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FAVORITE ROAD MUSIC

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Wed, Jun 23, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

FAVORITE ROAD MUSIC

By ROY NAKANO Live in Los Angeles long enough, and sooner or later you'll spend an inordinate amount of time on the road. LA is a car town, and many people end up hearing more music on the sound systems of their cars than they do in their homes. I've been fortunate enough to get my hands on vehicles with some the finest audio systems sold in this country. The hardware brand names will sound familiar to home audiophiles: Mark Levinson, Nakamichi, MB Quart, Harman Kardon, Infinity, Boston Acoustics, JBL. Good mobile audio reaches for some of the same criteria that one finds at home: Low coloration, accurate imaging, full frequency extension, and wide dynamic range. The driving experience, however, has little similarly to the living room sofa. One must concentrate on the road, and the music serves a subordinate role to the drive. Still, music is important to the quality of the drive, and here is my list of favorites for serving that function.

Favorite Music to Cruise the Autobahn: Autobahn, by Kraftwerk (EMI Electrola CDP 564-7 46153 2 Compact Disc) Okay, there's no Autobahn in this country. But there are freeways and highways, and once in a while you can actually get some speed going on them. Today, a lot of people are into the electronic sounds of techno music, but its lineage can be traced back to this 1974 album. The album leads with the title track, which starts out with the slam of a car door and the turn of the ignition. From there, it's a 22-minute journey that, at times, sounds like the Beach Boys singing in German and playing synthesizer music. The last six minutes of the title track will test the capabilities of your mobile sound system. The rest of the album compliments the title track well, but all of it sounds best on smooth, fast roads. Favorite Music to Play on a Mark Levinson Sound System: Use Your Illusions, Volumes I & II, by Guns N' Roses (Geffen GEFD-2441S & 24420 Compact Discs) One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Mark Levinson system in the Lexus SC430 is that you can turn the volume up all the way and there is no discernable distortion. Only one other factory sound system I know of can accomplish this feat, and it was the Nakamichi system fitted on premium versions of older Lexus automobiles. On lesser systems, this vintage GNR set sounds pretty pedestrian. On the ML system, however, it blossoms. If you can get through the entire album without hearing any distortion, you have one helluva system. If you can't, you still have some of the best GNR music around. Favorite Road Rage Recording: The Marshall Mathers LP, by Eminem (Aftermath Ent./Interscope Records 069490629-2 Compact Disc) There's nothing like a fresh cup of Eminem to wake you up in the morning. As you pull out of your driveway, take a sip of "The Marshall Mathers LP." You don't even need a cupholder. Parents of young children seem to hate Eminem, but critics say this was the best rock album of Y2K. There is an emotional rawness in this album that reminds me of X's "Los Angeles" or, even more, John Lennon's first solo effort, "Plastic Ono Band." Critics point to the European pop chart hit "Stan" as an example of Eminem's outstanding craft. However, the real road rage cut to hear is "The Way I Am," which seems to combine Lennon's "Mother," "I Found Out," and "Isolation," all into one potent cup of caffeine. The sound quality of this album is pretty good, too. Favorite Pyrotechnics Recording: Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd, by (who else) Pink Floyd (Capitol Compact Disc 2 CD CDP 7243 5 36111 2 5) At first blush, putting together a best-of Pink Floyd album seems like heresy. After all, "The Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Wall" are albums to be enjoyed in their entirety. This two-disc CD collection is not even in chronological order. Moreover, whoever edited this collection had the huzpe to start some songs even before the previous selection ends. Songs are grouped by waves of contrast - e.g., fast-slow, high-low, old-new. Strange, but this arrangement works - particularly in the car. According to Rolling Stone, this collection received the individual band members' full involvement. The pyrotechnics that Pink Floyd albums are known for are all here - and with the high fidelity sound quality that audiophiles expect from this group. Favorite Material Girl Recordings: The Immaculate Collection (Sire/Warner Bros. 9 26440-2 Compact Disc) and GHV2 (Maverick/Warner Bros.; 9 48000-2 Compact Disc), by Madonna A problem with many greatest hits collections that that the music tends to all sound the same. Not so with Madonna's "Immaculate Collection" and her latest, "GHV2." The songs are as varied as her look from year-to-year. These collections seem particularly well-suited for mobile audio, with their squeaky-clean sound quality, outstanding separation, and dynamics. Moreover, the songs themselves hold up quite well, despite the age of her earliest works. Madonna used something similar to Carver's Sonic Hologram generator to enhance the sound of "Immaculate," and "GHV2" (a collection of Madonna's hits from 1992-2001) benefits from the latest production technology - a byproduct of the artist's perfectionist bent. Favorite Way to Know Which Way The Wind Blows: 8:30, by Weather Report (Columbia/Legacy CK 57665 Compact Disc) When Miles Davis performed and released Joseph Zawinul's composition "In A Silent Way," jazz was forever transformed. The electronic jazz sound that Zawinul pioneered with Davis took a quantum leap forward when Zawinul teamed up with co-Davis band member Wayne Shorter to create Weather Report. The height of the group's sound (always better sounding live than in the studio) was captured in the 1979 live album "8:30." Here, Zawinul and Shorter play with their strongest line-up, which at that time featured bassist extraordinaire Jaco Pastorius and drummer Peter Erskine. This album has all the favorites, including an exemplary version of "Birdland." Also featured is a performance of "In A Silent Way," which sounds closer to Zawinul's solo album than it does to the more well-known Miles Davis version. IMHO, this is Weather Report's best album, and one of the best for playing on a twisting road and going through the gears. Favorite Recording to Cruise The Coast: The Köln