Rejoice! Easter is finally upon us! For some this means lounging around the house and gorging yourself on giant chocolate eggs until you are more cocoa than human and your veins are now pumping pure sugar around your cream egg stained body. For others it is time to celebrate the time 2000 years ago when a man died for all humanity only to be resurrected as a giant, egg delivering rabbit. Or something.
For me the main joy of Easter is that I will get 4 consecutive days off work without having to use my precious annual leave allowance. This means it’s possible to go on a long weekend of adventure. However, with flights being so expensive at Easter there is only one option – ROAD TRIP!
You’ve packed your car, gathered your friends and stocked up on snacks. There’s only one thing missing; the perfect road trip playlist. Whether you’re taking a day trip to the coast or going on an epic cross-country drive, hopefully this list will get you revved up (I’m sorry). From the classic rock of The Boss, The Dead and America to the perfectly crafted pop of Prince there should be something for almost everyone here so buckle up and crank that radio loud!
Is there any better place to start this list than with The Boss. His back catalogue is a veritable trunk full of awesome road trip songs to fill those hours driving across country; “Wreck on the Highway”, “Drive all night”, “Ramrod”, “Cadillac Ranch”. I could go on. The obvious choice here would have been born to run – “Sprung from cages out on highway nine, chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line” are lyrics that deserve singing at the top of your lungs as you cruise down the motorway. However, I’ve always been partial to Thunder Road with it’s subdued first minute giving away to a booming, anthemic chorus of
“Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well, the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere”
If you’re feeling a little more contrarian then Darlington Country is another perfect song – not necessarily about a road trip but no less likely to stir that wanderlust in you.
Runnin’ Down a Dream
Like Springsteen, I feel like I could have populated this entire list with Petty numbers — However, a choice had to be made so I have gone with this tune from Full Moon Fever. Not only do the lyrics fit that perfect road trip frame of mind; that sense of freedom that you can go anywhere and everywhere, the beat also thuds along at a fair pace making you want to push that accelerator slightly harder. Plus, there’s always that guitar solo.
It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin’
Trees flew by, me and Del were singin’ little Runaway
I was flyin’
Up Around the Bend
Creedence Clearwater Revival
“There’s a place up ahead and I’m goin’ just as fast as my feet can fly
Come away, come away if you’re goin’, leave the sinkin’ ship behind.”
Call me The Breeze
“Well, I got that green light, baby
I got to keep movin’ on
Well, I might go out to California
Might go down to Georgia, I don’t know”
This song is a classic. Not just a road trip classic but a song that is so highly regarded that it has been recognized by the U.S. Library of Congress as a national treasure. The Grateful dead toured constantly throughout their career, often with a convoy of ‘Deadheads’ close behind, so they know a fair bit about being on the road. The song is a long meditation on the pain of being on the road and a yearning for home but ends with the thought that comes to everyone after a particularly adventurous journey – “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
Dead Kennedy’s usual brand of politics and satire isn’t your typical road trip music but they do have one exception; “Winnebago Warrior”. Taken from Plastic Surgery Disasters, Winnebago tells the story of a cross country trip in a camper van, camping, fishing and feeding Doritos to bears. I’m sure that Jello Biafra is trying to make some kind of point in this song but in all honesty, what it is escapes me.
This song has good, adventuring pedigree – Some of the lyrics are partly inspired by Frodo Baggins’ journey in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. Robert Plant embraced the concept of a troubadour “Ramblin’ On” in his post Zeppelin career, continuing to move from one project to the next. and Is it love that we’re all looking for as we ramble on? Maybe… though not necessarily romantic love. Love of a place, love of a time, love of life itself.
“Got no time for spreadin’ roots
The time has come to be gone
And thoough our health we drank a thousand times
It’s time to ramble on”
An all time classic road song. Written in 1972 when Jonathan Richman was only 19, the song epitomises the thrill of driving in a car and blasting the radio with the windows down.
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive to the Stop ‘n’ Shop
With the radio on at night”
Sitting in prime position at the top of my bucket list is my dream of taking a great American road trip. Whether this is cross country, the Pacific Coast Highway, or the famous Route 66 doesn’t matter to me. I just want to get in my car an drive. This R&B standard, written in 1946 by Bobby Troup, has been covered by a multitude of artists from Depeche Mode to Eva Cassidy but Berry’s rendition is by far the best.
