Essential tunes for the road trip DJ

Dave DeFina

Spring break is fast approaching. Some of us will fly south, and still more of us will pile into cars and vans for more pedestrian locations.

Long rides are bound to get tedious, but a bad choice of songs and an inexperienced DJ can make them almost unbearable.

We’ve all had it happen. You look away for a second and before you know it the kid with an entire iPod of “emo” songs is climbing into the shotgun seat. It’s a good thing you brought all those tissues.

There are rules that any good road- trip DJ should adhere to, but none are more important than the first: diversity.

Diversity is the key to any good playlist.

The simplest way to ensure a varied selection is to simply set your iPod to shuffle on the playlist.

This way you can include several songs from each artist, but the odds are they won’t play back-to-back.

Second, when in doubt go for a sing along song.

It’s fine to deviate from the playlist a bit, but try to keep it to songs people know. Go with something simple. “Don’t Stop Believing,” a ‘Nova staple, is always a safe bet.

It’s very important to note that a good song is not always a good road trip tune.

If you hit a snag, the safest genres are rock, mainstream rap and whatever pop singles are topping the charts this month.

Sorry dudes, but “Single Ladies” is a completely acceptable song, and you’re going to have to reconcile with some Taylor Swift stylings.

For all the Bruce Springsteen fans out there, you have to keep it to songs everybody knows.

“Born to Run,” “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark” are definitely your best options. “Jungleland” is an amazing song, but unless the rest of your fellow passengers love the Boss too, it’s probably not a very good choice.

If you’re tired of hearing the same two T.I. songs or “Semi-Charmed Life” (which should absolutely be played at some point) for the umpteenth time, it’s fine to include a few bands people may not know.

The thing to remember is that if you do decide to throw some alternative songs into the playlist, try to keep it to the most accessible songs by each band.

“The Underdog” from Spoon or the Hold Steady’s “Sequestered in Memphis” are two songs that almost everybody can enjoy.

Remember that singles are generally safe, so if you’ve heard it at some point on FM radio it should be ok.

Techno is a tricky subject because it’s so different from other genres of music.

I would say to avoid techno in the playlist, unless you know a majority of passengers like it. If you do decide to include some techno, the same rules apply as before, stick with something everyone knows. “Sandstorm” is the obvious choice here.

Have fun with the playlist. It’s fine to reach into the vault for some oldies. Who doesn’t love Sisqo or the Bloodhound Gang?

The Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” is another good choice, and “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” by Nine Days is sure to be a van pleaser.

Also, make sure to ask other people if they have any requests. A DJ who has hijacked the music is just as bad as an inexperienced one.

The last tip is the most difficult. Try to play music that meshes well with the mood in the van.

For example, “Let it Rock” should be played when everyone is upbeat, “Piano Man” when the mood is a bit quieter. Try to let the drive influence the music; if you’re passing through West Virginia dedicate a few minutes for John Denver’s “Country Roads”.

Similarly, if you’re lost on some dark road, you might want to consider skipping over REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

At the end of the day the purpose of the DJ is to make the drive seem shorter. Have fun with the playlist, try to keep everybody’s attention.

The songs listed in this article are a good starting point but take some liberties with your selections.

You can use the new iTunes tool “Genius” to start your playlist, but don’t rely on it too heavily. Creativity is crucial for a truly memorable playlist and “Genius” removes that personal touch from a playlist.

Fiddle with the FM dial and you may find yourself up the wrong end of that Subaru in front of you.

Stay within the guidelines of this article, and the drive will be over before you know it.

Oh, by the way. Shotgun.