, and in the way that he plays the room itself’. German giants Can and Kraftwerk pioneered the idea of “motorik” music, a repetitive, enthralling groove that matched the rhythmic thump of concrete under car wheels on the autobahn. Frahm does this too, but adds sublime colour and texture. 

Car: 1963 Mercedes 300 SL
Road: on the autobahn between Berlin and Munich, at 2am

Roxy Music, Editions of You

Roxy’s Love is the Drug is one of the all-time great “songs that begin with an engine firing up” (a niche category, admittedly, see also Jamiroquai’s Travelling Without Moving and Kraftwerk’s Autobahn), and often appears on “great driving songs” lists. Which is precisely why I’ve gone for Editions of You instead, from the band’s 1973 album For Your Pleasure – their second, and probably best. Drummer Paul Thompson’s double-time beat propels the song at breakneck pace, although every band member gets their moment in the sun. ‘Cause sometimes you find a yearning for the quiet life/the country air and all its joys,’ Ferry sings, perhaps anticipating the transformation he’d later undergo. Not yet, though. ‘But badgers couldn’t compensate at twice the price/for just another night with the boys, oh yeah/and boys will be boys-oy-oys.’ Won’t they just. 

Car: Ferrari 275 GTB
Road: heading out of London, at 6am. From one party to the next, probably somewhere in Surrey

Dr Feelgood, All Through the City 

This one’s for the late Wilko Johnson, the coruscating, intimidating and inimitable guitarist in ’70s pub rockers Dr Feelgood. Britain’s biggest bands – The Beatles and Rolling Stones, in particular – were diehard blues aficionados, but no-one did it quite like Dr Feelgood. Rather than Eel Pie Island and Richmond’s Crawdaddy club, the band jokingly referred to the Thames delta of their base camp, Essex’s less-than-salubrious Canvey Island. The result was a spiky precursor to punk, an amphetamine-charged assault in which Wilko’s signature choppy guitar style took centre stage. So good, in fact, that it could turn the A13 into Route 66. 

Car: Ford Escort XR3i
Road: the A130 Canvey Way, down to Labworth Café

By Jason Barlow. Jason is a writer, motoring journalist and former Top Gear presenter

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