If You Ever Plan to Motor West

This song’s been as many places as the hiway itself. Originally penned by jazz pianist Bobby Troup, it’s been covered by nearly everyone. Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Mott the Hoople, and the Rolling Stones have all had a crack at it, and it remains intact.

Troup had quite a career as a jazz pianist and composer, but somehow, as someone who spent the early 70s glued to a television, I can only think of him as Dr. Joe Early from the series ‘Emergency.’ Both of his albums listed at Amazon.com (he recorded six) contain his version of the song. The two versions I’m listening to right now couldn’t be more different from each other, but I love ‘em both.

The more traditional version of the two is by a Santa Cruz band called “Wally’s Swing World.” I discovered Wally Trindade and company on a business trip to San Jose, and I was stunned by the intensity of this little swing band performing literally on a loading dock in an alley. (A full review of the group’s efforts is planned; ask me about it, in case I forget.) Their second album, “Full Swing Ahead” (1996) opens with a very bouncy, very traditional reading of “Route 66.” Wally has a great voice, and the band has performed together long enough that everything has the crisp precision of a Glenn Miller recording. Further down the playlist, Wally’s cheery passage through “I Get A Kick Out of You” made it impossible for me to listen to Sinatra’s version again; it’s Wally’s tune now. Although it was a star of the band’s live act, Wally’s guitar (a ’58 Gretsch Country Club . . . be still my beating heart) doesn’t really show up until their fiery blitz of “American Bandstand.” It’s worth the wait. Trindade could make it on his guitar-playing alone.

The album closes with “Mack the Knife” which is remarkably underplayed, considering the clowning Wally does during the live show. Musical integrity seems to have compelled the band to turn in a very straightforward version, and they do it well. A third album, “More Than A Swing Thing” is currently available; I’d recommend getting one quickly; their first album, “Welcome to Wally’s Swing World” (1994) is out of print and can’t be had for love or money (although, if anyone’s got one, I’m willing to negotiate.) And of course, while you’re there, get “Full Swing Ahead” too.

In a very different place, Depeche Mode cranks out an atypical rock anthem; it’s not your father’s “Route 66″ and it’s not your daughter’s Depeche Mode. This interpretation comes out of the chute with a repetetive, pounding guitar riff that makes it clear that we’re heading into unmapped territory. Vocals, sung to an almost traditonal background, alternate with the crunching guitar to make a song that drives harder than any other version I’ve heard. When I’m on the road, this is one tune that’s always along.