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



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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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