I know, I know… I have just included a Chuck Berry song but Promised Land is so great that I can’t not include it. It tell’s journey from of Berry’s journey from Norfolk, Virginia, to the “Promised Land”, Los Angeles, mentioning the various cities he encounters along his journey.
Stickshifts and Safety Belts/ The Distance
The 1996 album Fashion Nugget is filled with driving songs – so much so that it would make a perfect companion on your journey in itself (with the exception of the band’s cover of “I Will Survive”). If I had to pick, i’d have to go for Stick Shifts and Safety Belts but i’m throwing in “The Distance” too as it’s thumping rhythm should perk you on those long drives.
On the Road Again
Who doesn’t have a soft spot for a bit of Willie Nelson? Even if you’re not a fan of country music, you can’t help but have a fondness for this stoner troubadour. The song tell’s the story of Nelson’s life on the road, travelling across the country and playing his music. In contrast to most song’s about travelling performers that yearn for home and normality, Willie embraces his roaming ways and declares he “Just can’t wait to get on the road again. The life I love is making music with my friends.”
Allman Brothers Band
The idea of being a ramblin’ man (or woman) appeals to most people. Everybody wants that feeling of freedom with the ability to travel anywhere they can (Surely that’s why you’re reading this blog!). I may not have been born on a Greyhound bus or a father that wound up on the wrong end of a gun but i’m definitely a Ramblin’ Man at heart.
Midnight Rider is another of the Allman Brothers Band’s hits so synonymous with road trips that it has been used everywhere from road movies to car adverts. If Ramblin’ Man isn’t for you then at least stick Rider on that playlist.
I’ve Been Everywhere
In ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ Johnny Cash is happy to give us a geography lesson, dropping the names of over 90 US towns and cities at a dizzying pace. He’s been to
Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota, Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma, Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo, Tocapillo, Baranquilla, and Perdilla, Boston, Charleston, Dayton, Louisiana, Washington, Houston, Kingston, Texarkana, Monterey, Faraday, Santa Fe, Tallapoosa, Glen Rock, Black Rock, Little Rock, Oskaloosa, Tennessee to Tennesse Chicopee, Spirit Lake, Grand Lake, Devils Lake, Crater Lake… I’ll stop now – I’m clearly trying to fill space. The song was originally recorded by Hank Snow but the man in black’s version is the best and most well known. It’s so good that it even inspired the Instagram handle of my other half, Totingmypack.
Another Travelin’ Song
“Well I’m changing all my strings / I’m gonna write another travelling song / About all the billion highways and the cities at the break of dawn.”
Conor Oberst can be, on occasion, a little maudlin. However, Travellin’ Song is upbeat and jaunty enough to perk you up on a long drive. I’m a big fan of Conor’s other work but if i need an on the road pick me up, this is the only song of his that would hit the spot.
On The Road Again
Released in 1968, On The Road Again was adapted by Alan Wilson from a song of the same name recorded in 1953 by Floyd Jones, a Chicago blues musician. That continuous, psychedelic tambura drone really adds to the feeling of being on a long drive, mirroring the constant hum of an engine.
“Well, I’m so tired of crying
But I’m out on the road again”
Two of Us
With The Fab Four’s constant touring in their early years, it’s no surprise that their back catalogue is replete with songs about travel. I could have easily chosen “Drive My Car,” “Day Tripper,” or “Ticket to Ride”to this list. Not to mention the slightly more on the nose choice of “Long and Winding Road”. None of these songs quite manage to capture the feeling of setting off on an adventure with a friend or loved one quite as well as ‘Two of Us’ – Thought to be written by McCartney in 1969 as an ode to the adventures he took with future wife Linda, although some people claim it is obviously a nostalgic look at the journeys he took with John Lennon.
“Two of us riding nowhere
Hard earned pay
Two of us Sunday driving
If you’ve seen National Lampoon’s Vacation, it’ll be hard to hear this song without picturing the mishaps of the Griswald family as they make their way across the country in their station wagon. I’m an unashamedly huge Fleetwood Mac fan so I’m well aware that the majority of their songs don’t lend themselves to a feeling of freedom, rather mistrust and feeling trapped. I could easily put ‘Go Your Own Way’ on this list just for the title and it’s sing a long potential but knowing the actually meaning behind the song, it isn’t really the feel good track that the melody suggests. The closest thing I could find is Lindsay Buckingham’s ‘Holiday Road’. Although the lyrics of this song also suggest feeling trapped, they are pretty sparse. Plus, the repeating refrains of “Holiday Road” are pretty fun when you are driving towards your own holiday.
