The perfect family road trip soundtrack

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Listening to bad pop music is perfect for car karaoke with the kids.

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The worst possible pop music ever produced is guaranteed to be at the top of Jon Howell's Recently Played playlist when he is road-tripping with his wife and two kids. Howell is director of Rhythm Section, a management and booking agency and co-founder of Sydney's annual Australian Music Week and Hi-Fi Days. The 44-year-old is married to musician Cass Eager, 45, and goes on regular road trips with children Hank, 5 and Lois, 2, when she is touring with her band, The Velvet Rope.

"My wife and I deviate from your average Surry Hills hipster couple with kids because when we get on the road, we listen to the worst possible pop music," says Howell, formerly a drummer with Leonardo's Bride.

"Our kids tolerate everything from BB King to Donny Hathaway, but we want them to be happy in the car and it's the poppiest pop music that keeps us all feeling upbeat," he says.

Put pop music on your playlist

Howell says he is more than happy to blast out "the best song ever" by One Direction six times if it ensures everyone in the car remains content. He admits he doesn't find nursery rhymes artistically interesting so defaults to popular hits by 5 Seconds of Summer, Spice Girls, early Madonna and One Direction.

"When the kids were really little we played lots of Jack Johnson's Curious George album. We also have one lullaby album that is a solo piano version of Beatles' songs," says Howell.

"Travelling in the car with kids is us in survival mode – trying to get somewhere without anyone losing it. Interestingly, one of Hank's favourite bands is the Beatles because he recognises the tunes from that lullaby album we play at bedtime," he says.

Find a happy medium 

Howell says while his background is in blues and soul, pop music seems to be the most uplifting option for a long drive. However, as his children's tastes change, he says he would like to expose them to a more diverse range of musical styles and genres.

"I'd like our family road trip soundtracks to eventually have more variation and match the mood of the landscape, with everything from a bit of hard rock to classic soul," Howell says.


"When I was a teen I hated pop music. I was into Nick Cave and pop music was the enemy. Now I've had kids, I think 'This is catchy, let's listen to this' and everyone bops along. A good family road trip soundtrack has to be balanced. I sometimes have to say, 'Kids we've played your song and now it's our turn'. At the moment, both kids are enjoying William Crighton, the last Queens of the Stone Age album and Robert Johnson playing the blues," he says.

When the frontman of Skunkhour, Aya Larkin, 50, travels with his wife Lee, 43, daughter Penelope, 10, and son Jude 7, he asks his children to plug in their portable devices and play DJ for the duration of the road trip. "We do a rotation of music in the car. I play a bit of Bowie, my little girl is into Lorde, my son is into Ed Sheeran. I also play them a bit of Skunkhour when I have a gig to do. If I want to mellow the kids out, I play some old Ray Charles," says Larkin. 

The best car road-trip songs – as voted by Essential Kids' audience

A recent survey by 72 Point on behalf of Allianz Insurance found 61 per cent of drivers feel listening to music while driving creates the illusion they will reach their destination quicker. A scroll through reader recommendations on the Essential Kids Facebook page reveals a diverse range of musical recommendations: from macho rock classics by Iron Maiden to old-school artists such as Elvis, Van Morrison and Fleetwood Mac and catchy nursery rhymes by Australian singer Justine Clark and Baby Roxers.

But the best road-trip music, as voted by Essential Kids parents, was soundtracks – Trolls received the most votes of confidence, along with Sing, Guardians of the Galaxy, Moana, Up!, Frozen, Seussical the Musical, Jurassic World, Matilda, Wreck it Ralph, Annie, Wicked and The Lorax.

Some readers also suggested audiobooks, calling out the Harry Potter series as especially entertaining/distracting on long trips.

The motoring magazine Autotrader compiles collections of tracks that its readers like to listen to while driving. In a 2012 study, the magazine's Top 10 Driving Songs included the Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits), We will Rock you (Queen), Go your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac) and Born in the USA (Bruce Springsteen).     


1.      Download dozens of digital music files before you set off.

2.      Use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to access your music apps.

3.      Use Spotify or Pandora to play music that suits the mood.

4.      Shazam the songs the children respond to and add to your playlist.

5.      Search "Roadtrippin' Tunes" and pick and choose your top of the pops.

6.      Steer your children's musical choices toward everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Eminem early in the piece so they are better able to appreciate different genres.

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