Your Car Needs a Period-Correct Playlist

Photo credit: Fred Smith

Photo credit: Fred Smith

When my 1987 E28 5-Series was new, its first owner would have been able to make a mixtape to keep in the car that captured the spirit of the day. That cassette player is long gone, even the supposed “original stereo” that came in a rotting box in its trunk is an aftermarket CD player head unit from the mid-90s. But the new head unit has Bluetooth audio, so the spirit of 1987’s best mixtapes live on in modern form: Almost every time I drive my 535i, I hit shuffle on a period-correct six hour streaming playlist designed for the car.

“Period-correct” is a pretty vague term. In this case, it’s a selection of music I listen to that would’ve been in rotation if I were the car’s original owner. That means some late punk and early post-punk stuff from earlier in the decade up to some pop that goes into the early 1990s. The general goal here is to build around music that you might find in a John Hughes-adjacent movie where Judd Nelson is driving a similar car to a ski resort to antagonize John Cusack.

I’ve embedded the playlist for the E28 above to give you an idea of the goal here, but it can be applied to any car. I’m currently working on one for my new daily driver, a 2010 E63 AMG, that encompasses mostly 2008-2014 alternative and hip hop. Before it was sold out from under me (and two weeks after the seller and I agreed to a price sight-unseen), I had designed a Giorgio Moroder-heavy electronic playlist for a 1979 Fiat X1/9.

I realize most of the appeal of this is lost if you either do not enjoy any music that represents your car or do not enjoy listening to music on a long drive. If so, this advice is not for you! If neither of those things are true, though, get to making a playlist!

As the histories of popular recorded music and automotive culture line up fairly well, almost every car on the road should have an option. If your car doesn’t have a way to connect a modern streaming device to its speakers, or speakers at all, you can simply wedge a Bluetooth speaker in between the driver and passenger seats. I’ve tested this method on a 1965 Citroen ID19; it may not have been able to handle driving 150 miles in a row without a fuel filter change, but it could hold exactly one functional speaker.

For me, this has proven to be a far better way to match the tone of my music with the goals of my drives, rather than trying to find new tracks or albums every time I hop in the car. In an era before streaming, mixtapes were a great way to show somebody you cared. Doesn’t your classic, project car, or well-used heap of various German alloys deserve the same treatment?

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