100 Greatest Road Songs
Compiling a list of the 100 all great roads songs is both a daunting task and a relatively simple one at the same time.
Many of the songs here are no-brainers, tunes that most of us grew up with and we can happily mumble a few lines and the chorus to many by heart. Standards like Willie's 'On the Road Again', Dave Dudley's 'Six days on the Road' or Berry's classic -'Promised Land' all have a place in our collective consciousness and are instantly recognizable as indicative of the genre.
Other tunes have become semi-anthemic, such as Don Mclean's 'American Pie' which partly describes a fated plane trip while recalling times past, - and while it really doesn't have a lot to do with the road and road culture it still manages to evoke a feeling of movement and the journey of discovery. Songs like 'American Pie' are often identified with the idea of packing up and hitting the highway, regardless of the lyrical message.
The basic theme of the road song is about travel, journey and discovery, usually self-discovery and this feeling is as much generated by a particular guitar riff, drum beat or a vocal emphasis as it is about the words.
So without further ado and in no particular order -
1. Born to Be Wild
It may be getting a little clichéd but this song, used as the theme in the cult movie 'Easy Rider', is still one of the most recognized ditties for portraying burning rubber and the freedoms of the highway.
2. Turn the Page
- Bob Seger.
With a wailing saxophone solo and one of Seger's finest performances, 'Turn The Page' tells the tale of a road-weary, journeyman rocker while squeezing out every available drop of angst.
3. Going Up The Country
- Canned Heat.
The unofficial anthem of Woodstock where it was performed by the 'Heat', this song conjures up simple joy and enthusiasm for the sheer possibility of jumping in a car, hitting the road and seeing what the trip may bring.
4. On the Road Again
- Willie Nelson.
Made famous by Willie's nasal twang and probably hummed by anyone that ever departed on any sort of road trip (at least mentally), 'On The Road Again' continues to rank as an all time highway classic.
5. King of the Road
- Roger Miller.
The original film clip is a 'must see' as Miller attempts to fuse a poignant tune about a vagrant, carefree wanderer with the flower power symbolism of the 1960's.
6. Roadhouse Blues
- The Doors.
"...keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel..."
is perhaps the perfect intro to the unrelenting beat of the Doors monster hit containing bruising lyrics, relentless rhythm and staggering cohesion.
7. Take It Easy
Purely melodic and with the lazy beat of summer and the hum of tyres on tarmac, The Eagles, yet again, take a simple theme and infuse it with motoring, travel and lust.
8. Radar Love
– Golden Earring.
It's been themed as classic road rock in a dozen or more movies and even though you have probably never heard the name 'Golden Earring' you will instantly recognize the driving beat of this Dutch band's classic song.
9. Take Me Home
(Country Roads) - John Denver.
JD's classic homecoming song is delivered with an extra dose of good ol' country syrup and still delivers in spades, proving that 'nice' road music can be every bit as successful as a 'grungy' sound.
10. Promised Land
– Chuck Berry.
Presley, Beatles, Stones, AC/DC, Hendrix, Lee Lewis, Zeppelin, Springsteen, Creedence and a hundred others cite Berry as being a major influence and one listen to Promised Land and you will understand why.
11. The Weight
– The Band.
The Band had more talent in the sweat they left on the stage than many modern bands have in their whole line up and they proved it with this rollicking epic that parables the journey of a traveller in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
12. Highway To Hell
With a ferocious lead guitar intro, a thumping drum beat and the raw vocals of the late Bon Scott 'Highway to Hell' firmly cements a place as one of the definitive songs of the genre.
13. Running On Empty
– Jackson Browne.
Passionate, lyrical and echoing a longing for days gone by are descriptions often aimed at Browne's most popular album while the feature song maintains the twin themes of an evolving life journey and evolving road journey.
14. Ventura Highway
It's silky, dreamy and languid and 'Ventura' could be the name of any highway anywhere - promising gold at rainbows end and lazy martinis in deckchairs as the sun sets below the desert.
