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The Perfect Playlist for Every Plane Trip

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Alejandro Moreno de Carlos/Stocksy

Every journey has a hopeful beginning. Sadly that beginning is usually followed by a middle marked by cramped legs and crying babies at 35,000 feet. Thank goodness for modern media! You can bring 4000 songs on board that flight. But oh, which to listen to?

Fear not, fear never! Thrillist has assembled the right mix for every reason you might take to the skies. These are the ultimate musical journeys for every aerial one. And none of them, if you can believe it, is “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Or else all of them are? It’s a philosophical question.

Starting college

Finally: adulthood, or some version of it. Get blorggy with these 100-lit thumpybumps, or whatever slang you college kids are using these days.

Hoodie Allen -- “Eighteen Cool”
You thought the required frat rap number would be Asher Roth’s “I Love College,” but instead, start off with a graduation anthem. You’re leaving all that high school crap behind, and gliding to the next big thing. Keep the cool parts, ditch the excess, and reinvent yourself at least twice in college.

The Head & The Heart -- “Rivers and Roads”
This one’s for the people you do keep. You’ll never have friends again like the ones who watched you grow from a kid into an adult. Just remember as you all grow (and some grow apart), nobody can take away that trust you had when you needed it.

Grimes - “REALiTi” 
Just like college itself, this song isn’t quite reality -- but it is chill and sexy with some emotional stakes, and tries to make you think.

Vampire Weekend -- “Walcott” 
Ha! You thought it would be “Campus,” didn’t you? Nope, sometimes you just have to jump in the car and go on a road trip, even if the place you’re escaping is a beachy patch of paradise. Mostly, though, you want something you can stomp your feet to in the dorms that isn’t too aggro.

Jimmy Eat World -- "The Middle" 
Essential college soundtrack. Since it’s an emo band pretending to be Blink-182 you kill two '00s birds with one stone.

Matt & Kim -- “Daylight” 
Summer’s over, kid, but that doesn’t mean you should stop being whimsical. Go have adventures with only half a destination…which is also a perfect definition of college itself.

Kendrick Lamar -- “i” 
“I love myself!” is the motto of the collegiate experience. The fact that it’s proclaimed while grinding in a dark bar before turning up the energy is just perfect.

Outkast -- “Hey Ya!” 
For over 13 years, “Hey Ya!” has been mandatory house party music. It’s probably already the official fight song of some school in southern Florida.

Ed Sheeran -- “Sing” 
Your entire college experience is going to be Ed Sheeran & Pharrell. Might as well hear them both at their catchiest.

Weird Al -- "Word Crimes" 
Not just the best way to co-opt the great beat of Robin Thicke minus the sleaze and sociopolitical debate, but an important refresher on the rules you should adhere to on your term paper.

Missy Elliott -- “Pep Rally” 

Ex reunion

Is this happening? Dare you hope? Could it all be good again? No way to know unless you take your shot. What do you have to lose? Besides all hope and any sense of peace you might have scraped together. Be a mensch! Those things are worth gambling. Obviously you’re going to have to add to this playlist with all the songs that only matter to you two. But here are some common ones.

The Vaccines -- “Family Friend” 
For anyone who’s ever been shut out, only to get let back in...somewhere, maybe not where they started, this song is your shelter. It’s a hand on the shoulder that hugs you with a howl.

Chairlift -- “Bruises” 
Aw, you’re thinking of all the ultra-important little memories you can never explain to anyone else. That’s sweet. You’ve got this.

Mac DeMarco -- “My Kind of Woman” 
Mr. DeMarco, aren’t we all begging? You beg on our behalf.

Stone Temple Pilots -- “Interstate Love Song” 
Technically this one’s about a train, but you need something to temper your high-soaring hopes...just in case this doesn’t work out.

Penny & The Quarters -- “You and Me” 
This is what a relationship is supposed to be. Keep it in your thoughts.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- “Maps” 
This song will bring you screaming back to the last time you saw your beloved even if you don’t know the heart-rending story behind the video. (Don’t look it up! You’re not strong enough right now!)

Best Coast -- “I Want To” 
The lyrics are the best description imaginable of the entire playlist.

Neutral Milk Hotel -- “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” 
Don’t pretend you never lay on your bed watching the ceiling fan spin in meaningless circles and remembering that time you two went ice-skating and promised to love each other forever.

Regina Spektor -- “Samson” 
Regina Spektor could make a song about a puppy dying of radiation poisoning sound beautiful, so imagine what she can do for your breakup...and hopes of fixing it.

Adele -- “Hello” 
Obvious, but mandatory. Get a window seat so your tears belong to yourself alone.

The XX - “Sunset” 
The percussion sounds like a heartbeat and the lyrics won’t let themselves be hurt again.

