I don't recall the bass line or the drum beat, but I remember the melody...
Back in the dark ages, an actual print magazine (remember those?) - probably 'Car&Driver' - asked readers to send in suggestions for music to listen to while driving. I don't remember any response but one, where some genius wrote in to say:
"Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' while driving at night between cities, very fast."
That letter, that thought, wedged itself into my brain like a splinter into a finger and stayed with me these many years since. It's perfect: The dark, brooding music a moody accompaniment to the throb of the motor and the sighing of the tires, crossing endless miles of black asphalt under an infinite canopy of stars, cruising the night highway like a shark through the ocean's shadowy depths, slicing through schools of cars swimming together for safety and jetting past lumbering trucks while leaving a sleek, muscular wake.
I have a Porsche 928 and I came of age in the early 80s. In my psyche the 928 is inescapably wrapped in music and the night and Rebecca De Mornay's thighs.
The door lifts, the lights flick on, the wide, sexy ass of a 928 emerges from the cocoon of a suburban garage, and the music is Jeff Beck's 'The Pump'. It's important to understand that 'Risky Business' didn't use 'The Pump'; it was the other way round. The movie simply put to film what was already in the music, written by Beck from the first note. You can feel it in the low, relentless beat and the pushing, throbbing bass line; in Beck's extended guitar notes stretching down the road, into the distance; reaching for the nearing puddle of light, the approaching curve, the waiting off ramp, the next big dot along the thick black line.
The lifting of that suburban garage door is an instant of creation; before it there was nothing, after it there was everything. The play list and our drive begin with Jeff Beck.
'Risky Business' is the cornerstone of all that is the imagery and sound of the 928, it is the apogee of music and mood for Porsche as a make. The 911 is a creature of light and trees and green hills and summer breezes; it is a denizen of dusty roads and muddy rally stages and the long, screaming straights of Le Mans and Sebring. Its song is varied and raucous and always upbeat. But the 928 sings the low, deep, sensual, enticingly menacing croon of the jazz club torch singer.
But this music, this mood, this spirit, this night run across the dark coursing blood-hot asphalt of America would never have happened if Lapine and Möbius hadn't immaculately conceived the 928 with inspired, mystical sex magic and thrust the Stuttgart Shark unto the world. And like the act of love with a beautiful partner, the 928 only reaches everything it promises in the night, when scenery disappears and vision narrows into the tunnel of the headlights and everything else falls away, when what you touch with your hands and feel on your skin is the focus of your entire existence.
"...the 928 only reaches everything it promises in the night, when scenery disappears and vision narrows into the tunnel of the headlights and everything else falls away..."
Music, music for a mood and a machine. The soundtrack of 'Risky Business' is a soundtrack for the night, a soundtrack for machines. Sure, Muddy Waters and Prince and of course Bob Seeger, but that music wasn't about the machine, and it didn't set the mood for the movie. These were distractions, mere sideshows, three-minute cartoons to keep the kids occupied while the adults waited for the real show to start.
Phil Collins, though. But not here. Unfortunately 'In The Air Tonight' didn't reach its full potential for our theme of night and machine for another few years, and not with a Porsche 928 on a Chicago night, but with a Ferrari Daytona on a Miami night.
But, yeah, put that on the list.
But Collins' dark ode to an approaching reckoning wasn't the climactic moment in 'Risky Business'. It was the lead in, the buildup, the flirtatious dinner in the dimly lit restaurant, the moist, gasping, probing French kissing in the cab and lobby and elevator on the way to the apartment; the last on-ramp on the highway leading out of the city and into the night.
"Have you ever made love on a real train?" Lana asks Joel. He hasn't, but he will; and we will be part of that moment of music and machine as the electronic sex of Tangerine Dream's ‘Love On A Real Train’ reaches its peak, as 'Risky Business' reaches its peak, as Joel and Lana reach theirs, and the train throws sparks and chases dreams through the Chicago night. Add that to the list.
It can't possibly be more fitting that our German car has a soundtrack by a German music collective, Tangerine Dream, one of pioneers and popularizers of electronic music in the 70s and 80s. Tapped for many soundtracks and none of them were rom-coms: 'Firestarter', 'Near Dark', 'Legend', and, still going strong and in perfect synch with our theme, the soundtrack for 'Grand Theft Auto V'. But 'Sorcerer', good lord, 'Sorcerer'; a film about a drive through the dark spaces between pools of light, based on the French film 'The Wages of Fear' and brilliantly adapted for America by William Friedkin, he of 'The Exorcist', 'The French Connection', 'Cruising', and 'To Live And Die in L.A.'. See 'Sorcerer', if you have not, and imagine our drive diving through dense South American jungles, and Tangerine Dream is pushing us toward a rendezvous we don't want, yet can't avoid.
