Thursday, 27 November 2014

My Top Ten Songs About Driving At Night

When songwriters can't sleep... they go for a drive.

10. Rialto - Drive

A noirish tale from the much-missed Britpop band, always a cut above many of their contemporaries.

9. Tom Petty - Night Driver

Tom's drifting home with headlines in his eyes, fighting sleep... WAKE UP, TOM! Phew. Nearly left the road there for a second. How about pulling over at the next rest stop, buddy?

8. The Cars - Drive
Who's gonna drive you home tonight?
The Cars' biggest hit (twice) comes loaded with so much extra meaning, it's hard to just listen to it as a song anymore. Plus, it was played to death on the radio when I was a teenager and I think I OD'ed on it. Good song, but Rick Ocasek & co. made far more exciting records.

7. Dion - Drive All Night

From Mr. DiMucci's late 80s comeback album, this keeps the hand-clapping doo-wop feel of his earlier hits filtered through more contemporary production courtesy of Dave Edmunds and Bryan Adams.

Well, when I say "contemporary", I mean "contemporary: 25 years ago". Sigh.

6. Roy Orbison - I Drove All Night

Fun fact - although everyone thinks Cyndi Lauper recorded this first (she made the charts with it before Roy), The Big O actually recorded it two years before Cyndi. It wasn't released as a single (with a little help from Jeff Lynne) until after his death in 1992. Anyway, much as I love Cyndi's sultry take on the tune, there's only one Roy O. Plus, although Cyndi's video features a car projected onto her naked body (not as exciting as that might sound), Roy's video guest stars a young Jennifer Connelly (and Jason Priestley, ladies). Ah, you decide. (Just don't suggest the Celion Dion version.)

5. Hamell On Trial - The Long Drive

Ed Hamell's Chandler-esque tale begins with a long drive in which his private detective hero leaves at midnight... worth a listen for any Philip Marlowe fans out there.

4. C.W. McCall - Convoy

Doubtless if I ever get round to compiling a Top Ten Trucking Songs, this'll be Number One. Although McCall's convoy (the inspiration for Sam Peckinpah's movie starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw and Ernest Borgnine) trucks on through both day and night, it nudges its way into this chart because of the hour it begins:

It was the dark of the moon
On the 6th of June...

3. Tom Robinson Band - 2-4-6-8 Motorway

Having already hurtled to the top of My Top Ten Motorway Songs, it was tempting to give Tom's trucker anthem a miss in favour of his other night driving anthem (a European retelling of the quintessentially English 2-4-6-8,) Drive All Night. But although that's a very fine song - and its title suggests it deserves a place here more than its more famous sibling - I just can't bring myself to choose it over 2-4-6-8. Plus, iffypedia informs me that the chorus of 2-4-6-8 is pilfered from a Gay Lib chant "2,4,6,8, Gay is twice as good as straight... 3,5,7,9, Lesbians are mighty fine". Brilliant!

2. Golden Earring - Radar Love

I can't think of many Dutch rock bands, and I can only think of one other record by this bunch... but this song is good enough to have been covered by everyone from REM to Def Leppard to U2... and none of them came close to matching the original. Close your eyes and this could be Led Zep. It begins with some amazing power chords before the chugging drum rhythm kicks in and then Frans Krassenburg's Robert Plant-esque voice chimes in with those masterful opening lines.
I've been driving all night
My hands wet on the wheel
By the time Brenda Lee starts coming on strong on the radio, I've almost driven through the central reservation. Just one fantastic rock record. Apparently Golden Earring had over 30 top ten hits in Holland. I might just have to splash out on a best of compilation...

1. Bruce Springsteen - Drive All Night / State Trooper

Although I feature Bruce a lot on this blog, I'm always wary of giving him the Number One because it reeks of favouritism. (Strange, I know - after all, it's my blog, I can do what I want. And it's not as though anyone's reading...) Here though is a double bill of two of his finest songs, both involving driving at night, albeit from completely different perspectives.

Simply put, Drive All Night is one of the greatest love songs ever written. I'd rate it just a step below Wichita Lineman, and there's no finer compliment in my book.

I swear I'll drive all night again
Just to buy you some shoes
And to taste your tender charms

The simplest of gestures, yet it speaks of true love in my book... and I'm sorry if that's perpetuating the "all women like shoes" stereotype... but Louise's wardrobe is one step away from Imelda Marcos's, and she's not the only woman I know like that. (Not that I'd ever dare buy her some shoes... I'm totally clueless in that department... as so many others. I'm no Bruce.)

State Trooper, on the other hand, is a much darker proposition. From the epically lo-fi Nebraska album (famously recorded on a 4 track cassette deck in Bruce's back bedroom), it's a tale of late night desperation. A man on a long, lonely drive across the states begs a policeman not to pull him over. It's creepy, brooding and compellingly tragic.
New Jersey Turnpike, ridin' on a wet night 
'Neath the refinery's glow, 
Out where the great black rivers flow
License, registration, I ain't got none, 

But I got a clear conscience
'Bout the things that I done
Mister state trooper please don't stop me...

Which one would you flash your headlights at?


  1. Replies
    1. Was in contention but wasn't sure it was night...

    2. I've thought of another one! 'Detroit Rock City' by Kiss. That's one of their better songs and definitely about driving at night (while drunk and possibly stoned). Lyrics here:

    3. Good call. I seem to recall a not-particularly-amazing film of the same name about 4 Kiss fans...

  2. I've got lots of stuff about cars in general - Gary Numan, Tracy Chapman - but nothing specifically about night driving. It's health and safety gone mad, I tell you!

    1. Yeah, cars is too broad a topic. I'm going to break them down by make and model.

  3. Right - HWMBO offers you Dead Roo, Cosmic Psychos which he assures me is about killing roos when driving at night. He also said Joe Satriani Driving at night which is an 'awesome instrumental' apparently!!!

    I got stuck at Pat Benatar - love is a battlefield because I could only remember the video with her on a bus - I ended up on a long 80s youtube safari which doesn't add to your list but was good fun for me (and painful in equal measures - some of those songs should remain buried!)

    1. I'll take Pat Benatar over Joe Satriani...although he did go surfing with the alien.


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