The 50 best road trip songs of all time

Hit the road, Jack, and crank up the dial with our definitive list of the best road trip songs ever made

Don’t get us wrong—we love the city. The hustle and bustle, the colorful characters, the endless list of things to do… There isn’t anything quite like it. But sometimes you get that itch to escape for a while, and the lazy, hazy days of summer are the perfect time to embark on that classic American tradition: the road trip. Of course, you can’t drive in complete silence—well, you can, but the very thought of that is giving us a flat tire—so we’ve compiled our list of the best road trip songs to get your motors running and kick your highway journey into high gear.

Whether you’re venturing on a weekend getaway, driving through the night to get to your sweetie or ambitiously tackling a cross-country trip across all 50 states, we have the tunes to keep your engines purring. Classics from the Boss, the Purple One, the Man in Black, the Cougar, the Fab Four and the Dead. Blasts from your ’90s past, courtesy of Tom Cochrane, Sheryl Crow and the Proclaimers. Ditties about Chicago and L.A., and the famous route that winds between them. Songs that will have visions of Tawny Kitaen doing the splits on the hood of a Jaguar XJ (great for lonely, late-night drives) dancing in your head. So grab your keys, call up a few of your favorite travel buddies, roll down the windows, and crank up the dial. Road trip!

Written by Michael Chen, Brent DiCrescenzo, Adam Feldman, Sophie Harris, Nick Leftley, Tim Lowery, Marley Lynch, Hank Shteamer, Carla Sosenko and Kate Wertheimer.

50–41

“Have Love, Will Travel” by the Sonics

At some stage in your life—at any point between getting your driver's license and getting married, really—you’ll drive from “Maine to Mexico” for a piece of ass, as Gerry Roslie does in this proto-punk classic. The high-tension twang of the guitar sounds like the strings are about to snap, the perfect sonic emulation of sexual frustration. A recent ad for Mexican beer claims you need an “encyclopedic knowledge of garage rock” to pull up this song, as if from some lost, dusty volume. Nah, this is Rock & Roll 101.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Roadrunner” by the Modern Lovers

Talk about a brilliant juxtaposition: Jonathan Richman’s 1972 cut, written when he was 19, beautifully contrasts the Velvet Underground's bare-bones, dirty-as-hell chugalug sound with a subject matter so suburban that Richman's heroes Lou Reed & Co. wouldn’t dare touch it: The thrill of being young, driving in a car and blasting the radio. The song’s repetitive two-chord propulsion is a perfect late-night road-trip pick-me-up.—Tim Lowery

 Download on Amazon

“The Distance” by Cake

With the band’s signature horns and a self-serious melody that practically requires head-bobbing and Speed Racer–esque intensity (you may even want to invest in racing gloves), this single off of 1996’s Fashion Nugget is irresistible. The album is filled with more on-the-nose driving songs than this one (“Race Car Ya-Yas,” “Stickshifts and Safetybelts”), but this is the money single—and got the album platinum status. Throw it on repeat and hit the open road. Just take an occasional break for track No. 7, the band’s excellent cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”—Carla Sosenko

 Download on Amazon

“Shut Up and Drive” by Rihanna

Is this a silly song? Yes. Is it musically a little boring? Mos def. But is it a fun track to crank up when you hit the highway? You bet your ass it is. Rihanna’s made better music than this 2007 bit of fluff (“Umbrella,” “We Found Love”), but her songs are a little like sex and a lot like pizza: Even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good. And with lyrics tailor-made for the pavement, this one’s a no-brainer. Channel RiRi’s shade-throwing swagger, turn up the dial, and, well, shut up and drive. Then go post a revealing selfie on Instagram. (No, don’t do that.) You’ll feel like you’re driving a Lambo even if you’re actually behind the wheel of a Pinto. —Carla Sosenko

