By on April 27, 2014

Ella-Fitzgerald-Louis-Armstrong-—-Porgy-Bess-1958-FLAC

Jack Baruth recently told his tale of an 898-mile road trip accompanied by only one CD. True, he also had with him a Spawn of Satan Homing Device, oops, I mean an iPod. And also true, and perhaps even more relevant, the one CD that so engaged Jack’s artistic imagination was a stunner, Joel Fredericksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich’s Elizabethan early-instruments and vocal tribute to Nick Drake, Requiem for a Pink Moon.

RFAPM is one of those “love it or don’t get it” pieces of art. Give it a try. It might grow on you. If so, you can buy it here.

Jack’s Captiva review got me pondering about selecting a variety of CDs for a long road trip. To make the cut, first a CD had to be very good in all respects, and also unquestionably have passed the “test of time.” So that means no albums that are valued primarily for nostalgia, or known mostly for including one song that was a hit on the radio. (Sorry, Layla.)

It also helps if the recording in question is a bit off the beaten path. The purpose of this exercise is not to validate anyone else’s pre-existing greatest-hits list. The purpose is to introduce a captive in-car audience to truly great music they perhaps might not otherwise encounter.

The final selection criterion is that an album should in some way contribute to increasing our Cultural Literacy in music. What are the genres and pieces of music that an educated person should have at least some exposure to and awareness of?

In just the same way as it is hard to call yourself educated if you have no familiarity at all with the King James Bible and if you haven’t read any Shakespeare, I think that there are pieces of music—not all of them classical—that are almost as important in terms of our shared cultural heritage.

The problem with such ventures (of course) is the tendency to focus first on the historical musical-developmental or sociological importance of a piece of music, instead of starting the inquiry with “Will this really grab somebody by the ears?”

My goal is not to make anyone feel that they are being told to eat spinach because it is good for them. My goal is to help people fall in love with great music.

1. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong: Porgy and Bess

One might be tempted to say that if one had to put only one recording into a metaphorical snow globe as representing (as well as one could) the richness and complexity of American musical culture, this album has to be it.

Porgy and Bess is an opera about African-American street life with music and lyrics by the first-generation-American Jewish Gershwin brothers (the book was by DuBose Heyward). Heyward, a white Southerner, was a descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Heyward’s achievements were to write the first Southern novel that (for the most part) treats African Americans without condescension and which makes us care about them as human beings, and equally important, to write some of the most affecting and memorable lyrics in the history of musical theater (and also opera). The lyrics are jointly credited to professional lyricist Ira Gershwin, but according to Stephen Sondheim, “most of the lyrics in Porgy—and all of the distinguished ones—are by Heyward.”

One also might be tempted to think that the world might be a better place if young parents were presented with a copy of this album along with their newborn’s Birth Certificate. But the idea of a toddler toddling around the house while singing some of the more adult-themed lyrics from “I Wants to Stay Here” (e.g., “Don’ let him handle me an’ drive me mad”) is more than a bit disconcerting.

This album is that rare gem that merits the word “perfection.”

Hear it here.

Buy it here.

Now that we have the ground rules squared away, and I also have gone overboard and overlength on the first recommendation—and technically, of opera highlights at that—the rest of the recommendations, of a sufficiently large number of CDs to last an 898-mile trip, will go by much more quickly.

For further listening: Miles Davis’ and Gil Evans’ instrumental suite on Porgy and Bess is a classic, as are the two volumes of Ella Fitzgerald’s Cole Porter Songbooks.

Record producer John Marks is a columnist for Stereophile magazine.

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54 Comments on “Grand Touring Music, Part 1...”


  • avatar

    If I was on a long road trip, I’d switch to Hip Hop Nation, Octane or my favorite conservative talk radio: Jason Lewis or Opie & Anthony.

  • avatar

    Sorry, but there’s at least an album’s worth of great songs on Layla (it was released as a double LP set) without having to include the title cut. Anyday, Keep on Growing, Tell The Truth and Why Does Love Got to Be So Bad? all rock very hard but are still lyrical and melodic. Key To The Highway is a masterful cover of that classic, with Clapton and Allman doing the song great justice. As for their version of Little Wing, that’s close to my favorite song and for a while I was a bit obsessive about collecting versions of it. As far as I’m concerned it ranks up there with Stevie Ray Vaughn’s cover and even Jimi’s original. Jimi made All Along The Watchtower his own, and I think that Clapton and Allman did the same with Little Wing.

    Thanks for bringing up the album. I’ll go put The Layla Sessions on the stereo.

