Top 20 Songs of Solo Travel – Part 2

10. This Mortal Coil – Song To The Siren

Purists may question my decision to select a cover version over Tim Buckley’s original, but when a cover is this good, I really don’t give a monkey’s. Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins here slowly, surely drawing me loving to her isle. A song about madness and loneliness, about the dream that lies just over the horizon.

On a calm, clear night with the stars reflected on the water, miles from land, looking out from the bridge, an island volcano to port, its peak smouldering orange, and to starboard an electrical storm raging silently over the mouth of the great Sepik River, this is the only track worth listening to. If it doesn’t make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck you might want to check for a pulse.

Killer line: Sail to me, sail to me let me enfold you…

9. The New Pornographers – Go Places

Okay, since the last one was a bit of a downer, I’ll pull you back from the abyss with this track by one of my favourites – The New Pornographers. Like We’re Here (#4), it manages to pack more travel-related allusions into four minutes than one would deem possible, and why it’s on this list should be rather self-evident.

Killer line: Make records then set them…

8. Leonard Cohen – Suzanne

Another song that just slays me. A ballad about love and loss, Jesus and sailors, tea and oranges, flowers amidst the garbage… and finally seeing what’s there in front of you the whole time.

Killer line: And you want to travel with her…

7. The Naked and Famous – Hearts Like Ours

Tee hee I can see my indie friends spitting out their lattes at this one. I don’t care if it’s a pop song, I don’t care if it’s got a reeeeeally naff electric guitar riff or that it’s sung by a New Zealand group that isn’t Flight of the Conchords: it’s boss. The very song you need blasting into your ears when you’re careering down the Camino Del Muerte on a bike with no brakes. Fact.

Killer line: Borders and horizon lines…

6. The National – Slow Show

An urgent, pressing guitar riff offset by lead singer Matt Berninger’s deep, melancholic tones… perfect for when you need to stop and reassess the situation. Like a few other tracks on this list, it’s ostensibly about alcoholism, but it fits so well with the loneliness and crippling self-doubt that can seize you while all alone and far from home.

And has there been a more beautiful line in the history of music than “you know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I found you”? I started The Odyssey when I was 29.

Killer line: I want to hurry home to you…

BONUS!! Here’s a secret, unseen video of me singing along to Slow Show whilst clinging on for dear life top of a truck in the badlands of Northern Kenya.

5. Sigur Rós – Hoppípolla

A song for all seasons, this ridiculously epic track about jumping into puddles is like getting into a warm bath after the end of a long, hard day of travel.

Although the bath in this case is a thermal hot spring in Iceland and there are beautiful women dressed as Norse goddesses on roller-skates dispensing Takamaka rum and Ginger Kisses while in the distance Rock Hudson fights Falkor the Luck Dragon with a lightsaber whilst riding on Battlecat. Probably.

Killer line: Hendumst í hringi, höldumst í hendur, allur heimurinn óskýr.

4. Guillemots – We’re Here

Expertly placed on their Through The Windowpane album immediately after my choice for the most heartbreaking song in the world (If The World Ends), Fyfe Dangerfield turns it all around with this barnstorming track about love and wonder, joy and pain, waves, mountains, sky and the road less travelled… the world is our dancefloor now.

Fitting perfectly with the second year of my adventure, if nothing else it taught me to stop panicking, slow down and smell the goddamn roses. When I can’t move, I’ll savour the pause for a while.

This track speaks to me about the achievement in just trying and the exuberance of the moment: nothing is worth winning without a fight. A song by Guillemots – a band famous for making love sound like a mental health problem – that makes me wanna run to the top of a mountain and punch the air? Wowsers. I even used it on my Odyssey Expedition: Year 2 video.

Killer line: Our train stopped moving hours ago…

BONUS!! Here’s my Odyssey Expedition: Year 2 video!

3. Tindersticks – Travelling Light

On its first listen, it could be a duet of bitter ex-lovers to rival the great Fairy Tale of New York, but I prefer to imagine Travelling Light as an internal piece, a cocktail of scorched emotions and nagging doubts, an argument going on in the mind of a weary traveller. What really am I achieving here? What’s the point? Am I actually enjoying myself?

The end result is the delicious back-and-forth of the ego saying that none of it matters, us travellers, imbued with wanderlust and determination; we have no baggage. The superego says no, this stuff matters – you can pretend you can just hit the road and leave it all behind, but it’s all a front. You don’t travel light. No-one does.

Killer line: Some things you have to lose along the way…

2. Muse – Starlight

You know when you hear a song and you find yourself convinced that it was written especially for you? Like every Adele song for every woman in their mid-30s? Well plink-plonk-plink here’s Muse with Starlight, a song so filled with references to visiting every country without flying it’s almost uncanny. They even filmed the music video on a cargo ship, for heaven’s sake.

