If you’re planning on doing a little road tripping this summer, don’t even think about grabbing your car keys before you’ve made your playlist for the trip, loaded with some of the best road trip songs ever recorded. You’ll need something fun and upbeat, sharing airtime with a few expansive, thought-provoking songs. As something of a road trip junkie myself, I’ve compiled a list of must-listen road trip songs, perfect for recording onto a cassette – remember those? – or adding to your iPhone playlist. Some of them are classics, others are new, but all of them will set the mood for your best-ever road trip.
1. The Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition
Looking for something to start your travels, to get your journey off on the right foot? This song is so beautiful, with soaring orchestration and lyrics, ideal for summer driving in a rented convertible, top down. It’s one of my all-time favorite road trip songs, and one listen will tell you why.
2. Cake – the Distance
If there are going to be any guys on your road trip, why not add something to your road trip play list they’ll sing along to, too? If you’re lucky, they’ll also play air guitar… complete with rock n roll overbite.
3. Wilco - I Must Be High
A little southern folk-sy, a little rock n roll, a lot of fun: no roadtripper playlist would be complete without a little Wilco, and this song is one of their best. It’s the perfect replacement, or accompaniment, to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” One listen, and you and your friends will be singing the “ba ba ba BAH” bits back and forth to each other.
4. OneRepublic – Good Life
This is a newer song, but since it’s all about traveling, and enjoying yourself, it’s a natural fit on a road trip playlist. The rhymes are clever, the music is fun and upbeat, and the message is simple and clear: life is good, isn’t it?
5. Chuck Berry – No Particular Place to Go
Scroll down - way down - in the list of songs from this anthology album, to track 18, for another must-have road trip song. The lyrics make it an obvious choice – why, yes, you ARE riding along in your automobile! – and the upbeat tempo and truly Motown-y old-school feel will make smile, whether or not your baby’s beside you at the wheel.
6. Amos Lee – Windows Are Rolled down
Somehow this song is both carefree and happy, and slightly melancholy, all at once. There’s a little hint of bittersweet folk/country twang, but it’s Amos Lee’s robust voice and meaningful lyrics that make this song ideal for, well, driving with the windows rolled down.
7. Muse – Madness
This song is best when played loud – extremely loud – to the point where you can feel the beat in your belly and chest. I dare you not to sing along… and I’m sure you’ll probably even dance a little, too, right there in the driver’s seat.
8. LL Cool J – Going Back to Cali
There’s got to be room on any road trip play list for a little LL Cool J. I don’t know exactly what this song is all about, but does it matter? It’s chill, perfect for driving at dusk, when the neon lights are just flickering on. Sunglasses are optional, of course.
9. Beastie Boys – No Sleep Til Brooklyn
If you’re going to include that LL Cool J song, add this one, too… it’s a classic, another romp of a song, another song the guys on your road trip will enjoy, and will definitely sing along to.
10. Dwight Yoakam – a Thousand Miles from Nowhere
If you’ve ever had a broken heart – and who hasn’t - then you’ll be able to relate to the lost, disconnected, forlorn undercurrent of this song. The lyrics are beautiful, filled with sorrow and a little ache, but the song is still ideal for a road trip, especially one that’s all about mending a broken heart.
11. Grouplove- Tongue Tied
I truly can’t decide which is better, the song or its music video, but they’re both stellar, a hazy recollection of a tipsy night, a fabulous crush song. It’s catchy, fun, and perfect for driving and singing, loudly, with friends in the passenger side.
12. MGMT – Time to Pretend
This song describes a carefully hatched plot for fame, notoriety, and in the end, a complete start-to-finish rock and roll life. It’s ribald and a little painful at times, but marvelously executed and produced. It’s impossible not to imagine which of your road trip companions would be your partner in crime. Take turns singing the bits between friends, deciding who’ll man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars, while the other moves to Paris, shoots some heroin and (fights?) with the stars. Of course, none of this is recommended if you want to live very long, but the song is still wonderful.
13. The Ramones – I Wanna Be Sedated
This song is plain and simple an utter romp, a peek into the never-stand-still, manic musicians’ lifestyle. It’s all about constant motion, flying/running to the next show, the next gig, fueled by caffeine and perhaps something a little (a LOT) stronger.
14. Asteroid Galaxy Tour – the Golden Age
Though most of us only know this marvelous song from the snippet played during a beer commercial, listen to the whole thing, and you’ll love it! It’s my song, the title track to the soundtrack of every road trip I’ll ever take again. If time travel is more your thing, then skip the road trip and take that jet-pack instead.
That list right there will get you well into the first hour or so of your road trip, far enough away that you don’t recognize all the landmarks around you. Grab your camera, your car keys and some road trip munchies, and hit the road! Which of these songs will you include on your play list (or cassette)? Or is there another road trip song you think must be included? Please share!