Pop music is cyclical: styles, fads and trends come and go, and then come back again for another try. The Neo-Soul movement began in the 1990s, but continues now, and arguably with a wider reach, bringing the sounds originally popularized by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding to the ears of a younger generation.

Read on for a few of my favourite driving songs from the neo-soul category.

And be sure to make your own road-trip song suggestions in the forums, for a future reader’s choice column!

Rehab – Amy Winehouse

Winehouse is a train wreck in the purest pop-culture sense of the term. She’s known for using – and abusing – a number of controlled substances, but thankfully, she’s got a heck of a voice that she’s not afraid of using, either. The autobiographical “Rehab” was her most popular song in North America, and for good reason. It’s catchy, and the production is terrific; the horn part is the centrepiece of the arrangement.
Buy: iTunes | HMV.ca

How You Like Me Now – The Heavy

Speaking of horns, they’re the first thing you’ll hear when you hit play on this song, by British quartet The Heavy. I remember the first time I heard this when it came out in 2009: I was in the car, fittingly, and almost drove off the road during the first refrain, I was so taken. The way the ending rocks out is a good reminder of why pop and rock songs really only need three chords. Extra points to guitarist Dan Taylor, who plays left-handed, like I do.
Buy: iTunes | HMV.ca

Moneygrabber – Fitz and the Tantrums

This California band’s name is one of the best, period, a clever play on singer Michael Fitzpatrick’s name. True to the genre, again, there are horns here, in the form of James King’s saxophone. What you don’t hear, surprisingly, is guitar; Fitzpatrick wanted to do something different, so he and the band recorded this record (titled Pickin’ Up The Pieces) without any. Normally, that’d be a big turnoff for me, as I love the guitar, but this song is perfect the way it is, with vintage organ sounds taking precedence. My wife can hardly resist chair dancing when this one comes on in the car.
Buy: iTunes | HMV.ca

Rumour Has It – Adele

If you can believe it, Adele (whose real name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins) is only 23 years old. What might be harder to wrap your head around is that this song was recorded two years ago, when she was just 21 (hence the name of the record the song comes from). The album is a series of songs based on a failed romantic relationship; that’s nothing new, but Adele’s incredible voice is put to good use here, making up much of an otherwise sparse arrangement of piano, guitars and drums. Moneygrabber will make you want to dance; this song will make you wish you played drums.
Buy: iTunes | HMV.ca

Electric Feel – MGMT

The first four songs in this playlist are based in classic soul sounds; this one recalls the more contemporary soul sounds of the 1970s, and incorporates elements of disco. While the disco element could have been a disaster on many levels, this song’s producers found the perfect sound. Electric Feel is driven by its rhythm section, which is what makes it a good driving song; I love the jangly tambourine that comes in after the middle-eight section.
Buy: iTunes | HMV.ca

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