Killer line: This ship is taking me far away…

1. The Killers – Human

Released in the same year that I kissed goodbye to my girlfriend Mandy and set off for South America, Human by The Killers quickly became the anthem for The Odyssey Expedition. Upbeat, triumphant and infused with a sense of purpose, it’s a whole lot more than its (slightly) moronic refrain; it’s about getting off your arse, burning your bridges and saying tatty-bye to the life you leave behind. Rather fitting, don’t you think?

Killer line: Wave goodbye, wish me well, you’ve gotta let me go…


<<< Back to Part 1

Top 20 Songs of Solo Travel – Part 1

Let’s get something clear from the outset: this is not a dedicated list put together by an international team of musos who spend all day every day listening to cutting-edge music through ludicrously expensive Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones. It’s a personal list of songs that – for one reason or another – I must have in my ears at some point while travelling.

Here goes….!

20. Carter USM – The Impossible Dream

Trust Jim Bob to turn an all-time favourite showtune into an overblown drunken karaoke singalong spectacular, as gleefully demented as Sid Vicious’s take on My Way. Fitting perfectly with the Quixotic nature of The Odyssey Expedition, this was my go-to track whenever things weren’t going my way.

Did you know this got nominated for a Grammy?! Who knew?!!

Killer line: And the world will be better for this…

19. Morrissey – I Will See You In Far-Off Places

While it’s not one of his best, this is probably Ol’ Misery Guts’ most prescient song when it comes to my life (although Last of the Famous International Playboys comes a close second). And, yes, this came true again and again on my journey, with me meeting up with or running into people I knew in some exceptionally far-off places indeed.

Killer line: If the USA doesn’t bomb you…

18. Cake: The Distance

One-and-a-half hit wonder Cake here with one of the more bizarrely upbeat songs of this Top 20, about a guy who just will not quit, no matter what. Inspirational much?

Killer line: The sun has gone down the moon has come up…

17. David Bowie – Heroes

Oh Bowie. Why did you have to leave us? There’s a dark delight to the futile urgency of Heroes; one man, desperately screaming into the void that we can do this. It often feels that way when you’re on the road, attempting to do what others have already written off as impossible (see #10). Just stick with me, we can do this. Or maybe we can’t. But we can at least try, nobody can fault us for that.

Killer line: I wish I could swim…

16. Blur – This Is A Low

Jeez Damo, could you write a song that makes me feel more homesick? This ditty, based on Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast, takes the listener on a boat trip around the British Isles from the Dogger Bank to the Bay of Biscay and back for tea. This song made me smile on those long boat journeys, just thinking about ol’ Queenie going round the bend and jumping off Land’s End.

Killer line: And so into the sea…

BONUS: Here’s me flying about the place before I thought it might be more fun not to fly (I may have been wrong).

15. Louis Armstrong – Moon River

Oh Audrey, I’m sorry to muscle you out, but I’ve got to give the mic to Satchmo for this one. A timeless melody that (quite rightly) won the Oscar for best song back in 1961, Harry Mancini’s simple lullaby succinctly sums up the aspirations of everybody who feels the urge to grab a backpack and see for themselves what lies beyond the river’s bend.

Killer line: Two drifters off to see the world…

14. Black Box Recorder – I Ran Away The Way Home

When I returned, girlfriendless, to Sri Lanka in the late summer of 2012, this was all I listened to on repeat. I was sick of this stupid journey. I regressed into a rather childish mentality. Happily I was rescued by a passing ship, just like she dreams of in the song, so that worked out alright.

Killer line: Send a message to a passing ship…

Sadly I can’t find it on YouTube so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. In the meantime, here’s England Made Me by the same band. You’ll get the gist.

13. Bright Eyes – We Are Nowhere And It’s Now

A waltz for the dispossessed, this jaunty ditty of alcohol and despair might not at first seem to fit with the typical travel narrative, but talk of passenger seats and the world passing by utterly qualifies it in my book. Plus the title was how I felt on more than one occasion. Sometimes you’ve got to make do with what you’ve got, m’kay?

Killer line: I haven’t been gone very long…

12. The Aliens – Honest Again

There’s a moment when you’re alone on an overnight bus and you’re winding through the mountains and you look up at the sky and the stars are clearer than you could ever imagine and all you want in the world is for somebody you love to be sitting next to you so you can hold their hand and share the experience, but no, you’re all alone. This song is the soundtrack to that moment.

Killer line: How long will it be till I see you again…?

11. Elbow – On A Day Like This

Yes it’s another indie song about alcoholism, but come on, Team GB picked this as their Olympic anthem for a reason – it’s bloomin’ wonderful! It’ll always remind me of being awake in a grotty bus station at some ungodly hour and getting that intangible buzz that one only feels at the start of some new adventure, watching the sun rise through the dust and the smog and deciding there and then – against all reason – that all is right with the world.

Killer line: Throw those curtains wide…

BONUS: Here’s my video of Team GB mooching around London with all their lovely medals.


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