 Download on Amazon

“Going Back to Cali” by LL Cool J

From Al Jolson to Led Zeppelin and Phantom Planet, dozens of artists have tapped into the westward dream of the Golden State. Heck, the tradition stretches back to Gold Rush ditties of the mid 19th century, Smithsonian Folkways fodder like “Life in California.” But only one man made the trip wrapped in precious metals, not seeking them. Cool J cruises to the coast, as he proclaims in verse, in a Corvette with a Laurents chrome chain steering wheel, Dayton wire rims and a gold-leaf convertible top. Rick Rubin’s stark 808 beats thunder under the extremely relaxed rhymes of Mr. Ladies Love. “I’m going back to Cali,” he nearly whispers before shrugging it off. “Hmm, I don't think so.” He might go, he might not. With his riches, he is a walking California. That’s cool. Cool enough to pull off one of the few sax solos in hip-hop history.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Let Me Ride” by Dr. Dre

The Chronic arrived on the heels of the 1992 South Central riots. Folks in Compton were looking to escape and could not—and not just because of the traffic on the 110 and 405. This was a cry for cruising with the bucket seats dropped back, slow rolling on a resting-heart-rate rhythm and those G-funk dog-whistle keyboards. “Swing down, sweet chariot, stop, let me ride,” goes the chorus lifted from Parliament’s “Mothership Connection,” itself based on a slave spiritual. But just because the song hides a deeper political meaning the way lowriders hide a subwoofer in the trunk, there’s no reason Dre can’t roll in style. Specifically, in a 1964 Chevy Impala shoed with Dayton rims (a.k.a. “Ds,” as in “Throw some Ds on that bitch”).—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Buy on Amazon

“Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett

You can probably blame censorship for our automobile sex fetishes. Early rock & rollers couldn’t sing about sex, so they sang about their cars…with not-so-subtle undertones. “Mustang Sally,” the grandmother of “Little Red Corvette,” only wants to “ride around,” and Pickett howls with his thumb out, looking to hitch. Seven years later, J.G. Ballard would publish Crash. Would he have written it if, instead of “She’s my little deuce coupe,” the Beach Boys had just been allowed to shout, “Girl, you looks good, won't you back that azz up?”—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles

Fiendishly simple with its descending piano chords, “Hit the Road Jack” is sung from the perspective of a philanderer being ejected by his lady. By all rights this 1961 R&B classic should win a prize for being impossible not to sing along to: “What you say?????” screams soul hero Charles to his velvet-voiced Raelettes. Later he complains, “You can’t mean that,” about as convincingly as a cat picking bird feathers from between its teeth. The track's most memorable use in a road trip appears in the 1989 comedy movie The Dream Team.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

“Green Onions” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s

This R&B instrumental, recorded in 1962, is the perfect soundtrack for an unhurried drive, when you’re sick of singing along and ready to just cruise. It’s repetitive, much like the open road, but with a steady beat and some soulful Hammond organ to keep things interesting. Widely considered to be one of the greatest songs of all time, it’s received accolades from Rolling Stone, Acclaimed Music, the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress. If AAA had a greatest songs list, we’re sure “Green Onions” would be on that, too.—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

“King of the Road” by Roger Miller

Did our dads play this 1964 ditty on long car rides when we were little? You betcha. Do we think they contemplated the potential consequences of making penniless vagabonds sound super cool? Doubtful. Regardless, it’s a timeless everyman’s anthem, and darn if it isn’t catchy. We really like listening to it in our van down by the river.—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

40–31

“Jack & Diane” by John Cougar Mellencamp

Inevitably, your road trip is going to hit some lulls: You’re fighting off the yawns, your passengers have passed out, and it's 57 miles to the next pit stop. When this happens, there’s one sure-fire way to get your journey back on course: Unleash the Cougar. Indiana’s favorite son specializes in songs about the heartland, and his crowning jewel is this 1982 chart topper about two high-school sweethearts and the twists and turns of their American Dream. Despite the jaunty beat and an epic drum breakdown rivaling the one in Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight,” the tale is cautionary, urging us to savor those thrilling, carefree teenage years. Oh, to be young, in love and suckin’ on chili dogs outside the Tastee Freez.…—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

“Everyday Is a Winding Road” by Sheryl Crow

The little sister to Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway,” Sheryl Crow’s 1996 hit unabashedly co-opts the use of automotive byways as metaphors for life’s ups and downs. (Billy “the world is a vampire” Corgan apparently misread the memo.) The “wacky” characters in Crow’s songs are often a bit too precious for our liking—in this case, a vending-machine repairman with a daughter he calls “Easter” (what?)—but the chorus always gets us fired up for some hairpin turns, even when we’re cruising down a seemingly endless straightaway. The song works perfectly when your destination is San Francisco’s Lombard Street, whose residents probably have this tune swirling in their heads 24/7.—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