    As for Porgy & Bess, Summertime may be the best blues song ever written, which is funny considering it’s not exactly a I-IV-V 12 bar blues. Listen to an angel sing it:

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Thanks for reading. And yes, Gershwin was subtle. Maurice Ravel once half-seriously asked Gershwin for composition lessons… . I will look at the link, thanks.

      Yes, I knew that Layla was a double LP. And back in the day I thought it might have benefited from being cut down to one LP.

      The other factors include that I do think that with all due respect, that album is mostly known for its hit single, rather than as a complete album (except for Clapton fans). I don’t think that the same holds true to the same degree for “Court and Spark” and “Aja,” to pick two examples.

      And also, in this “voyage of discovery,” I don’t want to revisit recordings nearly everybody already knows or at least knows about, the two prime examples of that being “Pet Sounds” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

      The best-selling jazz album of all time is Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” Apart from there being no need to tell people about the #1 jazz album of all time, I think that as great as it is, “Porgy and Bess” is by far closer to the heart of the American musical experience.

      Anyway, please tune in for Parts 2, 3, and 4!

      John

      PS: My original reply got mis-assigned.

    • 0 avatar
      daviel

      What is a CD?

    • 0 avatar
      daviel

      Herbie Hancock’s last two CDs, Possibilities. and Imagination

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    When I’m by myself in the car, I’ll listen to a flash drive stuffed with a fairly even mix of country, trance, hair metal, contemporary Christian, anime theme songs, bluegrass, action movie soundtracks and even a few rap songs.

    I generally don’t play any music in the car when I’ve got other people with me – I’ll have a conversation with them. I’m aware that my listening style would drive other people nuts.

    When I find a new song I like, or I just feel like listening to a particular song, I’ll listen to it over and over and over, often hitting replay after the first 30 seconds of the song because I like the way a particular riff or lyric is performed.

    I’m pretty sure no one else wants to listen to Poison’s “Fallen Angel” or Survivor’s “How Much Love” over and over again for 75 miles.

    Hell, I listened to Nickelback’s “Gotta Be Somebody” for a week straight when I first downloaded that song.

  • avatar
    John Marks

    Thanks for reading.

    Yes, I knew that Layla was a double LP. And back in the day I thought it might have benefited from being cut down to one LP.

    The other factors include that I do think that with all due respect, that album is mostly known for its hit single, rather than as a complete album (except for Clapton fans). I don’t think that the same holds true to the same degree for “Court and Spark” and “Aja,” to pick two examples.

    And also, in this “voyage of discovery,” I don’t want to revisit recordings nearly everybody already knows or at least knows about, the two prime examples of that being “Pet Sounds” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

    The best-selling jazz album of all time is Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” Apart from there being no need to tell people about the #1 jazz album of all time, I think that as great as it is, “Porgy and Bess” is by far closer to the heart of the American musical experience.

    Anyway, please tune in for Parts 2, 3, and 4!

    John

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    For a road trip you need something that pulls together a central music theme to have a cohesive listening experience. Not a mishmash of irrelevant songs.

    I would nominate NightWish’s album Imaginaerum as an example.
    Buy it and enjoy a long listening session.

    Here is a mishmash copy & paste example…
    Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OV3H6h6pNk

    If you liked try some of their older stuff with Tarja
    Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VF0BlXP-0Y

  • avatar
    PeteRR

    I have a bunch of CDs I haul around for road trips, but the one that is on heavy rotation is Magic Potion by The Black Keys. Blue rock most excellent. Brothers, El Camino, Attack and Release, Chulahoma are quite good also.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    Listening to Porgy and Bess and particularly Ella and Louis’ rendition of Bess, You Is My Woman Now, you can just hear how this is the wellspring of so much American pop music. This is a great road trip CD. I look forward to the rest of your series. I agree that listening to music on an iPod is about as pleasant as listening to a dentist’s drill. Sadly, I think that someday automakers will stop equipping cars with CD players.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      iPods/iPhones/iPads have poor codecs in them; along with the built-in speakers, they are not a great listening experience; though it even beats my old Sony Walkman and pocket full of cassette tapes for carrying music on the go.

      But the key is to use a stereo that plugs into the firewire port; instead of the headphone jack. The stereo is then just reading the digital music off the device, and using it’s superior codecs to reproduce it.

      If the sampling rate of the music files on the iDevice are high enough; it offers a similiar experience to CDs.

      That is the setup I use in my car. It has an eclectic mixture of music as well — classical, christian, music soundtracks, Mannheim Steamroller, easy listening, and holiday music during Christmas (although training Pandora’s “Christmas Radio” station to only play the old tunes was better than what I could put together.)

