Courtesy of guardian.co.uk

When I was a kid, years before I got my first iPod, I had this fantastic Sony Walkman that I brought on every vacation. Both the Walkman and the CD case I carted along with me probably logged 15,000 miles over the course of my adolescence. In the early 2000s, I could take 20 CDs with me, at most. Today, my iPod can hold hundreds of albums, so I no longer have to be selective in the music I take on a journey.

Despite this leap forward in technology, I find myself gravitating to a small number of albums on every trip, as if I still could only take a handful of CDs with me. Additionally, I always wind up listening to certain albums, regardless of where I’m going or how I’m getting there. The staying power of these albums tells me that they make for particularly effective travel music and deserve to be shared with others.

Now, obviously these aren’t the only records in the world that make for a superb vacation soundtrack. Some of them have absolutely nothing to do with travel. Nonetheless, they all make for great listening when you’re on the move. Some create unique soundscapes; most are thought provoking; all of them pulse with energy.

1. “Graceland,” Paul Simon — The world music album to end all world music albums, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” is probably the songwriter’s masterwork. The blend of American pop and South African musical styles, with a bit of Latin rock thrown in for good measure, overflows with exuberance. To paraphrase the first track, this is an album of miracle and wonder. And fretless bass solos.

2. “All Things Must Pass,” George Harrison — I wonder if George Harrison hated being known as the “Quiet Beatle.” He certainly proved that he was a deep thinker with this album, which somehow synthesized Hindu philosophy, blues-rock, and folk into a coherent whole. Harrison also helped invent the notion of the bonus track on this album, which features an extra half-dozen of the wildest electric blues ever recorded after the main record ostensibly ends.

3. “Songs in the Key of Life,” Stevie Wonder — Elton John has said that he takes this Stevie Wonder gem with him when traveling around the world. It’s easy to see why – “Songs” is a massive outpouring of emotion from one musician’s soul, much like Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” Wonder’s mix of funk, soul, and orchestral pop remains awe-inspiring nearly 40 years later.

4. “The Suburbs,” Arcade Fire — I’m not sure if this is really about travel per say, but Arcade Fire’s glorious meditation on paranoia, alienation, and lost dreams certainly feels like an emotional survey of America in the Great Recession. The anthemic,  penultimate track, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” creates an unforgettable vision of urban decay by comparing empty shopping malls to towering mountains. Anyone who has driven through New Jersey or the Chicago suburbs can relate to that image.

5. “Appalachian Journey/The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” Yo-Yo Ma — For those of you who enjoy good classical music or classic Americana, take a listen to these Yo-Yo Ma gems. “Journey” came out about ten years ago; “Goat Rodeo” debuted last summer. On both records, Ma shows that he is as adept an interpreter of folk music as he is a classical genius. The blend of traditional melodies, new compositions, and improvised string jams is a winning one, and very evocative of Appalachia.

6. “Best of Bond… James Bond 50th Anniversary Collection” — This is the silliest entry on this list, yet one of the most consistently entertaining. Released last year in anticipation of “Skyfall,” this album collects the theme songs from every Bond film. And let’s face it: few among us haven’t imagined being swept around the world on a Bond-style espionage adventure. Listen to this album, grin at the goofy songs (Duran Duran, anyone?), and let your mind run wild.

7. “Hejira,” Joni Mitchell —   Quite possibly the only album with more fretless bass solos than “Graceland,” Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira” is a weird blend of country music, Middle Eastern percussion, and Dylan-esque balladry. It’s also a spellbinding, psychologically complex work of art as Mitchell tackles such ideas as self-imposed exile, lost love, and failed heroes.

8. “Brothers in Arms,” Mark Knopfler — This album may have the least to do with travel of any of the titles here, yet the extraordinary use of keyboards creates a rich, dreamy soundscape. Mark Knopfler’s guitar work is stellar, and both up-tempo numbers (“Walk Of Life”) and mellower tunes (“Why Worry”) are effective. This is a treasure of an album and not as well known today as it should be.

9. “Brand New Day,” Sting — has always drawn on a variety of world music genres to create his jazz-pop albums, but this album melds a dizzying number of styles into a funky, profoundly beautiful musical odyssey. I’m not sure which place “Brand New Day” is evocative of, but it’s definitely evocative of someplace that isn’t here.

So, the next time you hit the road, take refuge with one of these albums. You won’t be disappointed.

Gorman is a member of the class of 2014.



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