The joy of driving down Fair Oaks at night is something only longtime locals can understand. It’s just so satisfying. Compared to the rush-hour traffic that has become mind-boggling the past few years, the nighttime free-for-all is a moment of peace. It sounds completely silly, but it is very calming to hit all the right lights — the sea of green glowing in front of me, beckoning me to travel at my leisure. When I lived on the East Coast, I would pine for that feeling of driving down these Pasadena streets at night.
The only thing that can improve my mood while I slide down Fair Oaks is the perfect song. So I thought I would pick a few of my favorites to share. No perfect moment can ever be replicated, but these often do the trick, making me smile as I pass the empty entrance to the 110.
The Greatest, Cat Power
I tend to like calmer stuff at night, and this always seems to work perfectly. She’s the greatest (sorry).
True Affection, The Blow
I heard this for the first time over in Skylight Books, and it’s the catchiest thing I’ve found recently. Please snap along, with attitude.
Go Ahead, Rilo Kiley
This homegrown L.A. band is my favorite. When I was in high school they played at No Future Cafe, a mystical indie place that sprung up around 2000. Any of their early albums are perfect to listen to while driving anywhere in the greater Los Angeles area.
Moped, Thao Nguyen
That’s moped like a Vespa, not the past tense of to mope, like a sullen teen. Thao opened for Rilo Kiley this summer and I loved her. Catchy, quiet, earnest.
Buckets of Rain, Bob Dylan
A classic. Best for those rare rainy nights, but also good for wishing it was one of those rainy nights.
Love Is No Big Truth, Kings of Convenience
For some reason this is the perfect rhythm for driving. Listening to it alone makes you feel like you’re moving around a city late at night, so it all works out well.
Bridges and Balloons, The Decemberists
OK, to be honest, I first heard this driving down Orange Grove on a mid-afternoon, but it’s close enough. This Joanna Newsom cover is great for those who love her lyrics but can’t quite deal with her voice.
I Know I Know I Know, Tegan & Sara
For angst-y drives home. Another song that compels you to move forward and sing along.
Gravity Rides Everything, Modest Mouse
Maybe a little obvious, but the swirling tunes work well with the blurry lights.
My Favorite Chords, the Weakerthans
Probably the cutest song I will admit to liking. This Canadian band makes my life. The song is ethereal enough for a late-night ride home after an unexpectedly romantic evening that you can barely believe happened.
We Float, PJ Harvey
Long enough to take you all the way from the 134 down to Huntington, this is the perfect song to arrive home to at 3 a.m. when everyone else is asleep (or 11 p.m., if that’s more your hour).
Bella Ciao, Mirah
The most upbeat song I’ll recommend for night listening — most of us are subdued in the late hours. If you still have energy for the drive, roll down the windows and sing in Italian.
Synthesizer, Electric Six
One of my favorite late-night driving songs. Hearing it makes me think of green lights against the night sky or dark palm trees. It’s an absurd song, but you’ll find yourself listening to it again and again.
To accompany this post, I wanted to take a picture of a simple sight I’ve seen so many times: the dozen green lights you can see as you crest Fair Oaks going south past Columbia toward South Pas. But capturing that with a camera is a lot harder than you might think, and I certainly did not do it justice. So here is a Best Blog Challenge for you: Can you take a better picture of the green lights at night? Seriously, I want one. Post it here or send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I wish you the best of luck — and add any songs you like.
— Skylar Sutton