Concert, by Keith Jarrett (ECM 1064/65 78118-21064-2 Compact Disc) The scenic drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles along coastal Highway One is a long one. With the right music, however, the hours are shortened considerably. Keith Jarrett's masterful "The Köln Concert" still does a better job at this than any recording I know. This record captured Jarrett at the height of his improvisational popularity. The piece is a lengthy but cohesive solo piano work. It fits together so well, it's hard to believe that he made it all up while he was playing it. The critics have called it one of the best jazz works of the post-60s era. Early CDs had edited out key portions of the performance, but this recent version has all the music. Favorite Recording in Rush-Hour Traffic: Top Gun - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Special Expanded Edition (Columbia/Legacy CK 6555-4 Compact Disc) What I want to hear while cruising the coast is a whole lot different than what I want to hear in rush-hour traffic. Top Gun has been a perennial favorite among car enthusiasts, and it remains the recording of choice for the rush-hour freeway venue. The CD's first cut, "Danger Zone" seems particularly appropriate for rush-hour traffic. I put the Tiptronic transmission into manual mode for Top Gun. It keeps me alert and quick on my feet. The 1999 re-release has five additional songs, and the recording quality exceed the original. Your vehicle's sound system must be able to reproduce the full frequency range to enjoy this one at its fullest. Favorite Classical Recording for Driving: Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3, performed by the London Sinfonietta, David Zinman conducting, Dawn Upshaw soprano (Electra Nonesuch 9 79282-2 Compact Disc) I have difficulty listening to most classical music in the car. The music demands a silent, captivated listening experience, and there are simply very few venues available on the road that can deliver that kind of environment. One exception has been minimalist classical music. Minimalism allows me to enjoy the music and still concentrate on the road. Among my favorites is the 1991 Electra Nonesuch recording of the London Sinfonietta's performance of Kenryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3. Composed in 1979, the work is about a World War II concentration camp in Poland - specifically, a mother's grief over the loss of her son to a camp. Although the piece is steeped in minimalism, it is by no means light music (as can be expected, given the content of the music). Notwithstanding the sadness and pain in the subject matter, this work is hauntingly beautiful and ultimately (with Dawn Upshaw's vocal accompaniment) uplifting. On The Road Again If you live in a commuter city, the car you commute in often feels like a mobile, desert island. It's no wonder that good music through a good sound system can play a big role in the quality of the commuting experience. Mitsubishi and Volkswagen know this, so their commercials feature some very good driving music (uncoincidentally, these two car companies also enjoy having the youngest group of buyers in the automotive market). Now the companies offer CDs compiling the music from there commercials. Are You In? - The Mitsubishi Mix Vol. 1 (Warner Special Products OPCD 1973 Compact Disc) The Mitsubishi Mix features some catchy rock pieces such as Iggy Pop's Lust For Life (the Galant commercial), Barenaked Ladies' One Week, and T-Rex's 20th Century Boy. Curiously, the Mix is missing Dirty Vegas' catchy Days Go By - the one where the young female passenger is upper-body dancing in the car (maybe it's being saved for Vol. 2). Since Are You In? is available for free at your local Mitsubishi dealer ("while supplies last" as they say), one can't quibble about a missing song. Street Mix - Music From Volkswagen Commercials (Volume 1) (Universal Music Special Markets 3145609992 Compact Disc) Volkswagen's Street Mix is more eclectic than Mitsubishi's, with tunes ranging from Nick Drake's Pink Moon (the Cabriolet commercial), to Charles Mingus' straight up II BS, to Master Cylinder's Jung at Heart (the Jetta windshield wiper music) - plus a good mix of techno. Still, there's plenty of pop, including Trio's Da Da Da and Styx's Mr. Roboto. Street Mix is $10, and is available via vw.com. Nissan 350Z Music (Sony Music Custom Marketing Group A 59937 Compact Disc) Nissan has also featured some great music in their commercials. Cases in point: The Smithereens' Blood and Roses on their Maxima commercials; and Lenny Kravitz's Fly Away, for their Xterra commercials. This disc, however, is all 350Z. Much of the disc features Five For Fighting's best known songs (e.g., Easy Tonight, Superman, and America Town). The genre is soft rock (textbook desert island music). Hopefully, you can get this disc at Nissan dealer, but this one arrived in a press packet with no explanation. Satellite Radio: Sirius Radio and XM Radio Okay, I digress here. These aren't discs. Truth be told: I'd rather have digital satellite radio than any set of CDs or long playing records on this list. Sonically, satellite radio blows away any commercial analog FM signal on the market. No one can guaranty that XM or Sirius will be around forever, but the initial outlay is mere peanuts for audiophiles (about what one pays for a moderately high-end phono cartridge). The quality of the signal and the vast array of material offered (includes uncensored comedy, just about every musical genre you can think of, kids radio, public radio, sports, news, etc.) is worth the low monthly service fee ($9.99 per month for more established XM service and $12.95 for the totally commercial-free Sirius service). Curiously, I find myself listening to music that I'd otherwise overlook - the sound quality, music selection, and built-in radio data system encourages one to do this. Be sure to choose a direct feed over an RF modulator, if you want the best quality sound. Give me digital satellite radio on the desert island, and I'll be pretty happy. "Favorite Road Music" also appears in The Sensible Sound (www.sensiblesound.com), and is reprinted here by permission. The Sensible Sound is an audiophile magazine that focuses on affordable equipment reviews. LA CAR's Roy Nakano is a writer for the magazine. Single copies are available at your newsstands for $7.00 (Canada $10.00). A one-year subscription is $29 (www.sensiblesound.com/subscriptions.htm).

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