Soundtrack For a Road Movie


Because we are going to need some music to play in the car on our trip to Scotland


A road movie is a film where the characters drive incredibly long distances in cars, having adventures and encounters along the way.

Characters get in cars and go places to …

  • go somewhere and meet someone or prove something
  • run away from something or someone
  • to undergo a journey of initiation or self discovery
  • embark upon a quest

For a successful movie in this genre, there are a few of “basic ingredients.”

the car – a beaten-up, but well-loved 1950’s Chevrolet convertible, preferably a Bel Air or an Impala (though personally I’d opt for the mid-seventies Caprice Classic)

setting and landscapes – as bleak and as dusty as possible. Interminable stretches of flat tarmac leading off into the middle of nowhere with buttes and mesas bordering the highway

Cheap motels – The long road to nowhere is punctuated by lonely, “cheap motels” where hero or heroine will at best, get drunk, stoned, laid or robbed and at worst, be brutally murdered in the shower. The aforementioned hero or heroine might stop at one of these places for the night or for a lifetime. (If I did the cheap motel thing, I’d be far more worried about the cleanliness of the bedding rather than the possibility of getting murdered in the shower?)

the title – Well, John Kerouac nabbed the best title “on the road.” Some duality is always a good idea – “Thelma and Louise” or “Sailor and Lula”. There are of course those road movies that are more journey than highway, such as the Joseph Conrad classic “The Heart of Darkness.” I suppose that even the 1939 classic MGM musical “The Wizard of Oz” is a “yellow brick” road movie.

The Characters

A few examples

  • Those people who just want to get away somewhere because they have never been anywhere.
  • Falsely-accused murderer on the run in quest to prove his innocence.
  • Young girl whisked away by hurricanes and plonked down in imaginary lands.
  • Elves, dwarves, wizards, hobbits and similar mythical characters, in search of treasure or on a perilous and impossible journey to save their world.
  • Bored housewives, looking for fun.

There is no, single typical road movie character – as long as someone is going somewhere or nowhere for a reason – you have a road movie.

Music for  a road movie.

You need to start with a big song as you drive out across the plains, Something to kickstart your trail blazing journey. The Bruce Springsteen classic “Born to Run” is a definite contender as a road movie opener. In sheer kickstart terms though, a blast of “Born to be wild,” by Steppenwolf is just the ticket

“Get your motor runnin’

Head out on the highway

Looking for adventure

In whatever comes our way.”

After an exhilarating opener, you need something to take you down to cruising speed – and the best cruising song ever has to be the “Drift Away” – the John Henry Jurtz original isn’t bad, but I prefer the Dobie Gray cover version – more soulful and less West coast.

So far all the songs are American, designed for driving across endless dusty plains or cruising along an interminable tarmac strip that shimmers in the heat, bordered on either side by buttes and messas and leading (of course), into the middle of nowhere.

These songs  are all about escaping. Not quite the soundtrack that I intended for my road movie.

We are off to Scotland on a family holiday cum pilgrimage to mum’s last resting place. Sure there will be a few American classics on my soundtrack but it needs more of the high road and the low road than Route 66. I can’t quite see myself driving my Chevrolet Impala down to the “Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond,” when a good old Morris Traveller would be more appropriate.

My memories of Scottish road movie music are more of mum singing “stop yer tickling jock” at the top of her voice as we bumped along the Scottish roads in our Beige Morris 1300, me and big bruv fighting in the back and Gran sitting in the front, grumbling and wanting to stop every ten minutes for a wee.

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