Limbeck -- “Honk and Wave” 
Tells the emotionally funny story of running into an ex while driving down the highway and you can’t stop to catch up. Also the highway is life. But good news! It’s upbeat.


Returning to the small town where you grow up, and...gee, does this place look different. Except it’s exactly the same. Just smaller. Maybe it’s you that’s changed? Impossible! Quickly! Open a dating app and see how compatible you are with everyone you want to high school with now that you work at a talent agency in Los Angeles. *gasp* An average 22% match?! It’s you, dawg. It’s you.

Social Distortion -- “Story of My Life”

Why did people even keep writing new songs after this one came out? It’s a perfect description of life from ages 13 to 31, and a comparison of same.

The Shins -- “New Slang” 
Reflect on the meaning of what has come and gone with this strummy number.

Bright Eyes -- “We Are Nowhere And It’s Now” 
Although this is mostly about struggling in NYC, it’s also about finding your home within the chaos of the city.

The Front Bottoms -- “Maps” 
It’s a super fun song from a super fun band about teenagers growing up in New Jersey and wanting to leave and do more. It’s also your antidote to that much more painful “Maps” above!

Spoon -- “The Way We Get By” 
You used to live like this, and things changed so subtly yet so fast, you don’t know how you could have/didn’t notice it.

The Wallflowers -- “The Difference”
Bob Dylan taught the world to throw shade in song with “Like a Rolling Stone” and son Jakob proved adept with this long look at people who grew up together...and didn’t grow up so much after all.

The Postal Service -- “Such Great Heights” 
Bet you’re looking out the window of that plane right now and thinking, “Hey, everything really does look perfect from so far away!”

Modest Mouse -- “The Good Times Are Killing Me”
Is this the most Modest Mouse song title ever? All our best science says yes.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- “American Girl” 
By law, the soundtrack to all small town tales of big dreams must include Tom Petty, and this tune’s the matriarch of them all. Ooh ooh ooh! What if you run into your own personal American girl this weekend at homecoming?

The Jam --"Town Called Malice" 
It’s got this fun, Motown bass line and the start of that ‘80s bounce, but what those lead you into is a portrait of losing class conflict that could only come from Britain.

Everclear -- “Volvo Driving Soccer Mom” 
You’re going to run into at least one friend who got their act together...but did they have to stop being fun while they were at it?

Pulp -- "Disco 2000" 
Nobody can look back in disenchantment like Pulp, especially when they’re looking forward to looking back in disenchantment.

The Dandy Warhols -- "We Used to Be Friends" 
This one becomes relevant to your life so much faster than you’d ever have guessed at 17.

Weekend getaway vacation

You’ve only got two days and can’t go far, but you’re damn well going to go fast and furious to squeeze every drop of party out of your city of choice (perhaps Chicago? Chicago is fun). The menu today is power chords and tales from the tarmac.

AC/DC -- “Thunderstruck” 
Prepare yourself. The literal growl of the opening vocals, along with the shackled buzzsaw of the guitar combine to rev you up like a Mercury Cougar at a red light.

Madcap -- "Hometown" 
What are you going to do, not pump your fist in the air and scream “We’re the boys of the open road!”?

The Impossibles -- “Enter/Return” 
An unknown little number from a great ‘90s Austin band, full of crunchy, furious joy as it sticks it out on the road with friends.

The Rolling Stones -- “Gimme Shelter” 
The crescendo of chaos at the end of this is a good place to take a breather and remember that even highway heroes need sleep in a 48-hour period.

Willie Nelson -- “On the Road Again” 
If you plan Saturday right, this will be Sunday’s soundtrack starter from one of the Highwaymen, and not Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”

The Pogues -- “Transmetropolitan” 
Alright, we’ve had breakfast and only some of it was whiskey, so let’s do this!

Creedence Clearwater Revival -- “Proud Mary”
Mary has every right to be proud. Keep the big wheel on turnin’ to this classic.

Rancid -- “Black Derby Jacket”
Kind of a warning not to stay out on the road too long, if we’re being honest. But oh, that depth of feeling.

Phantom Planet -- “California”
It’s been a long haul, boys, but our destination is in sight, even if it kills us to get there!

Wax -- "California"
What the--? Two Californias in a row? Yes, but this one’s a reminder to get out of town while there’s still time. Don’t miss your bus to the airport! Or...y’know, be on fire.

Business trip

Going to an industry convention? Important client meeting? Corporate presentation of the iPhone 8: Son of iPhone First Blood the Revenge? Doesn’t matter what it is. You’re gonna crush it. Lay down some tunes full of enough motivation to turn hubris into achievement.

Gramatik -- “Balkan Express” 
Holy cow! This is the song to do pushups by for the rest of your life. It makes “Lose Yourself” look like a Leonard Cohen song about sharing a sad secret with a woman he met at a party for two hours. You’ve got this presentation in hand. You cannot lose.

Xzibit -- “Concentrate”
Business or war? The difference is in your mind. Let Mr. X to the Z awaken your third eye. You are the wolf.

M83 -- “Midnight City”
Sometimes you just want to drive out to the heights and stare down at a strange city’s lights and dream of what your new place would be here.

Savages -- “You’re My Chocolate”
There’s not enough strut in the world to keep up with this one.

NWA -- “Express Yourself”
NWA were conquerors and they knew the importance of accruing Scarface-worthy piles of cash. You’d do well to learn from them.

Quantic -- “Time Is the Enemy”
No words, nor any required, in this drifty number for when you’ve put in good work, and have an evening to yourself someplace swanky.

Iggy Pop -- "The Passenger"
On the other hand, sometimes you just want to ride shotgun and see the potential in everything where others only scowl at the decay.

Garbage -- “The World Is Not Enough”
People love to knock this movie, but they ignore the fact that it had the best damn Bond song of all time. Tom Jones can only dream of striking like Shirley Manson. It wields ambition in its left hand and cold-blooded control in its right.

Warren Zevon -- “Werewolves of London”
Nobody’s sure exactly who the werewolves are, but the fact there’s a Them wandering among Us and they’re apex predators is reason enough to keep your eyes open: good habits for any businessperson.

Michael Hunter -- “Soviet Connection”
A video game soundtrack? You think business is a game? Damn right you do, because nobody takes business as seriously as Niko Bellic. He’s here to make his American dream happen, all to the spiderweb strings of this snappy, clattery clockwork tune.

The Lion King -- “Be Prepared”
If you thought a video game was a strange pick to get your head in the numbers game, be prepared for an even less likely source: kids’ cartoons. But say what you will, Scar has a plan and the passion to fuel it. We should all have such clear vision.

Spring break!

Flying south for the last weeks of winter? Pack light, and load your playlist even lighter with these carefree tunes.

Black-Eyed Peas -- “Pump It”
Look, nobody actually likes the Black-Eyed Peas, but they’re the price we all pay to get this party pumpin’ fast and stupid. At least you can rip the bandage off with surf rocker Dick Dale’s vibrato intro to “Misirlou.”

Katy B./Diplo -- “Witches’ Brew Diplo Remix”
Spring break without Diplo is like your parents without very disappointed in you. This should help you achieve both.

Ol Dirty Bastard -- “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”
For people who know exactly why they’re here and aren’t pretending otherwise.

DMX -- “X Gon’ Give It to Ya”
What Deadpool resurrected, let no man put to rest. X is the aggression this spring break needed to get people flashing their bounciest dance moves.

Naughty by Nature -- “O.P.P.”
The weird thing is “Dave, drop a load on ‘em” is the only part of this romantic masterpiece that isn’t an entendre.

Rihanna -- "Cheers (Drink to That)"
Rihanna isn’t just a great entertainer, she seems like she’d be fun to hang out with if she was never famous a day in her life. Be the Rihanna of your party.

Malea -- “One Hot Mess”
Looks like somebody’s flying to Ibiza.

Xenia Ghali -- “Under These Lights”
If the party isn’t dangerously overcrowded by now, you’re wasting good Xenia Ghali.

Martin Solveig feat. Dragonette -- “Hello”
Are there even two dozen words in this song? No? Then it’s perfect! Let’s pour a drink and hit the dance floor!

Halsey -- "Colors"
When that hottie you met on the pier still wants to hang out with you the next day...you’re coasting in the crease. Sometimes good things come out of weird things.

Mick Gordon -- “BFG Division”
This is the Doom soundtrack, and while that might seem incongruent, is Doom really that different from Spring Break? Hordes of once-upstanding young travelers transformed into destructive monsters with an appetite for flesh? The defense rests.

Run the Jewels feat. Gangsta Boo -- “Love Again”
Who knew the birds and the bees were--far from a pleasant euphemism--way more pornographic than pornography?

Meet the baby

So your sibling met their true love out east and started the next generation of your family, possibly in the Mile High Club while listening to that spring break mix. Congratulations to you and yours! Get excited about life and everything that awaits this kid. Unless it’s one of those rotten babies that likes to throw things on the floor and scream until you give it back to them. Anyway, you’re probably feeling pretty good right now so here are some happy jams.

Kanye West feat. Paul McCartney -- “Only One”
The worst thing about Kanye West is also the best thing: he’s exactly as great as he thinks he is. The second best thing is he wrote this song about his daughter and it’s pretty cute.

