Listening to music in the car is a time-honored tradition. As far back as the 1930s, drivers were listening to AM radio on the first Motorola in-dash units. As the 20th century progressed, so did our in-vehicle technology. We went from AM to FM radio, in-dash record players, cassettes, the 8-track tape, and the compact disc. The iPod came along in 2001, and so did a proliferation of Aux-in jacks for them to connect to. Now we had a thousand songs in our pocket and our car. Of course, like all the other technology before it, the iPod was soon obsolete, replaced by the smartphone.
It used to be that turning on the radio was an exciting experience. You never knew what song would be playing, nor when your favorite tune would come on. But this is a worry no longer, thanks to on-demand music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music.
Except for one thing. Our damn iPhones seem to play the same damn song every time we plug them in. It turns out that the iPhone, for whatever reason, decides to play the first song it can find when plugging into a vehicle USB port or connecting via Bluetooth. And it’s always the first song alphabetically. And no matter how good that song is, eventually, after you hear the first few seconds of it over and over and over and over every time you start your car… well, eventually it’s enough to ruin even the most catchy tune.
We decided to poll The Verge staff, assemble these various songs (most, unsurprisingly, with titles starting with the letter A) and share a little bit about what they mean to us. Have a look, listen, and let us know what song your iPhone decides to play when you go for a ride. And please, Apple, can we get this fixed in iOS 11?
"Accidentally Like A Martyr" by Warren Zevon
I mostly use streaming services these days, so my iTunes library is almost totally old favorite albums that I listen to when I’m out of service areas or on planes. Zevon, obviously, falls into that category — and I have a ton of him on iTunes because I haven’t figured out how to reasonably integrate all his bootlegs with my streaming services. So the song is, as the kids say, very on-brand. Unfortunately, it’s not top-shelf Zevon, and it’s a hella bummer of a song. If I’m feeling blue, I’ll let it play out, but more often than not, I skip it (by opening Spotify or Tidal), There are only so many times you can hear "The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder."
"A Beginning Song" by The Decemberists
The song that’s at the top of my iTunes library is "A Beginning Song" off The Decemberists’ latest album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. I’ve had an on-again / off-again relationship with the band since college. I was never a huge fan of their earlier works, but I’ve really liked the direction that they’ve gone in albums like The Crane Wife, The King Is Dead and this one. For me, "A Beginning Song" is the perfect sort of driving song. It’s got a relaxed beat and solid vocals that make it perfect for driving up rural Vermont roads with the windows down. Fortunately, there’s rarely anyone around to hear me singing along.
"The A Team" by Ed Sheeran
Like Liz, I use another streaming service for my music fix these days, but Apple has managed to muscle its way into my car, which means that when I plug my iPhone into the dashboard mount it still defaults to iTunes. Most of my car rides over the past few years have started off on a rather depressing note with Ed Sheeran’s breakout hit "The A Team." Makes sense; the song literally starts with "A." If I’m in a certain mindset, I’ll listen to it again. It’s a sad song, about a meth-addled prostitute ("Call girl, no phone"); it was reportedly based on Sheeran's experience playing a gig at a homeless shelter. If there’s anything that could be said in defense of the song it’s probably that it’s Sheeran at his purist — long before he did a duet with Taylor Swift or wrote a de facto wedding song. Most days, though, I quickly shuffle the music, and if someone else is in the car and hears "The A Team" I usually feel the need to explain that it’s iTunes that has programmed the mood.
