Tuesday, 22 June 2010

I've been driving in my car.

There have been several debates; on telly, the radio, in the pub, even in the car itself - about what the best driving song on the planet is. I myself have a number of suggestions - though many would argue my music taste is dire. But what really makes a good driving song appeal to us, and can music really change the way we drive?

This, I felt, was a topic worthy of further investigation. But being a man, and biased because I were to be the driver in the experiment, I couldn't really evaluate my own findings - we all are worse behind the wheel than we like to admit, even if we are the world's greatest drivers. As such, finding the flaws in my own driving would have been a near impossible task. So I took a passenger with me.

The passenger I chose was my mother. As somebody who drives in utter silence, and whose nerves since two non-fault accidents have caused her to become a tad... jumpy when being driven, she would be the perfect person to assess the effect of different music upon my driving style. And following a bribe in the form of a picnic in the countryside on a sunny afternoon, I'd convinced her to take part in the experiment.

Not wishing to push things too far either towards lunacy or lethargy, I selected something with a high pace and upbeat rhythm and something smooth and refined as my 'test tracks' - Rio by Duran Duran and Avalon by Roxy Music. The New Wave beat of Duran Duran would be the perfect contrast to the debonair electric Lounge Lizard that is Mr Ferry, and conveniently I carry both a Duran Duran cassette and a Roxy Music cassette in the Peugeot at all times. To start, out came the album I'd been listening to before, and into the Blaupunkt cassette player went the "Rio" album.

"Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand!" One of my favourite New Wave tracks by one of my favourite New Wave groups, ideal music to drive to on a summer day. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and it served as a reminder of just how sweetly the 306 handles. The weather was perfect, the birds were chirruping, and it felt superb. The track ends, the Bryan Ferry compilation album I have is slotted into the stereo, and even I can feel things slowing down a little. There is something about Bryan Ferry's voice that instantly makes you feel like Mr Cool, for whom everything in life has turned out well, who can afford to take things easy - and just relax. Especially the later Roxy stuff, as per the title track of their last album in 1982; the Ferry take upon the New Romantic era was to revisit the days of people like Crosby and Sinatra, a soothing alternative to the more contemporary collections heard elsewhere.

Testing over, we found a charming little spot at the side of a quiet country road to have our little picnic and reflect upon the results of the experiment. The music described by one of Duran Duran's contemporaries as 'bumpy bumpy bump' music seemingly did little for my driving style - whilst it was conceded that I'm not the sort of arrogant prat you find behind the wheel of most Bee-Ems I was told that Le Bon was not Le Plus Bon vocalist for passenger satisfaction. Roxy Music, it seemed, had the same effect upon my helmsmanship as it did on my mind. Everything was so much smoother, more relaxed, and I was told I seemed pretty much to trained chauffeur standards when listening to soothing music.

So what does this teach those who actively try to improve their driving? Simple. For the majority of the time listen to smooth and soothing tracks - if Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music aren't for you, try someone like James Blunt. On the occasions where you're either doing sporting B-road blasts or in areas with higher speed limits, listen to the faster paced stuff - my personal preferences are things like Phil Collins and Duran Duran, but a lot of pop would fit into this category. And if you want to listen to rap music that everyone can feel as you drive by - you're clearly a mentalist. Go away.


  1. Sam, Just found your blog by accident while surfing for 'modernisers of classic cars', something I see from one of your earlier posts you don't necessarily agree with. I want to modernise a Triumph Stag by essentially replacing all its running gear with BMW components (it can be done). I do not think that one more mutant Stag would thin the classic car gene pool too much although you may feel anyone lunatic enough to waste money on such a project should be culled immediately to prevent further contamination of the human gene pool.

    I have spent the afternoon reading your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't feel as though I have been 'wasting my bloody time again' as my wife rather curtly suggested when she walked in just now.

    Your close on this article was classic. In Angola, where I live, they do not have volume controls for their ICE, they have ON OFF switches. They are like mobile earthquakes. The US (Raytheon) have invested so much money in their new non lethal sonic crowd control system. If they were so keen on busting eardrums refining the 'Brown Note' and with their rendition skills, I would have been delighted to help them ship a few of these numpties and their equipment out of my neighbourhood and they could have saved themselves a fortune.

    I was stationed in Germany in the early eighties. When I set off to visit my grandparents in the Black Forest, I used to slot in Santana's Abraxus album. Nice slow start which, if I timed it right, turned frenetic as I came off the slip road onto the Autobahn. Then it was just a question of keeping the visual cue of the white fifty metre markers flashing by in time to the beat (about 125mph).

    I have put a link to your blog on mine so that my friends can find it, most of them are interested in cars.

    If you want me to remove it, please let me know.

    Best Regards

    Tom Gowans

  2. Excellent! Someone else who tried to time music to certain points - there is a rather pleasant winding road near me that becomes derestricted at a certain point - I try to time my Genesis album so the derestricted section coincides with Jesus He Knows Me.

    I'm keen on the idea of a modernised Stag - but I'm less keen on your idea of BMW bits. It's a touch prejudiced of me, but back in Blighty BMW drivers tend to be arrogant and pushy types and also I hold BMW primarily responsible for the downfall of Rover - as an ardent BL fan this only fuels the prejudice.

    I would quite like to see a Stag with the 3.5 litre version of the Jag V8 as found in early X350s, and with an uprated interior along the lines of what Jensen did to turn the Interceptor into the S4.

    As I've commented on your own blog, I've no problem with your link to my blog - quite the opposite, I'm grateful to you for having done so.