15. Travellin' Man
- Ricky Nelson.
Travellin' Man's theme is fairly representative of Nelson's short but energetic and exuberant life, incorporating all the aspects of his fame as a touring teen idol and his subsequent roaming liaisons.
16. Leaving on a Jet Plane
– Peter, Paul and Mary.
John Denver ditty filled with melodic sentiment and this 60's trio didn't hold back when it came time to add their own brand of sentimentality, resulting in an evergreen, travelling heart wrencher.
- Jimmy Buffet.
Margaritaville is Buffet's most well known effort and it has spurned a whole industry based on the traveller in search of a laid back, dreamy tropical holiday fuelled by tequila.
18. Wanted Man
- George Thorogood.
Dylan wrote it, Cash sang it at San Quentin and Thorogood stole it by infusing it with a restrained rawness revolving around a nomadic Romeo and a string of broken hearts.
19. In The Summertime
- Mungo Jerry.
It's a catchy and simple tune that revolves around girls and cars and like most of Mungo Jerry's further work captured a sense of summer abandon with an infectious reggae style beat.
20. California Dreamin'
- Mamas And The Papas.
John and Michelle Phillips penned this tune in 1965 after John awoke from a dream and the rhythmic melody and superb harmonies of the band tell a dreamy tale of longing, travel and warmth.
21. Everyday Is A Winding Road
- Sheryl Crow.
It's been covered by Prince, used in commercials by Subaru, appeared in films Erin Brockovich and Phenomenon and has backing vocals performed by Crowded House. Everyday IS a Winding Road.
- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
The boys had only just formed the band when they got the call up to play the biggest concert in history and they transformed the sentiment of a generation into an anthem about a journey and an event.
23. American Pie
- Don Mclean.
American Pie deserves inclusion on any musical list, even a classical list, but the fact that 'Pie' makes mention of a Chevy and almost everyone can sing the lyrics by heart on any road trip is good enough to include it here.
24. Hollywood Seven
- Jon English.
Inspired by a highway motel that writer, Gloria Sklerov had driven past and eventually it was handed to the gravel voiced Jon English who recounted the story of staying at 'Hollywood Seven' waiting for the 'big break'.
25. Knockin' On Heaven's Door
- Guns 'n' Roses.
Knocking on Heavens Door is about a journey, although not the typical car or truck facilitated travel commonly depicted here and the 'Gunners' perform Dylan's masterpiece with a gusto that is hard to ignore.
26. The Wanderer
The Wanderer took another breathe of life as the theme song for the 'greaser' film 'The Wanderers' and Dion's teenage anthem enthused another generation about to embark on the life of the nomad.
27. Devil Went Down to Georgia
- Charlie Daniels Band.
As corny as it is, it is nearly impossible not to raise a toe-tap in time as Lucifer makes the journey into the heart of Georgia for a fiddle-pickin', hell raisin' showdown with god-a-fearin' Johnny.
28. Roll On Down The Highway
- Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Like their name, Bachman Turner Overdrive specialised in rocking, highway themes with a polite emphasis on avoiding the law, and Roll on Down the Highway is no exception.
29. I’ve Been Everywhere
– Lucky Starr.
An iconic Australian hit that's been covered by country greats such as Ted Egan, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash and Lynn Anderson.
30. Sweet Home Alabama
– Lynyrd Skynyrd.
No one else could so unashamedly and passionately defend their homeland and Lynyrd Skynrd put together a thumper of a song that slammed Neil Young lyrically while celebrating a return to Alabama.
31. (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66
– Nat King Cole.
It was hip, it was smooth and it swung and what is essentially a 1946 travelogue, romancing the passage of Route 66, helped to set the scene for the other songs on this list.
32. Rearview Mirror
– Pearl Jam.
