How To Create The Perfect Road Trip Mix


If there are three things I know I’m good at, they are getting lost in Wikipedia articles, finding ways around doing laundry, and making badass playlists. I already wrote a piece on my theory of mix CDs, but I’d like to take a little more of your highly wastable time to talk about an important sub-genre of the mix CD: the road trip mix.

There are two types of road trip playlists. The first is the original–a single CD that you craft carefully to fit the ebbs and flows of driving, along with appealing to the tastes of your passengers. The other is the dumping method, where you put a few hours of good music into one playlist and throw that sucker on shuffle. I am much more concerned with the former. I fully believe the best trips are those where everyone going makes a CD and you switch off listening to them from front to back. Here’s a general strategy that I tend to follow. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, I get that, but you’re wrong and I hate you.

1. The Opening Number

Strong and thematic. Sets the tone for the journey you’re taking your listeners on. Your trip is awesome and bright, and everyone’s amped up right now.

Example: Phil Collins, “Something Happened On The Way To Heaven”

2. The Suave Followup

If the first song is the guy who gets the party started, the second song is the guy who goes home with the hottest girl at the end of the night.

Example: The Knux, “Run”

3. The Nostalgia Factor

A highly singable song from your collective childhoods to remind you why you’re all friends.

Example: Third Eye Blind, “Semi-Charmed Life”

4. The Rap Song

You can add more rap if you want overall, but just to maintain the range of your mix, you have to have at least one rap song. This is the best spot for it. You’ll probably still be in your city at this point, so feel free to roll down the windows and cruise.

Example: Schoolboy Q (Ft. Kendrick Lamar), “Collard Greens”

5. The Wild Card

This is a song you know everyone probably loves but forgot existed. They’ll jump around in the backseat like idiots once they realize what it is.

Example: Ben Folds, “Rockin’ The Suburbs”

6. The Friendship Song

It might not be super popular overall, but it’s one you and your friends have drunkenly sung together on many nights.

Example: Jimmy Eat World, “Big Casino”

7. The Classic Rock Anthem

Classic rock is a pretty well-accepted road trip genre. Avoid the mainstays, but don’t go too far off the beaten path. Steve Miller Band isn’t allowed here. I’ll explain why later.

Example: Tom Petty, “I Won’t Back Down”

8. The Ironic (But Secretly Fabulous) Girl Power Spot

Dudes love empowered female rock, even if we pretend not to. Give it half the song and I guarantee you’ll all start jamming to it.

Example: Alanis Morissette, “Hand In My Pocket”

9. The Country Song

Just like the rap song, you have to show your range. Plus, by now, you’re out in the country, so the song reflects your surroundings.

Example: Paul Eason, “Small Town Blues”

10. The ’90s Alt Rock Throwback

We were slightly too young to get into the cutoff plaid shirts and jean shorts trend, but it seemed cool.

Example: Temple of the Dog, “Hunger Strike”

11. The Steve Miller Song

You can’t make a road trip mix without one Steve Miller Band song. He belongs here, not with the rest of the classic rock anthems.

Example: Steve Miller Band, “Take The Money And Run”

12. The Sell-Out Pop Tune

Don’t be afraid of going for the hammiest, candiest pop song ever right here. That’s what it’s for.

Example: Wilson Phillips, “Hold On”

13. The Serious Consideration

Feel free to get a little morose with this one. Loss, heartbreak, sadness–just because it’s a road trip, it doesn’t mean you have to avoid deep songs.

Example: Black Lab, “Mine Again”

14. The Penultimate “Game Of Thrones” Episode

“Game Of Thrones” has made a living off of conditioning us to expect all sorts of crazy shit from its next to last episode each season. This is no different. Punch everyone in the mouth with this one, because the journey’s almost over. Any kind of ’80s power rock plays well here.

Example: Van Halen, “Panama”

15. The Closing Credits

Put a button on the whole thing. Songs that change movements throughout are great here, but the most important thing is a hopeful and enjoyable ending.

Example: Guster, “Come Downstairs And Say Hello”

BUT KNOX! You can fit, like, 20 songs on one CD. Why are you only giving us 15 spots? Well, dear reader, it’s because I don’t want to completely run your life. I’m a benevolent dictator. You should use those other five spots to fill in as you see appropriate. Some people want more country or rap. Some people want more chill stuff. Some people maybe even want some steampunk-influenced dubstep. Go wild with it. Just keep in mind:

“Life Is A Highway” is banned FOREVER.

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Randall J. Knox

Randall J. Knox (known colloquially to his friends as "Knox") left his native Texas a few years ago, and moved to Los Angeles in his '03 Buick Regal named LeRoi to write movies with his jackass college buddies. His favorite things in life include bourbon that's above his pay grade, mix CDs, and Kevin Costner films. He isn't sure what "dad jeans" are exactly, but he knows he wants a pair.

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