With many people eager to get away this summer, it’s clear that among the safest ways to travel is via a road trip. But for most travelers, no exploration on the open road is complete without great music, especially songs that keep drivers alert and passengers entertained. Not everyone will agree with this Top 10 but there are 50 more options in the Honorable Mention section.
Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen 1975) – The Boss has recorded a number of road trip songs, like Pink Cadillac, Thunder Road, Open All Night and Ramrod. But when it comes to road tripping, with lyrics like, “we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway dream”, Born to Run was Springsteen’s own personal inspiration towards his dream of success.
Drive My Car (The Beatles 1965) – The Beatles were already international stars when they released what many fans consider one of their greatest albums, Rubber Soul in December 1965. Opening the Beatles’ sixth studio album is this catchy tune with familiar lyrics like “baby you can drive my car, yes I’m gonna be a star”. Some may argue it’s outdated, but it’s definitely hard to sit still when listening to this instant classic.
Freeway of Love (Aretha Franklin 1985) – The Queen of Soul may be remembered for some of her earlier hits like Respect and Chain of Fools, but 20 years after she hit the big time, she was still in good form with yet another #1 hit single about having a road trip in her own pink Cadillac. Her performance for Freeway of Love earned Ms. Franklin her 12th Grammy Award, for Best Female R&B Performance.
I Can’t Drive 55 (Sammy Hagar 1984) – The Red Rocker who hit the big time with mega-rock bands like Montrose and Van Halen, actually did pretty well as a solo artist. This rousing rocker is based upon a true road trip event the Cabo Wabo owner experienced when he was pulled over for driving 62 MPH in a 55 MPH zone with no other cars in sight. His response to the officer who stopped him, “I can’t drive 55”.
Little Red Corvette (Prince 1983) – From the album 1999 which seemed futuristic at the time because it was years away, this single only made it to #6 on the Billboard Charts. But many of his fans will argue this is his finest work over a long, prolific career, and a great road trip song, even if it’s really not about a Corvette.
Middle of the Road (The Pretenders 1983) – This single from The Pretenders’ long delayed third album Learning to Crawl was a minor hit on the Billboard Hot 100. But it did much better on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart reaching #2. The fast, pulsating beat and Chrissie Hynde’s solid vocals make this one of their most rousing efforts and the volume deserves to be turned up while out on a great American road trip.
Radar Love (Golden Earring 1973) For years, the Dutch rock band Golden Earring may have been considered as a “one hit wonder” with this song widely acclaimed as the quintessential road trip song from their 1973 album Moontan. With lyrics like “I’ve been driving all night, my hands wet on the wheel”, and a relentless beat, even Bart Simpson had this on his playlist when he embarked on Bart on the Road in 1996. Golden Earring effectively removed its “one hit” moniker after it released Twilight Zone (When the Bullet Hits the Bone) nearly 10 years later.
Running on Empty (Jackson Browne 1977) Many Jackson Browne fans will say this title track from the Grammy Award nominated album is their favorite song and certainly the most recognized. What makes this road tripping song extra special is the fact it was recorded live, making it one of just a few live recordings to earn the distinction on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Take it Easy (Eagles 1972) This Los Angeles-based rock band made a corner in Winslow, Arizona world famous while singing about a girl in a flatbed Ford. This was the Eagles’ first single of what would be a long, string of popular hits that catapulted them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001. This single, co-written by Eagles band member Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne, made it to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 but more importantly, now listed as one of the Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Truckin’ (Grateful Dead 1970) For Deadheads, it was a long strange trip listening to one of the most iconic bands to emerge from the San Francisco Sound era of the 1960s. One of the most popular songs ever from the Grateful Dead, this single from American Beauty was their top hit until Touch of Grey surpassed it, making it to the Top 10 in 1987. 10 years later, “Truckin” earned historic distinction, recognized as a national treasure by the U.S. Library of Congress.
Related: Legendary Concert Venues In America
Honorable Mention: There are simply too many to list but here’s a fairly good assortment worthy of a road tripper’s playlist –
- 405 – Addal (ft. KiFi) (2007)
- 409 – The Beach Boys (1962)
- Boomin’ in Your Jeep – Crystal Fighters (2018)
- Born to Be Wild – Steppenwolf (1968)
- Cars – Gary Numan (1998)
- Crosstown Traffic – Jimi Hendrix (1968)
- Cruisin’ – Smokey Robinson (1979)
- Drive – The Cars (1984)
- Drive By – Train (2012)]
- Everyday is a Winding Road – Sheryl Crow (1996)
- Fast Car – Tracy Chapman (1988)
- Fun, Fun, Fun – The Beach Boys (1964)
- Getaway Car – Taylor Swift (2017)
- Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car – Billy Ocean (1988)
- Highway Star – Deep Purple (1972)
- Highway to Hell – AC/DC (1979)
- Hot Rod Lincoln – Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (1971)
- I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) The Proclaimers (1987)
- Joy Ride – The Killers (2008)
- Keep the Car Running – Arcade Fire (2007)
- Key to the Highway – Derek and the Dominoes (1970)
- King of the Road – Roger Miller (1965)
- Life is a Highway – Tom Cochrane (2018)
- Little Deuce Coupe – The Beach Boys (1963)
- Low Rider – War (1975)
- Maybelline – Chuck Berry (1955)
- Mercedes Benz – Janis Joplin (1970)
- Mustang Sally – Wilson Pickett (1966)
- No Cars Go – Arcade Fire (2003)
- Ocean Drive – Duality (2020)
- Old Town Road – Lil Nas X (ft. Billy Ray Cyrus) (2019)
- On the Road Again – Willie Nelson (1980)
- On the Run – Pink Floyd (1973)
- Pacific Coast Highway – Two Friends (ft. Max) (2017)
- Party in the USA – Miley Cyrus (2009)
- Paradise by the Dashboard Light – Meatloaf (1971)
- Pink Cadillac – Bruce Springsteen (1984)
- Ramblin’ Man – The Allman Brothers (1973)
- Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads (1985)
- Road Trippin’ – Red Hot Chili Peppers (1999)
- Start Me Up – The Rolling Stones (1981)
- Shut Up and Drive – Rihanna (2009)
- Slow Ride – Foghat (1975)
- Teenage Dream – Katy Perry (2010)
- Thunder Road – Bruce Springsteen (1975)
- Travelin’ Shoes – Elvin Bishop (1974)
- Vacation – The Go-Go’s (1981)
- Wake Me Up – Avicii (2013)
- White Walls – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (ft. Schoolboy Q & Hollis) (2013)
- You Can Sleep While I Drive – Melissa Etheridge (1989)
About The Author:
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS Local websites, including CBS New York, CBS Los Angeles, CBS Chicago, CBS San Francisco and CBS Washington D.C. During his peak years with CBS, he reportedly had a digital audience reach of 489 million and more than 5.5 million monthly visitors. His other stories have also appeared in the Daily Meal, Examiner.com, CBS Radio, Engadget and Radio.com, among others. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University, U.S. Army veteran and lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County, California.