“Scar Tissue” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

The L.A.-bred Peppers clearly know a thing or two about hitting the highways, as evidenced by a song catalog riddled with Cali-inspired, crank-up-the-dial tunes. For a journey out on the open road, we like this lead track off the band’s 1999 album, Californication, due to its lilting desert-by-twilight vibe. The song’s main attraction is John Frusciante’s wailing guitar solos, which achingly embody Anthony Kiedis’s lyrics about isolation and the twisted, drug-fueled paths he’s traversed (“With the birds I’ll share this lonely view”). Enter tumbleweed, stage right.—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

“The Golden Age” by Beck

This 2002 tune, off Beck’s desolate, heartbreaking Sea Change, is one of the most perfect and profound illustrations of driving as a means of escape. It’s best played at night, in the desert if you’ve got one handy, when you feel like crap but have pretty much come to terms with it. And when, as Beck says, “You've gotta drive all night just to feel like you’re okay.” Go forth, drive and wallow. Maybe you’ll feel better in the morning.—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman’s beautifully direct 1988 hit, from her eponymous debut album, gives escapism an especially poignant twist. The speeding car and its romantic freedom (“City lights stretched out before us/Your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder”) can’t be separated from what it’s speeding from: a life of urban poverty, trapped taking care of deadbeats—first a drunk father and then, at the end, the very driver that she had dreamed might carry her away to her rescue.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

“Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star

Night driving found a shimmering musical complement in this ethereal 1994 track from dream popsters Mazzy Star. In a rare bit of sonic magic, it seems that no matter how fast you’re driving, the low beats per minute on “Fade Into You” always manage to sync up perfectly with the passing dividing lines visible from your car’s two headlights. And a night drive, preferably undertaken as you’re pining for an unrequited love, wouldn’t be complete without Hope Sandoval’s dusk, haunting vocals echoing throughout your ride. Two-lane highway bliss, by moonlight.—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

“Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens

Some songs make your heart beat faster from the get-go, and 2005 road-trip swoon “Chicago” is just such a gem, announcing its entrance in a whirlwind of strings and a rush of percussion. The backing cuts suddenly to Stevens’s voice, whispering that most universal human sentiment: “I fell in love again—all things go, all things go,” and then later, another familiar feeling: “I made a lot of mistakes, I made a lot of mistakes.” It’s this acknowledgment of our frailty, coupled with our irrepressible capacity for hope and excitement that gives “Chicago” its electrifying, driving charge. That and the fact it features in the ridiculously touching road movie Little Miss Sunshine.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

“I Drove All Night” by Cyndi Lauper

The irreverent thrift-shop spunk that defined Cyndi Lauper’s persona in the 1980s sometimes overshadowed her killer range and sensitivity as a vocalist, but “I Drove All Night”—from her third album, 1989’s A Night to Remember—finds her in a different mode. Driven by a feverish desire, she takes the wheel and makes her own way to her lover’s bed. (She may coyly ask, “Is that all right?” but by that time she’s already done it.) And Lauper’s impressively sustained last note is a perfect expression of the song’s sense of undeterrable yearning.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

“Two of Us” by the Beatles

The Fab Four’s back catalog is replete with songs about traveling around: “Drive My Car,” “Day Tripper,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Yellow Submarine”—the list goes on and on like a long and winding road. No Beatles track, though, captures the feeling of setting off into uncharted territory with someone special better than “Two of Us,” penned by Paul McCartney in 1969. There is debate as to whether McCartney’s partner in crime in this song is future wife Linda Eastman, as he claims, or John Lennon, which some of the nostalgia-infused lyrics would suggest. No matter—an impromptu road trip is a good time whether your passenger-seat companion is your new flame or your counterpart in the greatest songwriting tandem of all time.—Michael Chen

