1. "Graceland", Paul Simon
This is the ultimate traveling album; it has been the chorus of so many trips of mine, starting as a child, that I can hardly imagine going somewhere without at some point listening to Paul's smooth voice talk about how his traveling companion is nine years old, and the child of his first marriage. "You Can Call Me Al" actually, in its third verse, contains the lyrics that completely sum up how I feel every time I step down from an airplane jetway or train compartment:
"A man walks down the street/
It's a street in a strange world/
Maybe it's the third world/
Maybe it's his first time around/
Doesn't speak the language/
Holds no currency/
He is a foreign man/
He is surrounded by the sound, sound/
Of cattle in the marketplace, scatterlings and orphanages/
He looks around, around/
And sees angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity/
And he says, "Angels, Hallelujah."
2. Some kind of 'Best of the Beatles' album
Dude. How can you go anywhere without the Beatles? I suggest a Best Of mostly because then you get the most songs; the "Across the Universe" soundtrack could work too, although I haven't tested, and there are certainly some songs on that that I've never heard except on there. I mean, "Dear Prudence"? Even my mother never heard that on a Beatles album and she was a hippie. I'm not denying it exists, but compare that to "Norwegian Wood". And sometimes you need something to sing along to, or to invite other people to sing along to, and everyone knows the Beatles. My Italian exchange student who lived in an isolated mountain town in the Dolomites knew all the lyrics to the Beatles, for god's sake.
3. "Bargainville", Moxy Fruvous
So peppy and happy, although with the poignancy of "Gulf War Song" and "Fell In Love" to balance it out; who doesn't love a song about a girl who set your schoolhouse on fire and made fun of your macaroni? Also, "King of Spain" should get anyone dancing. I actually remember, the very first time I ever heard that song" I was sitting with my friends Chris and Ryan in another friend's house, and they were completely stymies when I admitted I'd never heard it. So they sang it for me. Complete with "ba-da-ba-da-da" chorus and the different parts and the international orchestra part and everything. So my internalized version of that is acapella. If you don't know Moxy Fruvous, go know them right away. In the Biblical sense, actually. I insist.
4. "Fumbling Towards Ecstacy", Sarah MacLachlan
Noticing a theme of weird Canadian artists? Maybe so, but shut up or I'll poke you in the eh. Haha, see, I made a pun...see, I should have said "eye", but I actually said...never mind. Anyway, this album is wonderfully melancholic and beautiful, and I don't care what anyone says, I love Sarah MacLachlan. I love the hidden acoustic version of the title song at the end of the last track. I love her lyrics. Sometimes you just need a quiet soundtrack, not a loud thumping one; this album is great for listening to on your headphones when your dormmate is snoring up a storm and you need something to drown her out, or when your last-bus-of-the-night bus is starting to chug its way up a mountain right before dawn, when you can't sleep and you're watching the hills go by and the country wake up.
5. "The Areas of my Expertise", John Hodgman
Not technically an album, but rather an audiobook on 979 consecutively ordered CDs (actually, the number of CDs mentioned keeps increasing), this is one of the best timepassers I've ever encountered. John Hodgman is the comedian best known for being the PC in those PC and Mac commercials (it's okay, Justin Long, once best known for being the Mac, is now best known for being Drew Barrymore's boyfriend), and he's freaking hilarious and amazing. This book is circuitous and hilarious, and features cameo appearances by Jonathan Coulton and Paul Rudd, among others. It's about six hours long, which make it perfect for long car trips. And I've often found myself staring off into space listening to it rather than listening to my travel companion or avoiding pedestrians, or any of the other mundane things you're supposed to do.
And I've definitely left some out here. What about Hedwig? Or the Chicago soundtrack? What about Cake? What do you think? What did I egregiously leave out?