Top Five Ditties to Dodge Whilst Driving Alone at 3 a.m.


An acquaintance in high school once told me, “If a song I could see myself dying to comes on while I’m driving, I shut it off immediately.” This thought has swam through my noodle for many moons now, and I still retain the notion that he was onto something. There is certainly a set of songs to avoid listening to whilst behind the wheel. And then there is a set to evade whilst cruising solo-style in the obscenely early morning. You know the feeling a few pipe organs or a growl hops each hair follicle to attention on the back of your neck while you’re snaking through dark, desolate streets? Yep. For whatever reason you might find yourself meandering roadways at such an unholy hour stag — well, regardless, the same feelings are likely to be evoked. Lucky for you, I decided to save you from this creep-out scenario by arranging a bouquet of Top Five Ditties to Dodge Whilst Driving Alone at 3 a.m. (or Whilst Being Home Alone While Your Roommates Are in Portland and Your Cat Has Tendencies to Stare at Nothing for Way Too Long) in the most philanthropic way. Plus, Halloween’s coming up and this is kind of scary stuff … yeah? In semi-random order, you must avoid:

“Don’t Play Cards With Satan” by Daniel Johnston

We already all know Johnston is a little less sane than the average Joe (thanks, “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” doc). The Austinite’s eerily and harshly strummed song details his struggle with the evil inside him and sychophant glorification of The Bible. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this song pumping through your car when it’s just you is the unarguable honesty and urgency in Johnston’s voice. If you totally can’t duck this song whilst driving alone at 3 a.m., make a serious effort to miss the last 20 or so seconds when he positively sobs, “SATAN! SATAN! SATAN!” It’s impossible to drive with a settled stomach after that.

“The End” by Nico

Originally a Doors tune, Nico stretched the song to a whopping nine-plus-minute epic. It details a really dismal, nightmarish apocalypse (so it makes sense that it was used in the “Apocalypse Now” film score) and some guy murdering his dad and raping his mom. Cheerful, right? This German model-person really nails the sinister air of it during her legendary June 1, 1974 performance (from her album “June 1st, 1974” with Kevin Ayers, Brian Eno and John Cale) with her ethereal, brooding vocals and suggestive harmonium. Apparently Doors fans totally hate this cover, but it really is quite good under any other circumstances than the previously mentioned one.

“Fresh Blood” by Eels

Pipin’ hot from their latest release, “Hombre Loco,” E and crew brew up a tale of blood-suckers with funky percussion and loungey guitar licks. Normally, this one would qualify as an absolutely killer dance party number, but should you find yourself on your own navigating the already-malevolent streets of Arlington under nextto- no streetlights, resist the urge to pump it. Trust me. The foreboding synthesizers pulsating like nervous hands on a stick-shift have quite the knack for yanking your imagination in all the wrongs ways … all the way home.

“Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Iron Maiden

Metal can melt your face off, everyone knows that, but what about its ability to make you pee your pants? Oh, check. Iron Maiden brings you teetering to that point in the 13 minutes and 45 seconds it takes for this rocking saga to engage your full peripheral through both driver and passenger windows (don’t forget the windshield, too, Ace). Roughly a third of the way into the song, the dueling guitars from Hell drip away in a sizzling cymbal fade, and then, a voice that a coworker describes as “the voice of Satan” seeps in reciting whispered, terrifying accounts of “lumps.” And then the opera — I mean, the mariner — sets sail again down the ink-black waters of the Spooky Sea and hopefully never during your nighttime commute.

“What’s He Building in There?” by Tom Waits

I will be the first person to tell you that Waits is a mad genius, pretty much brilliant and perfect in every way. In addition to his phenomenal songwriting, he can sure whip up a good spoken-word narrative … which is exactly what this is. Waits’ crackly voice accompanied by only sparse piano and found noises like ambient kazoos, creaking boards and field recordings curiously poking at the mystery of a sleuth neighbor, particularly what he’s building in there. Definitely don’t dare to rattle this one if you, like Sir Waits, have peculiar inhabitants cowering suspiciously in your neighborhood.