When I was growing up, car trips were mercifully limited. My father had a little plane—just big enough to hold my mother, my two brothers, and me, as well as the lovely brown paper bags we had to use as luggage so as not to overload things. Daddy would fly us to the beach and stay a few days on each end before flying us back, and the same held true on trips to Nashville, where we visited my grandparents. This meant that my father was never held hostage for very long in his in-laws’ house or in the motel we favored in Destin, and the rest of us never actually had to talk to each other or fight over who sat where and what to play on the radio.

So it was that the first time I was ever on an extended drive in the presence of one of my siblings, I was 22 years old and my youngest brother was 14. He’d been misbehaving a bit, and his punishment was to make the seven-hour drive from Greenville, Mississippi to Destin, Florida with my mother, my best friend, and me. We had not yet left the city limits when he started lobbying for my mother to play his brand new Eddie Murphy cassette tape. All my mother knew about Murphy was that he was the latest player on Saturday Night Live and he used words that she had barely heard spoken in her lifetime. Naturally, she refused to play the tape, but by the time we’d made it to Hattiesburg, her temper was frayed and her resolve way weakened. She grabbed the tape from my brother’s hand, shoved it in the tape player, and within minutes we were all so convulsed in laughter that she had to pull over on the shoulder.

The rest of the trip was a breeze and by the time we got to Florida, Mama was so enamored of Murphy that she bought a boom box so that we could listen to his monologues over and over again on the beach. When we returned to Greenville, each of us was the proud owner of a tee shirt she’d made for us bearing the sentiment “Chillin’ Out in Destin with Eddie Murphy.”

Now that I no longer have a private plane to tote me around, I too listen to comedy when I drive—I continually thank the good Lord for XM radio whose comedy channels play Murphy and Richard Pryor too. I highly recommend tuning in as a strategy for family car trips, but a well-chosen play list can be put to the same good effect. And since it’s the family you are trying to keep peaceful, perhaps it’s a family whose music you should play. There are lots of musical clans out there, but probably none as prolific as the Taylors—as in James, his siblings, his offspring and his ex-wife. Below are some of my favorites.

 

James Taylor, “Raised Up Family,” October Road

This funky tune starts out with the almost gleefully ironic lyric, “I was raised up family….Man, I’m glad I’m on my own.” Of course, it ends up being a love song of sorts to family ties, with all the attendant frustrations and joys. The last verse is a plea to “take me back…way back, in Raleigh, North Carolina”—the city where the Taylor siblings grew up and where their father was dean of Duke’s medical school.

 

Livingston Taylor, “Carolina Day,” Livingston Taylor

Carolina is the subject—and is featured in the title—of many a Taylor song. This excellent one from Livingston, the youngest of the five siblings, touches on the antics of his siblings, and was recorded in 1970, about the same time as brother James’s “Sweet Baby James.” Livingston now teaches at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, but he is still recording and touring and is an act not to be missed.

 

James Taylor, “Sweet Baby James,” Sweet Baby James

This heartbreakingly beautiful lullaby was the title of Taylor’s breakout album and was written for his namesake, the son of his brother Alex, also a musician who died way too young, at 47.

 

Kate Taylor, “Beautiful Road,” Beautiful Road

The Taylors love a road song—James’s “Country Road,” “That Lonesome Road,” and “October Road” are three more that come immediately to mind. This song by Sister Kate (the title of her first excellent album) is all about memories and longing, family and old friends, homecoming and survival, promises made and broken—all of which beautifully comprise the family trick bag.

 

“Gone to Carolina in My Mind”, James Taylor

This version from his self-titled album, now remastered, is better than the one on the Greatest Hits CD. I wore this sucker out on 8-Track, along with its other mind-blowingly excellent tracks, including, “Something in the Way She Moves,” “Rainy Day Man,” and “Brighten Your Night with My Day.”

 

Carly Simon, “Mockingbird,” Hotcakes

This duet, sung with and arranged by new husband James, is impossible not to juke around to. A glowing Simon is pregnant with daughter Sally on the album cover and wearing a gauzey white dress.

 

Carly Simon, “Forever My Love,” “I Think I’m Gonna Have a Baby,” Hotcakes

The couple was still in the throes of romance when Simon wrote this melodic love song to her husband. The second song is an unexpected rock anthem of empowerment—as well as a screw you of sorts to the record industry. Among the lines is, “They’re putting out too many phonograph records, I think I wanna be a river/Rivers do such nice things, they roll out to the sea…” Simon’s astonishing voice is in full display on this great album.

 

James Taylor, “Sarah Maria,” Gorilla

A lovely lullaby to the aforementioned Sally.

 

James Taylor, “Her Town Too,” “Summer’s Here,” Dad Loves His Work

The album’s title was a retort to Simon’s plea that Taylor stop his constant touring. The cover of J.D. Souther’s great “Her Town Too” foreshadows things to come: “She gets the house and the garden, he gets the boys in the band.”

Despite the album’s general bittersweetness, there’s a lighthearted anthem to summer—“Summer’s Here”—that’s worth it for the inspired harmonica solo alone. As James himself says in another song, “Crank it up now.”

 

Sally Taylor, “Split Decisions,” Apt 6S

The name of the album comes from the Manhattan apartment she shared with mother Carly when she wrote the songs. “Split Decisions” is a rocking “should I stay or should I go song” and features brother Ben doing backup vocals.

 

Ben Taylor, “Bartender’s Blues,” A Song for My Father (a multi-artist compilation)

Taylor’s cover of his dad’s song (from J.T.) demonstrates the remarkable similarity of their phrasing, but Ben is definitely his own man and his own performer. The gifted son is currently an XM favorite.

 

James Taylor, “Caroline I See You,” October Road

The kind of love song every woman wishes were written for her. Alas, James wrote it for his current wife.

 

About Julia Reed

Julia Reed is a columnist at Garden & Gun magazine and a contributing editor at Elle Décor. She also contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and The New York Times, and makes frequent appearances on MSNBC. She is the author of five books, including But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry and One Man’s Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood.

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