A sing-along can fix even the most boring journey, says Paul Charman

In Moscow, traffic jams of up to two hours' duration force creative solutions to preserve sanity, the BBC reports. Apparently knitting is big and so is flirting with members of the opposite sex who draw alongside. But a key method of alleviating the pain is singing - with a lady called Elena Piskunova sharing her partiality for melancholic Russian folk songs. Elena likes to burst forth into popular standards like The Steppe, the Endless Steppe. And in my view, she's onto something.

Maybe we don't have Moscow-scale traffic jams, but these elongated islands do mean lengthy car trips. Singing is an under-rated method of offsetting boredom and sharpening the weary mind on such journeys.

Even in an era of ubiquitous electronic entertainment, singing is recommended, as it somehow focuses the thoughts and lightens the spirits. It allows you to have some fun and interact with like-minded passengers, all with eyes kept firmly on the road.

Singing does not require earphones - or, for that matter, batteries - and you won't get a ticket for doing it. Those who sing in the car aren't locked into the dreariness of radio talkback, somebody's idea of "classic hits", blaring hip-hop or science lessons from National Radio. And unlike passively listening to your MP3 player, lusty singing is a physical buzz, which fills the lungs and gets the heart heart pumping.


It comes more naturally to oldies, us over-50s raised in the era of making your own fun. Many in this group got educated in a time when lessons stopped once a week all over the country as children sat at their desks and sang along to something called "Radio Broadcast to Schools". Youngsters aren't as spontaneous today, though TV talent shows may be reviving the art of singing somewhat.

But before we press on with the benefits of car singing, mention ought to be made of a subset of this phenomenon: "motorcycle singing". Though less common, this can be a lifesaver, and I base that on experiencing numerous frozen late night rides across Central North Island roads - especially the Desert Road - in my youth.

During these, the ability to make up very loud Italian words for Volare, and very loud Irish ones for Whiskey in the Jar, kept me on the road.

Now, bellowing such gobbledegook into a full-face helmet one thing, but singing to companions confined within an automobile is quite another matter.

You don't want them to open the doors and simply jump out, so be a bit careful. Children may be fairly easy to coax into singing, but adults require some semblance of consent.

This applies especially to my own Anglo tribe, the stoic Nordic and Germanic folk who must hail from somewhere near the cold Arctic Circle. Members of my "Great White Tribe" seem hard to convert to singing, even on a deadly long car journey with little radio reception. Singing seems "more okay" in other cultures, in my experience.

But assuming you're riding with people liberated enough to sing, you've still got the challenge of finding something everyone knows.

Rousing sing-along choruses seem to be popular right across all cultures. So here's my entirely subjective Great Car Song Start-up list: It simply must include that catchy John Stewart/Monkeys ballad, Daydream Believer, Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline, and maybe The Beatles' Hey Jude, with its mindless but comforting "da-da-da-da" chorus.

That 1880s song, I've Been Working on the Railroad, must be the most popular car/bus song of all time. You never do find out who's in the kitchen with Dinah and everyone gets to go "fee, fie, fiddly-i-o-o-o-o".

A New Zealand selection needs Wayne Mason's Nature and Ruru Karaitiana's Blue Smoke. Remember, it's more about recognising a tune and remembering a few words than any great lyrical complexity. Dave Dobbyn's Loyal may be the most popular Kiwi song, but don't try singing it in the car.

The next step is to tackle two or three-part songs. For me these could include doo-wop standards, such as The Marcels' Blue Moon or The Coasters' Yakety Yak.

The Tokens' version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight has three easy parts.

Hooked on a Feeling (the Blue Swede ooga ooga version) isn't exactly doo-wop, but can be hilarious when split into two parts - visit www.youtube.com for inspiration.

I found these especially useful on sometimes dreary weekend journeys driving kids from my place in the lower Northland back to theirs in Auckland. And best of all were those lively debates over who was supposed to come in where, but didn't.

A straw poll revealed some of my driving colleagues enjoy, or have enjoyed, singing Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer; Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl; Tom Petty's Learning to Fly and Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. I don't actually believe that last one though; my guess is that only Kurt Cobain really knew the words.

Tom Jones' Detroit City, Australia Crawl's Reckless and Sloop John B (the Beach Boys version) can be saved for especially dark and difficult roads. They'll perk you up faster than any pep talk from Sir John Kirwan.

Favourite songs are a matter of personal taste, not to mention age and era, but I encourage you to find a few.

Unplug that old MP3 player, turn off the radio and check what songs your companions know - or will tolerate.

Get singing and those far-off city lights will come up sooner than you ever expected.