“Betrayal’ (Sorcerer Theme), by Tangerine Dream. Check.
How far will our night drive take us? Across worlds: from Germany to Japan and from film to animation, where we discover an accompaniment from 'The Ghost In The Shell', and we'll consider the meaning of 'man' and 'machine' and the vast separation and intimate blending of the twain, even as we blend with our own machine. And Kenji Kawai's soundtrack is deep and brilliant and spare, trimmed with a scalpel. And we fill the gulfs between the notes with what is inside ourselves even as we fill the gulfs between the cities with our machine.
And we'll add 'The Making of a Cyborg’.
Now we move further: further down the dark ribbon, further toward the midpoint between cities, the midpoint between leaving and arriving. And at this moment, Aram Khachaturian's 'Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio)' is perfectly Soviet: low, sad, haunting, tragic; Kubrick used it in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ to evoke the vast space between the stars, and between the living and the dead. We use it to evoke the night's small, small hours on the empty roads between the cities. If this doesn't move you, you're dead inside.
Rock and roll isn’t the music of the 928, but sometimes even rock and roll bands hit the tone of ‘between cities, very fast’, even if that tone was produced by the strange fusion of blues and rock and disco that was the Rolling Stones in the 70s. A sensuous bass line and a slow groove and a message of longing, ‘Miss You’ makes the list.
The Doors were nothing if not dark and sexual, behind Jim Morrison’s growling baritone, wild mane of hair, and tight leather jeans. If an album of theirs speaks of the night drive, it’s their first, with tracks such as ‘Break On Through’, ‘The Crystal Ship’, and ‘The End’. But the track we want to add is the singular ‘Riders On The Storm’, a perfect whispering lament on our drive down that night highway.
‘The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys’ by Traffic with Steve Winwood at the mic slides and teases its way into your ear, before settling to lay down some serious road mojo in D Minor. Like the road before us, it seems to meander, but it relentlessly and stealthily drives to its finish, arriving before you realize it, and the song’s final note rings like the scream of a motor in the distance
We’re driving ‘between cities, very fast’, and there’s a destination, a place to be, someone to be with, for what other reason could there be for this drive? Joel’s shenanigans in ‘Risky Business’ aside, the 928 is not a joy riding car; it’s a tool, a road weapon designed to destroy distance and crush time. We are crossing the empty gulfs of night between the glowing cities to reach something, or someone. And as pleasurable as the drive is, the pleasure of the arrival is the reward. Donald Fagen’s little-know gem ‘True Companion’, with its liquid, jazz-based melody and the short, loaded lyric, expresses distance and longing and the emptiness between the stars, and the final line says everything that needs to be said here: “I’ve been dreaming of my own green world, far across the reach of space time.”
At the penultimate moment, we return to the initial moment and that unknown worthy who wrote in to C&D, and because it is brilliant and perfect, we add ‘Speak To Me’ and ‘Breathe’.
Our night drive must end as must any night of heat and seduction and fulfillment which is ruled by the power at the root of the spine or under the right foot. The sun will rise and reveal the wide world where before there was just our tunneled headlight vision, and the world is a beautiful and wondrous place. And ultimately the 928 is electronic music; the music of the future for the car of the future. Neither owes anything to what came before, standing alone, pushing boundaries, breaking traditions, seducing with novelty as well as raw appeal. Our playlist ends with ‘Heaven and Hell’, by Vangellis as the sun rises, but the road still stretching ahead and the machine ready for the day, and, eventually, for another night.
And here we are, the car off, the engine ticking, our ears filled by silence where the throb of the motor and our music for the road were a short time before, the moat of light around the city breached, the off ramp reached, our night drive complete. The keys come out with their metallic click and we pat the dash and as we step out, we leave the embrace of the seat and look back upon the ripe curves like leaving a lover after a night of passion shared; knowing that it is time to go, for we are spent, but knowing also that we will be back.
● ‘The Pump’ – Jeff Beck
● ‘In The Air Tonight’ – Phil Collins
● ‘Love On A Real Train’ – Tangerine Dream
● ‘Betrayal (Sorcerer Theme)’ – Tangerine Dream
● ‘The Making Of A Cyborg’ – Kenji Kawai
● ‘Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio)’ – Aram Khachaturian
● ‘Miss You’ – The Rolling Stones
● ‘Riders On The Storm’ – The Doors
● ‘The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys’ – Traffic
● ‘True Companion’ – Donald Fagen
● ‘Speak To Me/Breathe (In The Air)’ – Pink Floyd
● ‘Heaven And Hell’ – Vangelis
*Below is a link to the night drive playlist: