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July 03, 2024

Summer road trip guide: Music, podcast and audiobook recommendations to get through those long drives

From movie soundtracks to Sabrina Carpenter's 'Espresso,' here are PhillyVoice's staff picks to make your time traveling time fly by.

Music Road Trip
Road trip Jeff Tomik/PhillyVoice

PhillyVoice staff made their road trip recommendations for this summer ahead of the Fourth of July holiday.

Summer is a time for barbecues, new memories and, of course, road trips. 

Whether you're heading to grandma's house, the Jersey Shore or a camping excursion, most summer vacations involve a few hours on the road or in a plane. And if you're not properly prepared, you can get stuck fighting the fuzz to find a local radio station or playing your one leftover CD on repeat. 

MORE: Where to watch Fourth of July fireworks at the Jersey Shore

Have no fear, we'd never send you on your trip without some top-notch recommendations that will make the endless highway miles go by a little faster.

Here's what PhillyVoice's staff is listening to. At the end of this article, there's a Spotify playlist with all the songs and albums picked by our staff, and you'll find links to the podcasts and audiobooks immediately where each is mentioned:

Chris Compendio

Staff writer

The A24 horror film "I Saw the TV Glow" is a dreamy and unsettling experience, and the songs on its soundtrack perfectly match its atmosphere. Resembling a '90s mixtape, the album consists of 15 tracks from artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Caroline Polachek and King Woman. Beginning with a cover of "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl," the entire playlist encapsulates the vibe of growing up lonely and uncertain of your own identity in the '90s and early 2000s.

Sloppy Jane and Bridgers are in the film, performing the track "Claw Machine" in a defining scene during which the main characters question their reality. Millennials — especially ones who never felt like they fit in — might gravitate toward this album, even if they can't totally verbalize why the music pokes their brain in a specific spot. If you're seeking nostalgic tunes, queue up this soundtrack while road tripping with your friends.

Franki Rudnesky

Staff writer

We are in the midst of a summer of pop girlies putting out hit after hit, and my car ride playlist reflects that. In June, Gracie Abrams put out her second studio album, "The Secret of Us," and it's been on repeat for me ever since. I love a song that juxtaposes heartbreaking lyrics with a beat that you can bop to, and Abrams' new album offers just that. I recently saw Lizzy McAlpine's show at the Met and have since been listening to her latest album "Older" — by the way, she sounds exactly the same, if not better, live as she does in her recordings.

I'm also still listening to the deluxe versions of "The Tortured Poets Department" by Taylor Swift and "GUTS" by Olivia Rodrigo, who I cannot wait to see live at Wells Fargo Center later this month. Also on my playlist are this summer's breakout stars, Chappell Roan — "Good Luck, Babe!" — and Sabrina Carpenter — along with "Please Please Please" and "Espresso," I've been doing a deep dive of her previous albums as I wait for "Short n' Sweet" in August.

I'm definitely more inclined to listen to music than podcasts on a road trip, but if I am in the mood for a podcast, I go for pop culture pods "Chicks in the Office"(Apple Podcasts / Spotify) or the Kelce brothers' "New Heights." (Apple Podcasts / Spotify).

Michael Tanenbaum 

Senior staff writer

Certain bands achieve a recognizable status that makes them part of a lineage that carries into the present, even if they don't get quite as much love as their contemporaries. 

I recently got a blast from the past when Natalie Merchant's "Carnival," the lead single from her 1995 solo debut "Tigerlily," popped up in my streaming algorithm. That sent me on a dive into her days with 10,000 Maniacs. Their mix of folk rock and jangle pop makes for pretty easy listening that nicely fits the fleeting scenery of a road trip, especially for people on the way to becoming sentimental oldheads — if you're not already there. 

I'm partial to 1992's "Our Time in Eden" because they started working in more of the organ and melodic touch that Merchant took to her solo career. But the band's time with and without her is enjoyable.

Kristin Hunt

Senior staff writer

Saying the CIA wrote a rock ballad to end the Cold War sounds like tinfoil hat nonsense, but "Wind of Change" (Apple Podcasts / Spotify) makes the case that maybe, just maybe, it did. Led by New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, the podcast investigates a wild claim passed among retired intelligence agents that the CIA secretly penned the 1990 Scorpions tune "Wind of Change" to sow further discontent in the crumbling USSR. The eight-episode series takes Keefe to Ukraine, Germany, Florida and a G.I. Joe convention in Dayton, Ohio, as he tries to unravel the mystery. It's a gripping, self-contained story perfect for a long car ride, and if you dig it, Keefe also has fantastic nonfiction books about the Sackler family ("Empire of Pain") and the Troubles ("Say Nothing").

Michaela Althouse

Staff writer

Ever since Kacey Musgraves put out her new album, "Deeper Well," in March, I've honestly had a hard time listening to anything else. It's a little bit of a slower-paced mix for a road trip, probably best put on when some people in the car have hit the napping stage, but I can't imagine anything better than driving through the dappled shade of a national park while "Heart of the Woods" unfolds through the speakers. 

When the need comes for some more upbeat tunes, I've had Suki Waterhouse's new EP, "Supersad" on repeat while I eagerly await her new album in September. In the meantime, I dare you not to dance in your seat to the toe-tapping beats of "My Fun" or the heart-wrenching yelps of "OMG." Summer is also the time I love to revisit the classics, and this season has me in a big funk/soul mood, specifically "Who's Zoomin' Who?" and "Freeway of Love" from Aretha Franklin. 

I'm not too much of a podcast person, but I love NPR's "Endless Thread," (Apple Podcasts / Spotify) which digs into weird Reddit posts, and the New York Times' "Modern Love," (Apple Podcasts / Spotify) where actors read essays about all definitions of love. For a longer listen, "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer is probably my favorite audiobook, with a collection of essays on the indigenous relationship between humans, science and nature. 

Courtenay Harris Bond

Staff writer

The staff nominated me to recommend a musical soundtrack, which brought me back to my youth and memories of watching my older sister's high school production of "Guys and Dolls." I begged her to bring me to all of her rehearsals and shows. By the end, I knew the lyrics to every song, fond gems like "A Bushel and a Peck" and "Luck Be a Lady Tonight." The theme song is jazzy and energizing. Young folks will probably complain that it's music from the 1900s, but older folks may be able to fumble along with the tunes. And if you manage to get all the way through the lineup, you might be calling each other "gent," "mug" and "sport" by the time you reach your destination.

Also, if you don't know Noga Erez, you should. The 34-year-old Israeli indie-pop rapper, singer/songwriter says she thinks and dreams in Hebrew. "English lets me detour my own psychic process, and my songs take on a new life," Erez told Relix in 2022. Spotify has a ready-made "This is Noga Erez" playlist of her hottest tracks, such as "Nails," a grrrl-power rap with Missy Elliott. In "Views," from her KIDS (Against the Machine) album, featuring Rousso, Erez sings:

"I got my ticket, I'm a flee/Selling overseas/I just blink and get a fee/Watch out/What you think of me?" 

I think you da bomb! Drivers, keep your eyes on the road, but passengers should check out Erez's "Succulent Sessions" and "Views" live videos on YouTube. It's worth it just for her suits — and the horns.