If you find yourself stuck in bat country, or on the Las Vegas Strip, you’ve probably fallen into Hunter S. Thompson’s trap that is his 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Can’t say I’m surprised, it happens to the best of us. The book is a drug-trip road-trip through the streets of Beverly Hills and the hallways of Circus Circus in search of the American Dream. But what’s a road trip without a free-wheeling soundtrack behind it? Here are the five songs that belong in the CD player of Dr. Gonzo and Raoul Duke’s car.
1. OC Hurricanes: “Girl of My Dreams”
Meet OC Hurricanes, a band out of Los Angeles who showered their mosh-pit audience in water from backstage when I first encountered them. They are good, old-fashioned chaos with a taste for adventure both onstage and off. I chose their song “Girl of My Dreams” for the car ride down the Interstate 15 because it’s both classic and wild. I’d imagine this track as an ode to the “Bright Light City” itself. The smooth baseline and the manic guitar are either a match made in heaven or a recipe for disaster. Take your pick.
2.The Buttertones: “Neon Cowboy”
For the drugged-out Vegas caravan, this is a must-have. The Buttertones are a band out of Los Angeles who put the saxophone in Spaghetti Western. “Neon Cowboy” places the listener saddleback on the Las Vegas Strip. It’s a song with flare for both the old-fashioned and absurd, exactly what Thompson would require. Every character on the roads of Nevada, whether it be a Dr. Gonzo or the modern day road-tripper themself has got to have that cowboy edge.
3.The Rolling Stones: “Sympathy for the Devil”
The rattlesnake marakas, the growling vocals, and the frantic piano are a perfect addition to your ghostly desert ride. Released in 1968, “Sympathy for the Devil” is a song that’s stood up against the twists and turns of time. Despite my choice on this track, Thompson offers us this advice: “no sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.” The Stones capture the adrenaline and allure that comes with being a villain in the same way that Thompson does. After all, only bad guys come out on top in Vegas. This song is perfect for dice-tossin’, the timeless blackjack bluff, or for your troubles on the road.
4.Gorillaz: “Feel Good Inc”
“Feel Good Inc” is a track that combines the calm before the storm with the storm itself. Featuring maniacal laughter, a distorted bass riff, and radio-announcer-esque vocals, this song will prepare you for your trip down the stranger side of the road. This is the record you’ve been craving for your endeavours through bat country and other absurdist landscapes. If you can’t take it, you might as well turn the car around.
And then, after the bright lights begin to fade and you’ve thrown all your cash to the wind, there comes a time to pack your suitcase and hit the highway. With the Vegas skyline and yesterday’s mistakes lurking in the rearview mirror, there’s only one song to do the feeling justice. “Congratulations” by MGMT is an end of the road anthem for the everyday adventurer. The slow electronic drift and mellow notes of guitar will fill your guts with nostalgia and the fondness of memory. Let it’s magic carry you down the I-15 until you find the next city that calls your name.
If you’re looking for a soundtrack to roll the dice on or relive you’re gamblin’ battleground glory days, look no further. “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” immortalized the “Bright Light City” in writing, but I want to pay homage through music. So turn up your rental car radio and skip town for a few days. “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”