Even though Pearl Jam would seem to have all the elements needed to create rip roaring road songs, they tend to stick with deeper and more complex themes and Rearview Mirror only just manages to scrape onto this list.
33. Bad Company
– Bad Company.
More outlaw cowboy than a traditional road song, Bad Company has become associated with the idea of lawless rebellion and being on the run, which are often the underlying tones of highway hymns.
34. Born to Run
– Bruce Springsteen.
Well the title says it all and 'The Boss' does American Highway Attitude just about as well as anyone else, so Born to Run brims with the angst of eighties youth and the working class struggle.
35. Me and Bobby McGee
– Kris Kristofferson.
Janis made a fine job of it but it is quintessentially master songsmith Kristofferson's tune and remains a classic ballad about life, love and loss on the road.
36. Cripple Creek
- The Band.
The Band put it all together again for an up-beat, good-time, thigh slapper of a song that tells of a drunken, lusty interlude from the ardours of travel with all the usual gusto and humour of this seminal group.
37. Drive My Car
– The Beatles.
Certainly not the finest from the Fab Four, Drive My Car appears here because it manages an engaging rhythm underpinned by a clever lyric that managed to include the sexual innuendo that is the essence of the automobile.
38. Hit the Road Jack
– Percy Mayfield.
Ray Charles made it famous and every man and his dog has had a crack at it, but Percy wrote it and when he sang it he injected it with all the spunk and vigour needed to move an ex-lover on down the road.
39. Life Is a Highway
– Tom Cochrane.
It's got everything required to create your typical American highway anthem, a bluesy riff, town naming lyrics, a girl, a car and the timeless struggle with the burdens of everyday life, all in all, a hit recipe.
- Bob Dylan.
Dirt Road Blues, Endless Highway, Highway 61 Revisited, any number of Sir Bob's songs could have made it but Mozambique has a unique flavour and beat and besides, Emmylou Harris performs the uncredited backing vocals.
– Elton John.
Filled with longing and remorse and sung with great passion, this misunderstood song is really about a blind war vet but manages to evoke a sense of journey to a better time and a better place.
42. I’m Gonna Be
(500 Miles) – The Proclaimers.
A stomping folksy ditty from a nerdy looking pair of Scottish twin brothers that took the world by storm in 1988 and wails, in the broadest of accents, about a foot journey undertaken for the love of a woman.
43. Drive Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder
– Brian Setzer Orchestra.
It doesn't contain the most pleasant lyrical undertones, with it's storyline of death and self destruction, but the blistering guitar riff and big band sound pull it all together.
44. 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
– Paul Simon.
Simon's 1975 hit showcased a unique drum beat and one of the finest backup ensembles around, while the lyrics have become virtual bywords for anyone deliberating the end of a relationship.
45. Band On The Run
– Paul Mccartney.
Sir Paul had well and truly proved he was more than just an ex-beatle when wings released what was to be the biggest album of 1974, the album highlighted by this outstanding song bearing the same name.
– Grateful Dead.
This song was officially made a 'National Treasure' by the U.S. Library of Congress (for whatever that is worth)
and it even smells like the highway while showcasing the 'Dead's' musical talents.
47. Ol' 55
– Tom Waits.
Waits has an entirely unique way of looking at any situation and his representation here of a sunrise departure from a lovers home in Ol'55 (Chevrolet, presumably) is purely Tom waits.
48. LA Freeway
– Guy Clarke.
This under appreciated and highly talented songwriter/singer captures a sense of imminent relief when contemplating making a break from the concrete confines of L.A.
49. Midnight Rambler
– Rolling Stones.
Plan on adding this classic tune to your car catalogue then track down a live version of 'Rambler' with the boys belting it out in their prime. No other White British Boy Band does Black American Blues as well as this.
– Rod Stewart.
While not a road song in the truest sense of the word, Stewart's biggest hit manages to capture the highway-like sentiments of freedom, longing and journey as he sails 'stormy waters'.
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