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Three songs for the perfect summer road trip playlist

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you have travel plans for the summer and if those plans involve long stretches in the car, naturally, you are going to need some good music to blast. Well, NPR music contributor Marissa Lorusso and NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour host Stephen Thompson are here to walk us through three of their favorite tracks for that perfect summer road trip playlist.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: There is no way that we could possibly run the full gamut of road trip music in just three songs. These picks are just to get you started. Marissa, could you kick us off? Give us a song that you're going to play on your next road trip.

MARISSA LORUSSO, BYLINE: OK, so the first song I'm bringing as an ideal road trip song is "Closer To Fine" by the Indigo Girls.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOSER TO FINE")

INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) And the less I seek my source for some definitive closer I am to fine, yeah, closer I am to fine, yeah.

LORUSSO: So "Closer To Fine," of course, the opening track on Indigo Girls' breakthrough sophomore album, "Indigo Girls" from 1989 - I think it's probably the song people think of when they think of Indigo Girls. At the heart of the Indigo Girls and what makes them so special is this deep friendship and collaboration between Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, and of course you hear that in the way they sing, right? Like, there's the main melody and the countermelody, and they just kind of, like, interact with each other. Something that's important to me in a road trip song is high singalong potential, which I think, obviously, "Closer To Fine" - extremely high singalong potential. This song to me sounds like just, like, being in the car with your friends, windows rolled down, everyone is trying to, like, both sing the main melody and the countermelody at the same time. Even if you don't know the words, you probably know the part of the chorus that goes - closer to fine - great singalong track.

THOMPSON: Yeah, this is a great choice. And I got to say, this song came out when I was 17 years old. There are not many songs that are more crucial to at least my own musical development than this one. I fell spectacularly in love with this song. And so, for me, this is a perfect road trip song because not only does it have that great singalong potential, but it has a harkening back to my youth potential, which is always good for a driving song. If driving makes you feel young, this is the way to do it.

LORUSSO: Absolutely.

THOMPSON: All right. So way back in 2008, NPR Music put together a series called Road Trip Songs To Drive By, which was a collection of five-song road trip playlists to kind of spark people's imagination, and I put one together. You know, I did one, of course, that was, like, crushingly sad songs. That's my wheelhouse. But I also did one that was called "Nine-Minute Road Trip," which was five songs that added up to a total of nine minutes, and they were supposed to present, like, an entire world of experiences that you would be having in nine minutes. And one of my favorite songs on that playlist is "Song 2" by Blur.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONG 2")

BLUR: (Singing) When I feel heavy metal - woo-hoo (ph) - and I'm pins and I'm needles - woo-hoo - well, I lie, and I'm easy all of the time. But I'm never sure why I need you. Pleased to meet you.

THOMPSON: So two things about "Song 2" - one is you mentioned that high singalong potential. If you don't sing along with the woo-hoo and then the part of the song that's like (vocalizing)...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: So you can mouth along with what are probably the lyrics, but then you get to yell, woo-hoo. The other thing about this song is it's perfect, ideally, if you are road tripping on the autobahn because it is very, very, very hard not to absolutely max out your car's possible speed for the two minutes and two seconds of "Song 2."

LORUSSO: I think that's such a great road trip song as well because you could really put that at the beginning of a playlist to hype you up. You could put it in the middle of a playlist when you need to kind of reach an emotional peak.

THOMPSON: Yep.

LORUSSO: And then you could also put it at the end of a playlist to kind of send you off into the world - great choice.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much. How about you? You got another one for us?

LORUSSO: I do. OK, so there is about a trillion Beyonce songs that would be great for a road trip playlist. I chose the song "Love On Top" from her album "4," which came out in 2011.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE ON TOP")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Baby, it's you. You're the one I love. You're the one I need. You're the only one I see. Come on, baby, it's you. You're the one that gives your all.

LORUSSO: I think there's not much I could say about Beyonce that hasn't been said, but for me, this was one of the first songs that really, like, made me feel totally blown away by Beyonce. It is a great hype-up song, which I think is another good genre of road trip playlist track. But the thing about "Love On Top" is that there's that part at the end where, you know, she, like, sings the chorus a bunch of times, and it modulates. And it changes keys, so every time it gets higher, and she's just, like, singing higher and higher and higher. And I defy you to be in the car with one or more Beyonce fans - which, like, it could also include yourself - and not try to, like, keep up with all of those key changes and have a huge smile on your face. It simply cannot be done. As a person with, like, a relatively high speaking voice, I feel like I'm at an advantage to keep up with Beyonce, but of course, I wouldn't say that I can keep up with Beyonce. But anyway, I think that makes for a good road trip fun.

THOMPSON: Nice. Literally nobody can keep up with Beyonce.

LORUSSO: To be clear.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, Beyonce has - I can vouch. Like, I have seen proof that Beyonce is great on road trips. We have a kind of like a family road trip playlist, you know, that I put together. It's called "Katie Is In The Car." And when I first put it together, it was probably about 80 songs, and like 11 of them were by Beyonce.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: So you really - I would also say "Countdown" is great in the car. "XO" is great in the car.

LORUSSO: Great choice.

THOMPSON: Really, like, if you were just starting a foundational road trip playlist, just dumping all your Beyonce onto it and then subtracting is a great way to go.

LORUSSO: That's a great place to start.

KELLY: That was NPR music contributor Marissa Lorusso and Pop Culture Happy Hour host Stephen Thompson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)