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Seven Essential Songs of the Road

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Chances are you, like many travelers, have embarked on the one, the only – the road trip. As you buy cans of Mountain Dew and packages of Slim Jim, gas station owners watch, licking their lips, and somewhere Jack Kerouac smiles. Whether you pile six people into a four-seater, or take a road trip in a luxury limo, traveling by car is one of the birthrights of the American people.   

When it comes down to it, embarking on a successful road trip is determined by one main thing: it’s all about the music. There are many great songs that can make getting there more than half of the fun and less than half of the battle. The following list contains seven of these essential Road trippin’ songs, which should be played often for best results.

“American Pie” (Don Mclean) – Nothing quite attests so greatly to the love affair human beings have had with music than the song “American Pie,” a song that momentarily alludes to the virtual death of an entire genre with a single plane crash. Filled with symbolism and imagery, knowing all the words to it will surely impress even the most stoic of passengers. And, because of its length, listening to the song only three or four times will likely warrant immediate arrival at your traveling destination: five or six verses and suddenly, you’re there.

“You Shook Me All Night Long” (AC/DC) – Music’s version of coffee, “You Shook Me All Night Long” is guaranteed to keep even the sleepiest of drivers awake. With heavy guitar rifts, and lively lyrics, this song will cause most drivers to concentrate so much on sounding like a high-pitched rocker that they won’t have time to fall asleep behind the wheel. “You Shook Me All Night Long” is particularly appropriate to listen to when traveling to an area known for earthquakes.

“Country Roads” (John Denver) – Even when you’re driving through a metropolis, sitting in traffic and watching the guy in the adjacent truck admire the size of the waste he’s pulled out of his nose, “Country Roads” is meant to be played through a car stereo; it is a staple song of the road. One of the only songs with the capacity to remind even the most zealous of travelers that no matter where they go, home is always the ultimate destination, “Country Roads” tells the driver how to get back from where they came. “Country Roads” also reminds them — because it’s a John Denver song — why they are driving instead of flying.

“Jack and Diane” (John Cougar Mellencamp) – This little ditty is guaranteed to remind you why you are on a road trip to begin with: because you are experiencing life. It's a song reeking of nostalgia, and when the line “hold onto sixteen as long as you can” blares through the speakers, you are sure to remember when you uttered those very words and swore that you’d do just that — hang onto sixteen forever; it was a feat that then seemed so easy. “Jack and Diane” reminds the travelers that there is something bittersweet in not being sixteen anymore and something bittersweet in how fast time flies; it tells the traveler that growing old sucks, but still it’s better than the alternative.

“I Wanna Be Sedated” (The Ramones) – Fast paced and packed with anticipation, “I Wanna be Sedated” attests to the ingrained excitement a road tripper feels when just starting out. There’s gas in the tank, a mug of hot coffee in the cup holder, and the sun is rising over the mountains. With the wind in your hair and the Ramones on the radio, you put the petal to the metal and excitement rises to the point where you might really need a sedative. “I Wanna Be Sedated”, however, is a song that must be listened to in small doses. Hearing the same phrase over and over again eventually gets unbearably annoying, leading you not to mind as much if you accidentally drive off a cliff.

“What a Wonderful World” (Louis Armstrong) – There is no better song to play while driving through the most beautiful parts of the world than one that talks of the earth’s brilliance. Whether you’re driving down an ocean-side highway letting the smell of salt water tickle your nose hairs and hearing the slap of water as the tide hold hands with the beach, or driving down a curvy mountain road at sunset and glimpsing those few moments when an untouched forest forms a purple hue, “What a Wonderful World” is sure to give you insight into what that very song was about in the first place.  

On the Road Again” (Willie Nelson) – The reason for this song’s presence on this list is completely self-explanatory. If you don’t know why to include this song when taking even the shortest road trip, then you probably should just travel by trains, planes, but never automobiles.

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About J Jordan

  • At the top of my head:
    –Anything by CCR, but especially “Green River” and “Born on the Bayou,” “Sweet Hitch-hiker.”
    –Springsteen: “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and “Rosalita” (as I’m headed down the coast to a “pretty little place down San Diego way.”
    –Beach Boys: many choices but anytime “I Get Around” or “Don’t Worry Baby comes on the radio, I gotta crank it up.
    –And I love it when I come across any station that’s having a BEATLES MARATHON, Beatles A to A, Beatles Weekend–that station gets locked in and I don’t change it until it’s over.

  • Afterthoughts- Predictible stand-bys that always sound good cranked up in a car:
    –“Pump It Up” Elvis Costello
    –“Smells Like Teen Spirit” Nirvana
    –“A Million Miles Away” Plimsouls

  • Being a Metalhead, at first I would probably suggest some Death & Maiden tunes but after thinking about it, here’s my list:

    The Cars – “Drive”,”Just What I Needed”
    Judas Priest – “Turbo Lover”,”One Shot at Glory”
    (Yes, I know Turbo is a GAY love song but it Rocks)
    Def Leppard – “Foolin”,”Pyromania” & “Hysteria”

    I’m sure I could go on & on but I think these are my tried & true essentials…

  • Vern Halen

    Oh…… I thought this article was going to be about songs ABOUT being in the road…….. Bob Seger’s Turn the Page would’ve been ny number one there.

    For driving…….. y’know, the B52’s have some great stuff – Private Idaho, Love Shack, and my fave, Is that You, Mo-Dean? But don’t tempt the fates – stay away from Devil in my Car.

  • Excellent choices! (Except “Jack and Diane” is too overplayed even for a road trip, IMHO). You know what’s funny? Right after you list “I Wanna Be Sedated” you list “What a Wonderful World,” which Joey Ramone did a kickass version of.

    My personal #1 favorite driving song:
    Tom Petty, “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

  • Way back when I made a road tape made up of just songs about being on the road. “Drive” by the Cars, “on the road again” by Willie Nelson and Canned Heat, “Going Home” by Dinosaur Jr. and a whole bunch of others.

    If I can ever find it, I’ll post them. Or maybe I’ll just make a new one. Sounds fun.

    Oh and good list yourself, though living in Indiana, I’d have to agree with Mr. Sobel, anything Mellencamp is overplayed.

  • Pretty good list, even if I disagree on a few of them.

    Myself, I would go for almost anything from The Rainmakers.

    Then AC/DC, The Rip Chords, and Jan and Dean. But not Dead Man’s Curve.

    I am an old hillbilly, so I like a lot of Rockabilly but since a lot of folks don’t even know what it is, I won’t list it.

  • Indigo Girls’ “Watershed” and “Chickenman” are two of my favorite road songs, along with Rusted Root’s When I Woke album. The latter kept me awake on a late night eight hour drive home back when I was in college.