      And old favorite going back to when the movie first came out is the soundtrack to the original Blues Brothers movie. I always though the first, second, and fourth movements of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” was good music to accompany a WRC road rally race.

      • 0 avatar
        ellomdian

        “If the sampling rate of the music files on the iDevice are high enough”

        There’s the biggest caveat – you are praying to Jobs that iTunes didn’t mangle the format, assuming you had close-to-lossless to begin with. And as for Firewire to the stereo – you have to pray that your head unit isn’t butchering the audio as much as the decoders and OpAmps in the iPod did originally. Then you’re dealing with isolation of your stereo in relation to interference from the car, and finally, the actual quality of your car’s audio (speakers and layout.)

        I miss the days of “Aux In” jacks – it was the easiest way to hook directly up to the Amp in most cars. Now it’s mostly Satellite (and occasionally raw Bluetooth streaming) for me – it’s convenient, and I have no pretense about the quality of audio (even in the BMW.)

  • avatar
    readallover

    This is why God invented satellite radio. And too many people still think Frampton Comes Alive invented the double album.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    While I love Sat radio the sound is not great, I would say NRQB at yankee stadium would be on my list as well as steve win wood arc of a diver. But in truth I would more than likely use sat radio or a book on tape/cd.

  • avatar
    replica

    Animals as Leaders self-titled album is a damn masterpiece. Metal and jazz stuffed together, with no vocals? I’m in. A close second is Enslaved RITTR.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    INFEST is NOT what to listen to while driving! 8^)

    Having some grey hair I guess I don’t get it.
    You gotta see this at least for a minute or so after the music starts.
    See if you agree ??

    Copy and paste:

  • avatar
    George B

    I like Diamonds & Gasoline by Turnpike Troubadours. A full album of Red Dirt country that just sounds right on rural interstates.

    Diamonds & Gasoline (full album) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jCw5XG6RIg

    The band name Turnpike Troubadours comes from the Oklahoma Turnpike system and all the driving from gig to gig.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Stars of the Lid: Music for Nitrous Oxide; Refinement of the Decline.

    For a change-up to lavish harmonic wealth, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Much depends on the passenger(s) and I almost always travel with Mrs. Kix.

    For us, it’s a good time to catch up on podcasts. Whenever we head out on our monthly 500 mile roundtrip, I’ve usually got a backlog of informational podcasts waiting to be heard. And we save the weekly Car Talk podcasts specially for these trips, too.

    After that, though, it’s a struggle to find music we both want to listen to. The Beatles usually works.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    “Autobahn” by Kraftwerk (the full 22 minute album version) seems like it would be interesting driving music.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I’m going way back to one of the albums I had on vinyl, bought the 8-track tape, recorded to cassette and was one of the first CDs I bought and still crank it up a little when it comes up on my playlist, The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “It also helps if the recording in question is a bit off the beaten path…The final selection criterion is that an album should in some way contribute to increasing our Cultural Literacy in music.”

    I find these to be somewhat contradictory. The culturally relevant work has already been identified (think Smithsonian and virtually every best-album ranking out there) and some of it is even popular.

    I can think of plenty of music that (a) I like and (b) isn’t particularly popular. But is it necessary for others to hear it in order to fill some knowledge gap? Probably not.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Ummm, I think: not really contradictory.

      What I meant by “off the beaten path” is that the recordings I am choosing are as far as I know not on the usual short lists.

      I don’t think that people need to be pointed in the direction of “Pet Sounds,” “Sgt. Pepper,” or “Kind of Blue.” Or their equivalents.

      So, some time hence when that installment goes up, instead of “Kind of Blue,” as the “trumpet jazz” pick I choose not “Kind of Blue” or something by Armstrong, but rather “Clifford Brown with Strings.” It’s a great recording that most non-jazz fans have not heard of, and it indeed is a better introduction to a lot of Great American Songbook songs than “Kind of Blue,” which is all original, non-song-form jazz and therefore in that sense sui generis.

      To use another example, Mozart’s Symphony 41, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and Piano Concerto 21 are firmly in the middle of the beaten path, whereas as far as I know, his Sinfonia Concertante is not known to most non-classical listeners. Yet it lets you hear how Mozart shaped the arias and duets in his operas.

      I hope this explanation helps.

      Thanks for reading, and please stay tuned.

      ATB,

      John

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Kind of Blue” is probably Miles Davis’ best record and certainly one of the great jazz records of all time.

