10 Fundamental Road Trip Songs

Jul 9, 2014

Continuing with our summer theme, this week we’ll talk about the open road, and the music that beckons us to travel it! There’s no time like the summer for long road trips with friends and family, and nothing makes those passing miles more memorable or exciting like upbeat driving songs.

Presented for your consideration, in my own humble opinion and in no particular order, the 10 most essential songs for your road trip playlist. Enjoy!

Tom Cochrane – Life is a Highway

Not all road trip songs have to literally be about the road, but this one has to be on the list. Released by Tom Cochrane on his 1991 album Mad Mad World, this song has become his most famous, and was a number one hit here in Canada. It peaked at number six on the Billboard charts in the States in ’92. Rascal Flats covered it for the Cars soundtrack, but nothing beats the original.

Nat King Cole – Route 66

An oldie, but goodie, Route 66 was written by American songwriter Bobby Troup, and first recorded by the late, great Nat King Cole in 1946. The lyrics follow the path or the famous U.S. Route 66 highway, which used to run from Chicago, Illinois all the way to L.A., California. This classic driving song has been covered many times since Cole’s first recording by a number of well-known artists, including Chuck Berry, Bing Crosby, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, and Brad Paisley.

AC/DC – Highway to Hell

Known for that unmistakable riff created by AC/DC rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, Highway to Hell was written by brothers Angus and Malcolm Young, along with Bon Scott. The idea came about after the band had made several studio albums and were constantly promoting them via grueling tour schedules, which Angus referred to as being a highway to hell. Though it never made it very high on the charts, this song is still one of AD/DC’s all-time best, and definitely deserves a spot on any road trip playlist.

Steppenwolf – Born to be Wild

Originally released in 1968 on the album Steppenwolf, Born to be Wild became the bands most successful single, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts. It was included in the soundtrack for the movie Easy Rider for its obvious appeal to biker culture, appearance, and attitude. Interestingly, it is also sometimes called the first heavy metal song, and the lyric “heavy metal thunder” was the first time the term was ever used in rock music.

War – Low Rider

What road trip playlist would be complete without War’s Low Rider? Off of War’s 1975 album Why Can’t We Be Friends?Low Rider reached #1 on the Billboard R&B charts. As the Allmusic online music guide service put it in their review, “the lyric takes the cool image of the lowrider – the Chicago culture practice of hydraulically hot-rodding classic cars – and using innuendo, extends the image to a lifestyle.” Low Rider simply exudes cool.

Incubus – Drive

A more modern song, Drive was released in 2000 and lead singer Brandon Boyd has said the song is about fear and making decisions out of fear. Boyd said “it’s about imagining what life would be like if you didn’t live it that way.” Overall, a positive message for Incubus’s breakout single, which reached #1 on Billboard’s modern rock charts. It also won the band Billboard’s award for Modern Rock Single of the Year in 2001. Take the wheel and drive, indeed.

Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer

Who can resist belting this one out when it comes on? That alone secures its spot on this list. Livin’ On A Prayer was Bon Jovi’s second consecutive #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit and became the band’s signature song. The original 45 single sold 800,000 copies in the U.S. alone, and was certified Triple Platinum in 2013 for over 3 million digital downloads. Both pro- and anti-labour parties have claimed the song, interpreting the lyrics for their own agendas, but Jon Bon Jovi himself has explained that he “wrote that song during the Reagan era (1980-88) and the trickle-down economics are really inspirational to writing songs.” Either way, it’s a great driving tune.

Bon Jovi – Wanted Dead or Alive

Another Bon Jovi song, off the same album as Livin’ On A Prayer, Bon Jovi has said this one was inspired by Bob Seger’s Turn the Page (the very next song on this list). Comparing the lives and lifestyles of modern day rock bands to those of the outlaws of the Old West, Bon Jovi hit a chord with audiences when he wrote Wanted Dead or Alive one early morning when he couldn’t sleep on the tour bus. Filled with visions of the road, doing your own thing despite the consequences, and powerful imagery (“a loaded six-string on my back,” “on a steel horse I ride,”) this one is a driving song for the ages.

Bob Seger – Turn the Page

Another classic rock song about the emotional ups and downs of a rock musician’s life on the road, Turn the Page was written in 1972 while Seger was touring with Teegarden & Van Winkle. Although it was never released as a single, the live version from 1976’s Live Bullet album became a pillar of rock radio stations, and still gets a lot of airplay on classic rock stations. In 1998 Metallica released a cover of the song as a single from their Garage Inc. album. Their version reached #1 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Track charts for 11 consecutive weeks, marking the longest time Metallica has ever spent at the top.

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

I know I said these were in no particular order, but nothing tops Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Originally released on 1975’s A Night at the Opera this song quickly became a commercial success, staying on top of the UK charts for nine weeks and selling more than a million copies by the end of January ’76. It reached the top of the charts again in ’91 following writer and lead singer Freddie Mercury’s death, becoming the UK’s third best-selling single of all time. It’s unique composition, consisting of a ballad section ending with a guitar solo, an operatic passage, and a hard rock section, all without a chorus, helped it reach the top of the charts in many other markets as well, including here in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and The Netherlands. And who could forget the amazing scene from Wayne’s World!

Well there you have it, 10 songs essential to any road trip playlist. But this is by no means a comprehensive list, and 10 songs is in no way a complete playlist for any road trip. So add your own, and make your own memories, because there is nothing quite like the open road, and nothing like the songs we belt out driving the blacktop.