There’s something about a lot of Modest Mouse’s music that evokes a lonely feeling of driving on your own late at night. The lyrics of this song, “I spent the same 18 hours in the same damn place / I’m on a road shaped like a figure 8 / I’m going nowhere, but I’m guaranteed to be late.” are almost guaranteed to be a metaphor but let’s just pretend for now that the song is about actually driving.
Keep the Car Running
Arcade fire’s music is at times calming, at other times complex and convoluted but there’s no denying that there’s an urgency to their songs that making them the perfect band to drive to. Although the lyrics actually refer to night terrors that Win Butler has as a child, the sense of claustrophobia that they evoke (“There’s a weight that’s pressing down, late at night you can hear the sound) give the impression that there is something better further down the road.
Motorway to Roswell
Pixies are my favourite band and no playlist i compile is complete without a dose of Black Francis and friends. Trompe du Monde isn’t their best work by a long way but the only song I could find that really fit the theme here was Motorway to Roswell from their 1991 LP. It doesn’t matter though, even Pixie’s worst tracks are better than most band’s best.
Drivin’ On 9
Speaking of Pixies, their Bassist Kim Deal has the perfect song for this playlist in the form of Drivin’ on 9, performed with her seminal post Pixies outfit, The Breeders.
“Drivin’ on 9
Looking for the 30
Maybe I passed it
I’ll Go another mile”
I may just have included this song because the video features a group of kids driving around without a care in the world as the actual song doesn’t really have anything to do with driving. Then again, who cares when the tune is this good. Who wouldn’t want to go on a long drive with this blasting out of the speakers.
“I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war
I’m going to Graceland “
Sometimes a Road trip is just what you need to clear your head and contemplate. In Graceland we are essentially given a stream of consciousness account of the failure of Paul Simon’s marriage to Carrie Fisher as he embarks on a drive to Graceland with his son. He doesn’t know why he’s going except for the fact he just wants to get in his car and drive to Graceland.
Simon and Garfunkel
While we’re on the topic of Paul Simon, it’s probably a good time to talk about America by Simon & Garfunkel. The song was written by Paul Simon and concerns young lovers hitchhiking their way across the United States, in search of “America”, in both a literal and figurative sense. It was inspired by a 1964 road trip that Simon took with his girlfriend Kathy Chitty and is a perfect little slice of Americana for anyone driving across the States.
Fun Fun Fun
The Beach Boys
No road trip is complete until it has at least one Beach Boys song on it.
“Well she got her daddy’s car
And she cruised through the hamburger stand now
Seems she forgot all about the library
Like she told her old man now
And with the radio blasting
Goes cruising just as fast as she can now”
Yo La Tengo
Rather than add another Beach Boys song to this list, i’ve gone with a cover of their hit Little Honda by indie darlings Yo La Tengo. If i’m honest I much prefer this version anyway.
“I’m gonna wake you up early cause I’m gonna take a ride with you.
We’re goin’ down to the Honda shop, I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do.
Put on a ragged sweatshirt, I’ll take you anywhere you want me to.”
I Drove All Night
Need I say more?
Little Red Corvette
You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to know that Prince isn’t referring to a car here. To the Purple One the Corvette in question is clearly a beautiful woman but as a car is mentioned in the title, why not include it. Everyone loves a Prince singalong so who am I to deny you that.
Horse With No Name
With a song that’s a little more on topic here, America’s Horse with No Name is actually structured like a travelogue with Dewey Bunnell describing the journey and observations he makes as he goes. However, he’s no Paul Theroux as the lyrics show:
“On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings”
If I was to take a roadtrip across America, this is the song I can imagine driving through the vast expanses of the Mojave desert to.
Takin’ a Ride
I almost chose ‘Someone Take the Wheel’ but ‘Takin’ a Ride’ is easily Paul Westerberg’s more anthemic song of the two.
“Going real fast, hanging out the window
Drinking in the back seat, half the bottle/at full throttle
The light was green, so was I
The radio’s blasting, turn that shit off”
There is a Light That Never Goes Out
I suppose this list is getting a little tenuous now – I’ve pretty much only included this song because:
1. I love it .
2. It features the words “Driving in my car, I never want to go home”.
3. Everyone loves singing along to the Smiths in a weird, faux Morrissey voice. Don’t pretend you haven’t done it too.
The only issue is that the slightly morbid content about dying via a bus crash could put a dampner on your trip.
What do you think? Are there any songs that you have to include on your playlists for long drives? Leave me some suggestions in the comments!
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