        It also happens to be both critically acclaimed and a popular album. It certainly belongs in any modern music appreciation class, yet it has also stood the test of time, still sounding fresh.

        My point above was that a record that has been around for awhile but that isn’t on lists is probably not one that belongs in the “cultural literacy” category, as those who define cultural literacy in our society haven’t identified it as such.

        I can create a “stuff that I like that almost nobody else does” list quite easily. But that doesn’t make it culturally important, it just makes me a music fan with somewhat eclectic tastes.

        I can also create a “music that is important and is on lists (making it relevant) but that a lot of people who I know probably haven’t heard” list. (Since jazz has come up, I would include Wes Montgomery’s “Smokin’ at the Half Note” as one of those.) But that probably doesn’t make your cut, since every jazz fan already knows that album and it’s widely appreciated among those who decide for us what the best jazz is.

        • 0 avatar

          “Kind of Blue” features some decent compositions that are somewhat derivative of his own works on “Milestones” and that are most certainly performed better elsewhere by Miles’ own group—see the 1960 Stockholm live performances on Dragon records. The band wasn’t a good mix—Cannonball certainly didn’t fit with this group. He was much better in other genres of jazz he was in this modal, experimental music. Trane needed more time to fully express himself than he got here. The tempo of “So What” was painfully slow when compared to live versions that the quintet performed. It’s tough to listen to Davis meander through two different Dorian modes for as long as he does here.

          I can’t agree that it’s his best work, merely his most commercially successful.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Again, my point is that cultural relevance is a function of the consensus of those who are in the know.

            For example, I could earnestly believe that Britney Spears is “culturally relevant”, and possibly even make an argument in support of it. But I’ll ultimately be in the wrong, because cultural relevance isn’t a matter of individual opinion.

            Again, there are plenty of things that I like but that aren’t on a meaningful list such as the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. I’m not going to stop liking them because they aren’t on those lists, but I’m not going to claim that they have some stature that they lack, either.

            As it turns out, a lot of these “greatest hits” also happen to be culturally significant. That’s not a coincidence: it was their cultural significance that made them well known. (It probably helps matters if they also have a hook.)

      • 0 avatar

        I think the problem is similar to car enthusiasts critiquing popular cars. The average consumer knows nothing of platforms, and they don’t care about brown turbo diesel station wagons. While Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, and Mozart’s #41 are well known to music buffs I’d bet a majority of Americans have never listened to Miles Davis and John Coltrane and most would only recognize 41 from its use on soundtracks or on commercials (my kids know it as a Nickelodian jingle).

        BTW, are there any fans of Frank Zappa that don’t also like Little Feat and the Grateful Dead?

        I have a hard time listening to Gershwin without thinking of klezmer music. Summertime sounds very Jewish to me.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    If you like The Beatles (I do), but you’re tired of hearing all the same songs over and over (I am), check out “The Beatles: Love” soundtrack from Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas show. You’ll hear “mashups” of Beatles songs in a whole new way.

    It’s heavy in my rotation.

  • avatar
    mikehgl

    Musical tastes vary so widely. One person says Mozart is perfect, the next Clapton. So here’s my pick: Led Zepplin 4, the “Zso-Zso” album. Rock hard with the best.A bit cliche, perhaps? Then go deeper with “The Song Remains The Same”.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    Off the beaten path is not really pushing your music on others, just giving them the chance for discovery. Ask if they like it or not. If not change it.

    You are probably really annoyed with all my suggestions. But you have the choice to skip over them.
    BTW, anyone messing around with Neil Young’s high fidelity PONO format?

    This is “Within Temptation” and the Metropole Orchestra.
    You may need to copy & paste two lines, but worth it!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oB2x5-44Zo&list=PL-nWQ0J27GvQQGRLai6VUo2TkuUj9vzXA&index=17

    If you liked that, listen to the singer (Sharon Den Adel) again in this recording at the 3:20 point. Take that Miley!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj0xGS7uS98&feature=related

    And then there is Phantogram..

  • avatar
    April

    Daytime:

    Babe The Blue Ox – The Way We Were
    Band Of Susans – Here Comes Success

    Nighttime:

    Veruca Salt – American Thights
    Bowery Electric – Self Titled
    Susan Voelz – Summer Crashing

  • avatar
    Moparmann

    For something “off of the beaten path”, I’d like to suggest Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of: The War Of The Worlds [Cast Recording]
    Julie Covington, Jeff Wayne, Richard Burton, Justin Hayward, David Essex, Phil Lynott
    Narrated by Richard Burton, it(IMHO)provides an engrossing rendition of a classic sci-fi story via music and sound effects.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Meh, I listen to a Pandora mash up of Contemporary Country, Classic Country, Latino, and Music Shorty’s Want Dance To. I’ll also use my Soma FM app and listen to Boot Liquor when I’m feeling that.