 Buy on Amazon

“Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne

There's a reason this song soundtracks the Forrest Gump protagonist’s famous transcontinental jog: Few pop tunes capture the rush of earthbound travel—by foot, by car or, in Jackson Browne’s case, by tour bus—better than this autobiographical FM-radio staple. But what makes it a classic is the ambiguity in Browne’s message. “I don’t know where I’m running now; I’m just running on," he sings, perfectly summing up how the desire for escape can be its own kind of trap.—Hank Shteamer

 Download on Amazon

30–21

“California” by Phantom Planet

Contrary to popular belief, the hair-metal power ballad did not die by grunge’s bullet. The hair just got shorter and the pants got looser. Case in point: this 2002 theme from The O.C. It is emo made only from the emotion of uncut nostalgia. It is basically Motley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” for mollycoddled millennials, right down to the video compiled from sentimental tour footage. And it is oddly reminiscent of Al Jolson’s “California, Here I Come.” That’s some feat, finding the common ground between Jolson and the Crüe. Man, remember when Ryan became a cage fighter after Marissa died?—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“The Way” by Fastball

Alt-rock band Fastball had a breakout 1998 radio hit with this fast-driving tale of a married pair that ditches its conventional home and family, in favor of a dream life on the highway with no destination. The feel-good, sing-along optimism of the chorus—“They’ll never get hungry, they’ll never get old and gray”—has a dark undercurrent: Weeks after their disappearance, the bodies of the real-life Texas couple who inspired the song were discovered in an Arkansas ravine. But all of life’s roads hit a dead end eventually: better, maybe, at least to leave the driveway.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

“Life Is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane

Okay. We know how heavy-handed these metaphors are. And how forced the rhymes are. We never said every song on this list was a masterpiece. But we dare you not to sing along with the chorus of this 1991 cheesefest—especially on a highway. Maybe no one ever listens to the song in its entirety (sorry Tom), but one or two “life is a highway”s are pretty much mandatory. Give in.—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

“Radar Love” by Golden Earring

Appropriately for a song about driving, this 1973 cut from Dutch rockers Golden Earring is one of the most perfect road-trip songs ever written. “The road has got me hypnotized, I’m speeding into a new sunrise!” wails singer Barry Hay, as that bassline gets your head nodding and your foot instinctively pressing down on the gas. “Radar Love” also has the best breakdown of any rock song ever. This is indisputable scientific fact.—Nick Leftley

 Download on Amazon

“Interstate Love Song” by Stone Temple Pilots

The underrated STP (hey, that’s a fuel additive) was never truly a grunge band. Core was a trend-surfing foot in the door, the American equivalent to Blur’s baggy-riding Leisure. Really, the bands have more melodic ambitions. Scott Weiland, as his solo albums and pink fur coat proved, had far more Bowie in him than his peers. “Interstate Love Song” was the lifting of the veil, when the Pilots announced, Hey, we actually listen to the Beatles, not the Melvins. It chugs along with drop-top bliss, even if the chorus is oddly about trains, not driving.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey

A thousand terrible karaoke performances have somewhat dulled the luster of this once-gleaming ’80s classic, but once it comes on in the car, you’ll be in love with it all over again within seconds. Just don’t use it as a route map—there is no such place as South Detroit. Okay, there is, but it’s in Ontario, Canada, and no one's taking a road trip there.—Nick Leftley

 Download on Amazon

“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf

The riff, like the rev of a motorcycle throttle, has become so terribly commonplace, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to hear its “heavy-metal thunder” with virgin ears during the opening credits of Easy Rider. Today, Steppenwolf’s monster hit is a movie-trailer cliché on par with “Bad to the Bone” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).” What was once-tough biker rock is now Viagra-ad fodder. Still, if you can wash out the soundtrack memories of Problem Child, Dr. Dolittle 2, Rugrats Go Wild, et al., the dirty little number still rips, along with a deep huff of exhaust fumes and jazz cigarettes.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty

Some would argue that we could have built this entire list solely out of Petty tunes—but we had to make a choice, and we picked this 1989 single from the song man’s first solo record, Full Moon Fever. Not only does it take place in a car, but the tune’s reference to Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and killer guitar solo make it a perfect fit for blasting out of your speakers while cruising down the interstate in pursuit of the American dream, your future destination or simply that next roadside burger.—Marley Lynch

