On Friday I’ll be driving from St. Paul, Minnesota to Chicago, Illinois (with an overnight stop in Madison) to attend the 4th Annual Flashback Weekend horror convention. This year’s guests include the casts and crews of the original Night of the Living Dead and Phantasm. Unfortunately I won’t get to the Windy City in time to see Mr. George Romero, but I’ll still have plenty of time on Saturday to shop and try to develop some new corporate relationships.

But what to listen to on that long car ride?

I remember the first time I drove to Chicago three years ago, when I didn’t have an iPod. I recall making one 70-minute mix CD, then leaving the rest of the journey up to random play full CDs. The iPod changes everything. With enough storage space one can create a day long road mix, which requires a whole heck of a lot more planning than the old fashion mix tape or CD, though the labor is halved. With the shuffle feature I can now forget most of what I even stuck on the thing, and find myself constantly surprised by what plays next.

This year I started with a base of stuff I’ve been listening to regularly lately – Cake, Muse, The Cars, Justice, The Pipettes, Public Enemy, Rancid, Dethklok, Static X, and The Tantra Monsters. This allows for a sense of normalcy. For the sake of keeping awake, I add a little more metal – Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and White Zombie. To keep things from getting too aggressive I add a bit of cool hip-hop, soul, and ‘80s pop – Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Young M.C., Prince, The Beastie Boys, Bobby Womack, Outkast, and Smokey Robinson.

The thing about the perfect road mix is that you have to be able to sing along with it at least 75% of the songs you choose. It requires a certain amount of familiarity. Road mixes aren’t for showing off one’s pop music education, or one’s counter culture cred. There’s no time to think about the music once it’s playing, it’s there to propel the driver from point A to point B. To this token I fill the iPod up with a load of classic rock – The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Band, Boston, Credence, Bowie, Tom Petty, Hendrix, Neil Young, The Ramones, Thin Lizzy, Warren Zevon, and The Allman Brothers.

This search for familiarity leads into the hardest stage of the road mix creation – the flashback tracks. For these tracks I have to reach deep into my past, and pull the good, bad, and ugly songs from my childhood. Songs like Milli Vanilli’s ‘Girl You Know it’s True’, Bel Biv Devoe’s ‘Poison’, Technotronic’s ‘Move This’, Snap’s ‘The Power’, Crystal Water’s ‘100% Pure Love’, and The Fine Young Cannibals ‘She Drives Me Crazy’. I may wince now, but when that road’s looking barren and boring, a quick dash of Annie Lennox’s ‘Walking on Broken Glass’ can really get a man going.

Then theirs the soundtrack section of the mix, which I usually keep to a minimum due to the fact that it’s often impossible to sing along with a film score. Ennio Moricone’s Spaghetti Western themes make for the best road music, as they’re often set to a gallop rhythm, though I often find myself disappointed at how un-epic my actions are in comparison to the music. Merging lanes to ‘Per Qualche Dollaro In Più’ is a bit anticlimactic. A bit of Bernard Herrmann and some shots from the Once soundtrack help too (though I can actually sing along with the latter).

And of course, no road mix is complete with out the requisite road songs, Golden Earring’s ‘Radar Love’, Jackson Browne’s ‘Running on Empty’, Tom Petty’s ‘Running Down a Dream’, and Bob Seager’s ‘Against the Wind’.