Louis Armstrong -- “What a Wonderful World”
Oh, is this an obvious pick? As obvious as the tears running down your face? Louis Armstrong could make “I Hung My Head” sound uplifting, so when he sings a song of everything good in humanity, you vow to bequeath these kids today a finer world.

Minnie Riperton -- “Lovin’ You”
Did you know this song is about comedian Maya Rudolph? Her mom wrote this tune just to entertain her! Look at that stupidly beautiful new member of your family. Once you were little and somebody loved you this much just for existing, too.

Lukas Graham -- “7 Years”
No no no, too much life! TOO REAL! Ah...no use fighting it. Here’s a bucket, Lukas Graham, just fill it with all our feelings and add it to the lake in your backyard.

The Proclaimers -- “Life With You”
Yeah, it’s a love song, but you know it’s the kind of love song you play in the kitchen, dancing with a toddler who's standing on your feet.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones -- “Sunday Afternoons on Wisdom Ave.”
A fond reflection on childhood and family spent after church with grandma, set over the ska-core band’s trademark bouncy brass.

Will Smith -- “Just the Two of Us”
Maybe this playlist should have been just this song on repeat.

Train -- "Soul Sister"
Might as well learn it now, because the kid's mom is going to play it nonstop until they're old enough to pick their own music.

Beyonce -- “Daddy Lessons”
You know what there aren’t enough of? Beyonce albums. Also, nice songs from kids praising their parents. This is both.

Best friend’s marriage

Your best friend from high school is marrying the greatest guy! Or gal! Or possibly both, in certain states! Whichever one it is, you're all going to gather on a patch of gorgeous farmland to celebrate their love. 

LCD Soundsystem -- “All My Friends”
What a great start to celebrating the celebration itself! Play this a couple more times before you move on.

Whitney Houston -- “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”
Some straight ‘80s pop to PUMP YOU UP.

Violent Femmes - “Blister in the Sun”
A staple of proms and weddings since 1983, even though nobody can tell if it’s creepy or not.

Pixies - “Hey”
Pairing it with the Violent Femmes actually makes the latter less creepy, like “Oh, it’s just a thing to holler at people you may or may not know. See? This one’s a duet.”

5 Seconds of Summer -- “Don’t Stop”
You can call it a guilty pleasure, but of all the love songs written every five seconds (Wait a second, is that how they got their name? No? Wait four more and ask again), this is one of the few that remembers how much fun being in love is supposed to be.

Bruno Mars -- “Marry You”
A manifest choice, but it only became cliche so fast because it’s that damn good. If you don’t play it, you’ll feel a little empty, like you missed an opportunity for something great.

The Pietasters -- "Night Before"
Romance with an old-school soul vibe, when one half of the couple is a hot mess who just can’t help but get their act together to deserve the pairing.

Ray Charles -- “I Can't Stop Loving You”
You ever love someone so much the most you can do is give up? Yeah, brother. Yeah.

The Supremes -- “Someday We'll Be Together”
A wedding without The Supremes is cursed on this earth. True fact!

Vegas, baby!

If you knew when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em you wouldn’t be here. Whatever happens this weekend, we’re not going to talk about it. But boy are we going to remember it.

Elvis Presley/Junkie XL -- “A Little Less Conversation”
The top three things people want from their casino experience are:

  • To win big
  • To be treated like a badass (high roller or crook, your pick)
  • To glide stylishly through its mortal delights in really fine clothing

If you’re Danny Ocean, you can do all three. But since you’re not Danny Ocean, you’re doomed to get dirty looks from smokers on oxygen tanks playing three slots at once from the comfort of their rascals. Don’t you dare jinx them! Ugh, casinos are the worst. At least you can still do the glide thing, with the DJ remix of this brash number by The King echoing in your ears. There’s nothing more Vegas than Elvis, cockiness, and glitzy remakes.

Goldfrapp -- “Ooh La La”
Alison Goldfrapp is what the Illuminati listen to in private while they reveal their insect faces and do the mechanical lovemaking. Which is to say: she’s otherworldly, potent with a numb undercurrent, and you feel like you’re treading in forbidden territory when you hear her artful compositions. That’s pretty much the soundtrack to every room in Vegas you’re not allowed into.

Coconut Records -- “Nighttiming”
A little bit of old Vegas big band sound still permeates this cool crooner.

Justice -- “Genesis”
Try to listen to this and not strut through your enemy’s lair with a laser pistol. Dare you. DARE YOU. You’re the 007 now!

The Stone Roses -- “Love Spreads”
If you’re listening to this song but not planning a heist, you must be at a Stone Roses show. Unless you’re at a Stone Roses concert in Vegas, in which case, both at once?

The Black Keys -- “Keep Me”
A little dirty, a lot raw, completely intractable, just like the true face of Vegas.

Brendan McGinley doesn’t know a damn thing about music. Why would you listen to him?