 Download on Amazon

“On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson

Nothing beats hitting the open road, where you can escape the stress of work, family, bills, city life and just be free, man. Just ask tireless road dog Willie Nelson. The Red Headed Stranger penned this 1980 country hit—the ultimate get-the-hell-out-of-town anthem—not in the back of a tour bus but rather, of all places, on a barf bag midflight.—Tim Lowery

 Download on Amazon

“Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band

We may not have been born in the backseat of a Greyhound bus (thanks, Mom!), but for whatever reason, the idea of being a ramblin’ man (or woman) is endlessly appealing. And when we play this 1973 hit—based on Hank Williams’s 1951 song of the same name—on the open road, that’s exactly who we are. At least until Monday.—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

20–11

“Ride Like the Wind” by Christopher Cross

Take your EGOT and stuff it. Chris Cross has the transportation trifecta—mega-hits for the sea (“Sailing”), sky (“Arthur’s Theme”) and road (“Ride Like the Wind”). People condescendingly pigeonhole the guy as yacht rock (the pink flamingo on his smash album doesn’t help), but he’s truly yacht-jet-and-rental-car rock. Despite its lily-white reputation, “Ride” is cool and dangerous. It’s possibly—no, probably—about drug smuggling. Racing away to Mexico with Michael McDonald as the devil on your shoulder. Hearing those percolating bongos, wind effects, electric piano and oily guitar licks, it could fit right on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. It remains DJ gold. Call it “Get Unlucky.”—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Love Shack” by the B-52’s

Atlantans spend most of their day inside a car. It takes at least 45 minutes to get anywhere: school, the Home Depot, the drive-through at Chick-fil-A. Which is why the drive up to Athens—though it is a desolate stretch of kudzu and outlet malls—is such sweet relief: at least you are moving. By 1989, the B-52’s had likely made that trek hundreds of times, which is how they stumbled upon their “love getaway.” After the rush-hour numbness sinks into your ass, you want out of the goddamned sprawl. Which is why Georgians head to the woods to drink, neck and set off fireworks, no matter if you’re a Red State redneck redder than a rock lobster or Fred Schneider.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers

If there’s one song that can unite everyone in the car in the simple act of thumping whatever surface is near them in time with this ludicrously catchy tune, it’s this one—a hit in 1988 for Scottish twins the Proclaimers. Fun fact: The “havering” referred to in the first verse (“And if I haver, I know I’m gonna be the man who’s havering to you”) is Scots slang for babbling foolishly. So now you know.—Nick Leftley

 Download on Amazon

“Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra

The sweet spot is 176 beats per minute. That’s a giddy run, the pace of your footsteps hitting the pavement as you jog home after a first kiss. Though we haven’t tested this, we theorize it is the precise cadence of fence posts whipping past your window as you motor down a highway just above the speed limit. “Mr. Blue Sky” is 176 beats per minute, which is why, whenever it plays, you have the urge to run like a big dumb puppy dog to a boyfriend/girlfriend, or let the wind blow through your hair at 76mph, as you croon along to the vocoder like a robot. Warning: When “Mr. Blue Sky” is used without such outlets, it can cause deep wanderlust.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“Holiday Road” by Lindsey Buckingham

Hard to hear this seemingly happy little sock hop without thinking of the Griswold family station wagon zooming to Walley World. As its dark video helps to underline, the lyrics speak more of feeling trapped than free. The Fleetwood Mac man was an ace at hiding his boyish ache behind melodic smiles. Which is why the song is such simple genius: It works the same whether you’re chained to a desk and longing for a vacation or finally on the highway, shooting to God knows where with no deadlines.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

“I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash

Music has always had the power to educate. Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” taught us more 20th-century American history than a year’s worth of eighth-grade social-science classes. For a CliffsNotes anatomy lesson, we turned to Professor Sir Mix-a-Lot. And when it comes to geography, there is no better musical resource than this name-dropping country ditty, first released with North American locales in 1962 by Canadian crooner Hank Snow. In four verses, 91 places are rattled off in rapid-fire succession—destinations both big (Chicago and Nashville) and small (Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and Haverstraw, New York). The song has been covered many times and adapted for different regions of the globe, but we’re partial to the Man in Black’s 1996 rendition, simply because his weathered, gravelly bass-baritone suggests a man who has indeed been everywhere.—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

