Some songs, for one reason or other, belongs to a certain time and place from your travels.
There are certain songs that obviously invoke a sense of place. Sitting On The Dock Of A Bay by Otis Redding, for example, was written on a houseboat in Sausalito, just across the water from San Francisco. You’ll not be able to go there without it being mentioned, and once you’ve been, the song will take you back every time you hear it.
There are others that fit a similar pattern. Vienna by Ultravox and Barcelona by Freddy Mercury and Montserrat Caballe fit at the extremely obvious end of the scale. The likes of Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple (Lake Geneva) and Four Seasons In One Day by Crowded House (Melbourne) are inextricably linked once you know the story behind them.
But it’s not these songs that you end up regarding as your travel songs. Travel songs are ones that come with a memory attached – they become about a place not because the lyrics reference it, but because you heard them there (often constantly).
For me, therefore, Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers doesn’t bring back memories of California. The band may mention their home state in every single song they’ve ever written, just in case you weren’t sure where they’re from, but that song belongs to Bali in my head. I can’t hear the original – I just hear the stilted English, mispronunciations and tortured staccato delivery of Balinese covers bands. Back in 2002, every single one of them sang Californication approximately four times an hour. They probably still do.
Drops of Jupiter by Train is the soundtrack to being almost permanently drunk inwhen I first went out there as a backpacker. You’re The Voice by John Farnham is quite simply the Australian national anthem. Scooter is the band that we couldn’t avoid when we went interrailing around Europe. Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye, for reasons that are funnier if left unexplained, is the sound of being massaged by a charisma-free giant with poor personal hygiene and a beard that screams: “I prefer playing with dwarves and orcs to ladies.”
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Sometimes, these songs take on an extra meaning. Arguably the best trip I ever had was driving up the middle ofwith my then fiancée in 2010. We burned a stash of CDs at home for entertainment, and bought one on the way. The earworm from the latter was a tune called Burn Your Name by Aussie band Powderfinger. It’s a belter, and it ended up on heavy rotation.
When we got married a year later, it ended up being the song we picked for our first dance. In many ways, it was completely inappropriate – no-one else knew it, it’s far too rocky to get away with shuffling along to, and the temptation to just shout along rather than move to it is intense. But we wanted a song that was ours, meaning something to both of us and associated with our time together. And, after that journey, it was the only choice.
All content copyright David Whitley.