NPR logo Songs For When The City Lights Fade

Songs For When The City Lights Fade

Brooklyn bridge at dusk
Alex Nikada/iStock.com

Driving here in New York City can be a frustrating experience — all traffic and lights and horns. Nothing sounds good. But get out on the highway, and you can shut off the damn traffic reports and listen to a different kind of horn. From John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" to Deep Purple's "Highway Star," these five songs are brimming with the kind of energy that frees the mind. Even if you're held hostage at home by the crushing cost of gas, this music is enough to propel your imagination down the road on virtual wheels.

For more entries in this summer's weekly Road Trip: Songs to Drive By series, click here.

Songs For When The City Lights Fade

Cover for Adams: Two Fanfares for Orchestra; Common Tones in Simple Time; El Dorado

Short Ride in a Fast Machine, fanfare for orchestra

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Short Ride in a Fast Machine

  • Song: Short Ride in a Fast Machine, fanfare for orchestra
  • from Adams: Two Fanfares for Orchestra; Common Tones in Simple Time; El Dorado
  • by John Adams

The title says it all. Big and bold and brassy, Adams' short orchestral piece moves along at a good clip -- just the thing for when you finally clear city traffic and hit the open road.

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Song
Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Album
Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Artist
John Adams

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Cover for Either/Orchestra's Moanin'

Moanin'

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Moanin'

  • from Radium
  • by Either/Orchestra

More horns, this time from the great jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus. Inspired by the wordless praying of Southern Baptist churches, this is a spirited romp with more than a hint of funk. You could go for Mingus' own version from The Complete Atlantic Recordings 1956-1961, but the Either/Orchestra's performance from the album Radium might be slightly more road-friendly.

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Song
Radium
Album
Radium
Artist
Either/Orchestra
Label
Accurate Jazz
Released
1987

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Cover for Ethiopiques, Vol. 7: Ere Mela Mela

Abbay Mado

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Abbay Mado

  • from Ethiopiques, Vol. 7: Ere Mela Mela
  • by Mahmoud Ahmed

The parade of horns continues with one of the all-time great singers from Ethiopia's remarkable jazz/pop scene in the early '70s. Mahmoud Ahmed and his band clearly knew their James Brown, but the slightly exotic scales, like a cool breeze off the coast of the Indian Ocean, keep things from overheating. At least on your side of the dashboard.

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Song
Ethiopiques, Vol. 7: Ere Mela Mela
Album
Ethiopiques, Vol. 7: Ere Mela Mela
Artist
Mahmoud Ahmed
Label
Buda Musique
Released
1999

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Cover for Deep Purple: Highway Star

Highway Star

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Highway Star

  • from Very Best of Deep Purple [EMI Single Disc]
  • by Deep Purple

Forget "Smoke On The Water" (if you can) -- this is the real classic on Deep Purple's Machine Head album. With its (ahem) driving rhythm and musical screams, this paean to "my woman/my car" (sometimes hard to know which one he's singing about) just might take you back to a time when heavy metal, long hair, and raving about your car were all cool. But that's okay: This is still the ultimate open-road song.

Buy Featured Music

Song
Very Best of Deep Purple [EMI Single Disc]
Album
Very Best of Deep Purple [EMI Single Disc]
Artist
Deep Purple
Label
EMD Int'l
Released
1998

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Purchase Featured Music

Very Best of Deep Purple [EMI Single Disc]

Purchase Music

Buy Featured Music

Album
Very Best of Deep Purple [EMI Single Disc]
Artist
Deep Purple
Label
EMD Int'l
Released
1998

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

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