“Going Up the Country” by Canned Heat

Released in 1968 and adapted from a 1920s blues song, Canned Heat’s highest-charting single was the unofficial anthem of Woodstock—and even after all this time, it’s the perfect track to kick off a road trip, a steering-wheel-tapping, grin-inducing song that makes you immediately pine for sun-drenched fields: “I’m going where the water tastes like wine, we can jump in the water, stay drunk all the time.” Those dudes had their priorities straight…just so long as they had a designated driver.—Nick Leftley

 Download on Amazon

“Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

First and foremost a love song, the L.A. troupe’s jingly-jangly 2010 smash single is also, obviously, about coming home. Naturally, the feel-good tune should be played at the end of your voyage, when you’re speeding a bit because you just can’t wait to get home to your significant other/parents/puppy/comfy bed.—Marley Lynch

 Download on Amazon

“Route 66” by Chuck Berry

This R&B standard, written in 1946 by Bobby Troup, has been covered by everyone from the Rolling Stones to John Mayer and Depeche Mode. We’re partial to Chuck Berry’s 1961 rendition, which matches the 2,400-mile pilgrimage on the L.A.–Chicago-connecting titular highway to a T. Who better than the father of rock & roll to accompany a trip past greasy-spoon diners, tiny towns frozen in time and striking Americana landscapes?—Marley Lynch

 Download on Amazon

“America” by Simon and Garfunkel

Add this one to your bucket list: Everyone should be required (at least once) to listen to their restless side, hitchhike, board a bus and go to another city/state/country to find something better—as described in Simon and Garfunkel’s 1968 classic, which follows two young lovers on a Greyhound in search for America. Take your sweetie along for the ride, smoke cigarettes on the side of the road, chat with the weirdos you meet on your journey, and by all means, indulge in a few slices of all-American pie.—Marley Lynch

 Download on Amazon

The top 10

1/10

“Take It Easy” by the Eagles

The Eagles took flight in 1972 with their debut single: a quick but mellow paean to the romance of the road, where a world of troubles—romantic and otherwise—can be shucked at the mere sight of a girl (my lord!) in a flatbed Ford. Cowritten by frontman Glenn Frey and his friend Jackson Browne, the song’s flirtation with worry and release into insouciant adventure is perfect for relieving tension on a drive. As the lyrics gently urge: “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.”—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

2/10

“Graceland” by Paul Simon

Road trips are a time for contemplation, whether we expect it (or like it) or not. Paul Simon’s 1986 single is a perfect, toe-tapping example—we’re treated to what’s basically his stream of consciousness on a drive to Graceland with his son after the failure of his marriage to Carrie Fisher. At turns both nostalgic and hopeful, it runs the gamut of emotions we always seem to experience a little more profoundly on the road.—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

3/10

“Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads

The gospel-choir intro to this upbeat single, off 1985’s Little Creatures, makes for a great start to any road-trip mix. The song celebrates the journey over the destination—as Byrne puts it, “I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom.” (Typical.) Not every end point is a good one, but we’ll be damned if this march doesn’t have us enjoying the ride.—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

4/10

“Truckin’” by Grateful Dead

Let us pause, and acknowledge the fact that this song has been recognized by the U.S. Library of Congress as a national treasure. Mmmm. Written and performed communally by Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and lyricist Robert Hunter, the catchy, bluesy shuffle—off 1970’s American Beauty—turns the band’s misfortunes on the road into a metaphor for getting through life’s constant changes. And really, what’s a good trip—or a good life—if you can’t exclaim at the end, “What a long, strange trip it’s been"?—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

5/10

“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Football possibly killed off Southern boogie rock. Hear us out. Because of college pigskin rivalries, this song could not be made today. College football is a matter of life and death down there, literally. Iconic trees and people have been murdered over games. Skynyrd was born deep in SEC country: The boogie-rock brothers were from Jacksonville, not Alabama, and cut the track in Georgia. Could you imagine a bunch of Gators fans cutting a tune that could in any way be construed as “Roll Tide"? Yankees and rivals love to mock and loathe the Crimson Tide, but when this ditty plays, every human in the room, no matter the allegiance, becomes a temporary, gen-u-wine Mobile redneck.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

