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…


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3 thoughts on “Top 20 Songs of Solo Travel – Part 2”

  1. Listening to this coming in on the train this morning…made me wanna dance around the carriage. I refrained.

  2. 1. America – Simon & Garfunkel
    That ennui of travel.
    Key line: and the moon rose over an open field.

    2. Cortez The Killer – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
    The slow brooding pulse I always thought was well-suited to night driving.
    Key Line: and I know she’s living there, and she loves me to this day. I cant remember where or how I lost my way.

    3. Shore Leave – Tom Waits
    So evocative can smell the bad food by the quayside, the cigarettes, the stale booze.

    4. And it Stoned Me – Van Morrison
    A key moment for me was this song, before dawn at Uluru, seeing the train trickle down the sacred landscape like slivers of molten silver.

    5/6. Big Rock Candy Mountain/This Land is Your Land
    Standards. Enough said.

    7. Girl From The North Country – Bob Dylan
    Could have picked If You See Her, Say Hello but this song, the original freewheeling version (although the duet with Johnny Cash is a fine song too) plenty of yearning and such.

    8. Ramblin’ Man – Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell
    A different mood here, great swagger and swing here – and the counter-point of nymphish whisper and Lanegan’s broken bark make the 21st century Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra comparison wholly apt.

    9.Blind Faith – Can’t Find My Way Home
    Back to wistful again, close to the perfect song. Steve Winwood’s pleading, pure tone and Ginger Baker’s sympathetic percussion, all bound together with Eric Clapton before he became a cliché.

    10. Gimme Shelter – Rolling Stones
    Another claim for possibly the perfect song, the brooding menace in the production and its endless use in car adverts when we were impressionable probably goes a long way to explain how this gets in – but there is nary a note wasted in this song. It’s like a poem, taught and punchy.

  3. When I travelled through Scandinavia in the summer of 2013, ‘Wake Me Up’ by Avicii played several hundred times a day from every radio station in every country – it blared out of every shop, car stereo and boomed through every club speaker. At the start of my journey I found it annoying, but by the time I got to Helsinki, dancing to it with beautiful Finnish women along with dozens of other Europop anthems in a local disco, I was madly in love with it. Almost 40 countries later, it still raises a smile.

    Killer line: “Hope I get a chance to travel the world”…

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