"About To Die" by Dirty Projectors
The other day, my wife and I got into our 2013 Subaru Impreza. As usual, I plugged in my iPhone, but before my wife could shout "No not that song again!" that song started playing… again. The song that always plays every time I plug my phone in, because it is the first track on the only album I have in my iTunes library. Unfailingly, the loopy percussion of "About To Die" by Dirty Projectors hits my car’s speakers before my finger can swipe up my phone’s control panel to pause the track. It’s not a bad song. In fact, it is a very good song. It used to be one of my favorites off the band’s 2012 masterpiece, Swing Lo Magellan. But because it now plays totally unprompted every time I plug my phone into my car, it has become that song: the song that plays itself, the song that never asked to be played. Maybe it’s appropriate. Despite its poppy, off-kilter beat and infectious vocals, the song’s lyrics are very bleak, full of emptiness and panic about imminent death. That’s reflected in my own personal panic that I feel every time the song cues up. I fear the song. I fear death. And while we’re all about to die, maybe we don’t listen to that particular song a gazillion times in a row, thus ruining it forever for certain people, hmmm Apple?
"About Face" by Grizzly Bear
I only have four albums on Apple Music, and I can’t remember how or why they got there. There are the soundtracks for Once and The Wind Rises, Guillemots Through the Windowpane, and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest (the latter of which is responsible for my garage goodbye song). "About Face" is as fine a song as any, I suppose, to start every single trip every single day. Though over the past year of becoming intimately familiar with its first 10 seconds — I only began driving again last May, so I guess you could say my relationship with "About Face" is just beginning to bloom — I’ve realized the song’s true calling: to be a ringtone. The repeated progression of carefully plucked notes interrupted by a distorted gnh-gnh is the perfect balance of pleasing and grating that a ringtone requires. You won’t mind hearing the beginning of "About Face" over and over again, no, not at all, but each double-screech will shout from your smartphone, like Linda Loman letting you know attention must be paid to this call from your parents at 3PM on a Saturday. Frankly, "About Face" is wasted as my autoplay car song, where at best it evokes a semi-smile, and at worst it is ignored as I scramble to open Spotify.
"A$AP Rocky x Purity Ring (Pesobedear)" by the Hood Internet
Every once in a while, I click my earbuds to resume a podcast, and instead my iPhone plays the first track in Apple Music: a mashup of A$AP Rocky’s "Peso" with Purity Ring’s "Obedear." I wasn’t previously familiar with "Peso," a hazy ode to the hustle, but "Obedear" I have long loved for its inscrutable creepiness. In the hands of the Hood Internet, whose annual mixtapes are a cherished staple of my gym playlist, the artists make for a potent combination. Rocky’s lyric floats over Purity Ring’s darkly shimmering synths, and a noticeable swagger creeps into my stride. At least until I remember I was trying to listen to a podcast, and pause the track again.
"A-Plus" by Hieroglyphics
I usually connect my phone to the car via Bluetooth, which means my radio is pretty good about respecting what’s happening in Spotify, but every now and then I plug into USB to charge, and my car is instantly transported back to 2003. 2003, when any music player plugged into a car was an IPOD rendered in all capital letters. 2003, five years after Del tha Funkee Homosapien and his crew formed Hieroglyphics and put out 3rd Eye Vision. 2003, when loading your IPOD with critically beloved indie rap albums actually implied that you might listen to those records instead of just adding them to your Spotify lists like so much more identity curation on a social platform. 2003, when my friends turned me onto Del and I loaded 3rd Eye Vision on my IPOD and actually listened to it all the time, along with all the other new music I consumed as complete albums instead of biting off singles on Discover Weekly with no relationship to anyone or anything or any art in particular.
Goddamn I miss 2003.
"A/B Machines" by Sleigh Bells
Everybody gets in the car with a tiny little ritual: sit down, adjust seat, plug phone, shift, pause, check mirrors, etc. And though it doesn’t happen every time, sometimes CarPlay does decide it’s time to just start playing the first song in Apple Music. And for me, that song is "A/B Machines" from Sleigh Bells’ Treats album. So in at least this one, tiny way, I can claim to have been cool, once. Adjust the mirror a little further, look into your own eyes as the distorted lyrics blast out. Yes, it’s true, you had it once. Maybe you’re faded now, but you can get it back. Shift into gear, drive. Your A machines are on the table. Turn them up.