6/10

“Keep the Car Running” by Arcade Fire

If there’s one quality that characterizes Arcade Fire’s sound, it’s urgency—and nowhere is that more evident than on “Keep the Car Running” from the band’s super noire, grandiose 2007 Neon Bible album. Based on singer Win Butler’s childhood nightmares (“Men are coming to take me away!” he pines), “Keep the Car Running” expands these fears into a sense of global anxiety, and the certainty that there must be something better down the road (“Don’t know why, but I know I can’t stay”). On its release, the song was likened to prime-era Bruce Springsteen; imagine fans’ joy when Butler and Régine Chassagne made a surprise showing at the Boss’s stadium gig to bust out the song with him. Warning: You will break the speed limit if you play this song while driving.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

7/10

“Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2

This anthemic opening track from U2’s landmark 1987 LP, The Joshua Tree, is an ideal kick starter for any road trip (particularly if you're wandering about the California desert where the titular yucca plant is commonly found). From a whisper, the sound of an organ builds up like a spiritual beacon being unveiled. It’s well over a minute before the Edge’s churning guitar and Adam Clayton’s propulsive bassline kick in, and another 40 seconds before Bono’s vocals touch down. By then, you’re ready to hit top gear and wail along: “I want to run/I want to hide/I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.” Though the song is about Bono’s vision of an Ireland free from class boundaries, it has inspired countless highway warriors to venture out to those places where the streets truly have no name. Or where they at least have weird names like “Zzyzx Road.”—Michael Chen

 Download on Amazon

8/10

“Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake

Been dumped recently? You need to go for a drive (preferably in a Jaguar XJ). You’ve made up your mind. You ain’t wasting no more time. So tease your hair, don your pleather, and crank up the volume on this 1982 hit—just try not to get stuck in traffic. This power ballad works better on the open road (with no adjacent drivers to judge your Coverdale cover moves).—Kate Wertheimer

 Download on Amazon

9/10

“Little Red Corvette” by Prince

It doesn’t take a B.A. in poetry to figure this ditty’s got nothing to do with cars. In the world of Prince, coupés are women, horsepower is a pack of Trojan condoms, and gas is stamina in the sheets. The beat takes its time, synthetic drums echoing into the distance, just as the Purple One implores his one-night stand to take it slow, to make it two, three or more nights. Dez Dickerson peels out in the guitar solo, but she’s the one driving here. Perfect choice of car model—elusive, American, curvy, risky. It wouldn’t work as a Ferrari or Rolls.—Brent DiCrescenzo

 Download on Amazon

10/10

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen

Born to Run is the Boss’s third album, released in 1975 and one of the best in rock history. On long trips, you should listen to the whole damned thing, from start (the haunted but hopeful “Thunder Road”) to finish (the epic, tragic “Jungleland”). If you have to pick just one track, though, the title song is the way to go.

Like Springsteen’s later smash “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Born to Run” is darker than its sing-along chorus lyric may seem. “Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run” doesn’t sound very different from, say, the trippy drifter come-on of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” But there’s not much joy in the ride that Springsteen has in mind.

The song revs up in a dead-end strip of working-class New Jersey, a “runaway American dream”; soon the singer is begging his girlfriend, Wendy—read Peter Pan into that, if you like—to run away from it with him. But he knows they’re not the only ones trying: “The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive/Everybody's out on the run tonight but there's no place left to hide.”

All of this gloom and danger is built on richly layered production: The song is like a motorcycle rushing forward while perched on a wall of sound. Embedded in the scuffed poetry of the lyrics is a potent combination of rebellion, sex, disgust and determination—brought to kickass life by the throaty passion of Springsteen’s voice, the liberating wail of Clarence Clemons’s sax and the sheer propulsive force of the E Street Band’s backup.

“Someday girl, I don't know when/We’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go,” Springsteen promises. And “Born to Run,” for all its spikes, does take you to that place. It’s a love song, an urban-jungle cry and a perfect anthem of pedal-to-the-metal escape.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

Listen to Time Out’s 50 best road trip songs of all time playlist on Spotify

Comments

0 comments