    Music is a mater of choice and personal taste. Kinda like criticizing auto design.

  • avatar
    Rasputin

    I wish to thank John Marks for his post and all the B & B for their contributions. I have spent the past hour bouncing back & forth between YouTube & here and have been exposed to some very interesting music which I am sure will provide me with many hours of enjoyment. I look forward to John’s follow-up posts – and the comments they generate.

    Posts such as this one, Sunday Stories, and how 8-speed autos work all combine to make TTAC a daily stop since my discovery a few month ago.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      +1. Junkyard Finds brought me here a couple of years ago, and is also my favorite.

    • 0 avatar
      Unlimited Headroom

      Cheers to Mr Marks for the grand idea for this entry to TTAC and the B & B. I am revisiting this string of posts whilst enjoying Milestones and an ‘adult beverage’ on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
      Not driving, though but enjoying nice music and comments.
      A truly great site I visit almost every day.
      Keep it up!

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    This is an undeniably classic album, but I’d say still it’s still on some well-cleared trails. Most will know Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong well. Even staying within modern music with relative popularity, you can find a pretty vast range of choices.

    I put my favorite songs on Tubmlr like a teenager because it’s easy and they sometimes can’t be heard anywhere else: rwbo.tumblr.com/

  • avatar

    If you like this record…

    Mark Turner’s version of “I Loves You, Porgy” from his Ballads recording is soul-crushingly good.

    Marcus Roberts puts a delightful twist on “It Ain’t Necessarily So” on his Gershwin for Lovers recording.

    Finally, Joe Henderson’s take on Porgy is fantastic from top to bottom—and even features Sting!

    However, I must take issue with one comment in this thread. “Summertime” is Jazz For Dummies. The melody is contrived, the chord progression is hopelessly European. Every jazz singer has attempted to make it good, and has failed. It should be laid to rest, along with other vocal standards like “Fly Me to the Moon.”

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Road music? How about the 17 minute version of Inna Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly from 1968. It worked for me at sundown driving across the deserts of central New Mexico. It also worked passing through the Lake Charles, Louisiana refinery district at 3 am on a foggy December morning everything lit like the gates of Hell by flared gas fires.

    Drogas? Who needs las drogas?

  • avatar
    skitter

    Lesser known road trip essentials:
    Blast Tyrant – Clutch
    Live At ATP 2010 – Explosions In The Sky
    In Absentia – Porcupine Tree
    Swoon – Silversun Pickups
    Gish – The Smashing Pumpkins
    Civilian – Wye Oak

    Of course, all these pale in comparison to my own compilations and mixtapes, but then we’re really getting into matters of personal taste.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Top of my list would be “Hejira” by Joni Mitchell, which is an entire album of traveling songs. You gotta love an album that ends with a song entitled “Refuge of the Roads”. I would also include her album “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”, if for nothing else but the title song.

    I don’t find classical music to be all that good during highway travel, the soft parts are inaudible unless the volume’s up so high that the loud parts are inaudible.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    AS with everything it all depends on the drive and the mood.
    Busy commute? Pink Floyd from Meddle on. Stop and go? The Social Network Soundtrack from Reznor/Ross, Aqualung from J. Tull, Supertramp – Crime and Even. Long evening drives in the rain? Road to Hell from C. Rea and Godspeed! You Black Emperor – Infinity and Skinny Fists.

    Certainly sets a mood.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    “Sunflower” by the Beach Boys from 1970 has always been one of my favorite albums, whether on vinyl or CD or other device.

    “Moonlight Serenade” by Carly Simon, 2006. A beautiful album.

    “Traveling Wilburys, Vol.1″ – George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynn & others. Always a fun listen. Good ol’ 80′s music.

    “Want You” by Tony DeSare, 2005. Enjoyable contemporary in the style of traditional pop.

    “Watch What Happens” by Dave Damiani, 2013. Different and enjoyable big band style.

    Honorable mention: 1968′s “Boogie with Canned Heat”. Still a great album.

    Those are my picks.

  • avatar
    Roland

    I drove the Alaska Highway a few years ago with “Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson” playing the whole time on my car’s old auto-reverse cassette deck.

    Guess my musical tastes are lowbrow. I love “Kind of Blue,” and my favourite bop record is Dexter Gordon’s “More Power.” But I don’t listen to that when driving. On most long trips I just play old CCR or Santana albums.


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