Remember the freedom you felt when you first learned to drive or first got your own car? When you turned the radio on, or put in a cassette or CD, and turned it up? Whether you were cruising around town or setting out on a road trip for the first time, there’s just something about these early driving memories.
And nothing brings them back like music. These 20 rock songs (with a bit of country, soul and other genres thrown in) are all about cars, driving or traveling. Given their popularity, they’re all practically guaranteed to take you back to your best road trip memories—or inspire you to make new ones.
“Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen. This is not the only Springsteen song to rank high as a road trip favorite, but it’s almost synonymous with high speeds and teenage dreams. It sounds as fresh today as it did when it came out in 1975.
“Mustang Sally,” Wilson Pickett. This instantly recognizable tune was released by Sir Mack Rice in 1965 and became a huge hit when Pickett covered it the following year. Sally wasn’t a real woman, but almost every woman (every human, for that matter) can relate to that feeling of just wanting to drive around in a new car.
“King of the Road,” Roger Miller. Though it’s about a hobo’s life on the rails, this song is the perfect background music for the ups and downs of a long road trip. First recorded in 1964, it’s since been covered by dozens of artists and used in several popular films.
“On the Road Again,” Willie Nelson. This quintessential traveling song, written about life on tour, was released in 1980, yet it sounds like it’s been around forever—in a good way. There’s simply a timeless quality to Nelson’s voice and his desire to take to the road, “Goin’ places that I’ve never been/Seein’ things that I may never see again.”
“Me and Bobby McGee,” Janis Joplin. Not all cross-country drives are carefree. Joplin’s emotional version of this Kris Kristofferson song, released in 1971 after her death, evokes memories of sadness, loss and uncertainty on the road.
“Running on Empty,” Jackson Browne. Another one for the more thoughtful road trip moments, Browne’s poignant lyrics over a driving beat (no pun intended) make this song—and the whole of the 1977 album of the same name—a favorite nostalgic listen for many. (Including many who only know it from the movie Forrest Gump.)
“Roam,” B-52s. From its first notes, and the opening line, “I hear a wind/Whistling air/Whispering in my ear….” this upbeat 1990 song totally captures the excitement that builds as you set out on a road trip, and the joy of roaming wherever the day takes you.
“Life Is a Highway,” Tom Cochrane. Everyone who’s spent all day driving has probably stopped at some point and said to themselves, “That guy was right: Life really is a highway.” The feeling is apparently so universal that when this 1991 release was covered by the band Rascal Flatts for the animated movie Cars in 2006, it shot to the top of the charts again.
“Proud Mary,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. It’s about a riverboat, but its infectious rhythm and daydream-inducing lyrics (“Left a good job in the city….”) evoke the possibilities of setting out to places unknown by any mode of travel. Tina Turner’s later versions of the song are just as iconic, if not more so, than CCR’s 1969 original.
“Road to Nowhere,” Talking Heads. If you didn’t know that David Byrne wrote this 1985 song as “a resigned, even joyful look at doom,” you’d assume it was a happy-go-lucky celebration of an aimless journey or the unexpected fun of getting lost. Either way, it’s a catchy tune for your road trip play list.
“I Get Around,” Beach Boys. Most road trips start with a sentiment akin to “I’m gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip/I gotta find a new place where the kids are hip,” and this 1964 song, like other Beach Boys hits about cars and driving, recalls that youthful desire to simply get in the car and discover somewhere new.
“Freeway of Love,” Aretha Franklin. You can’t hear this irresistible 1985 song without turning up the volume. You can’t hear the lyrics (“Oh, we got some places to see/I brought all the maps with me”) without wanting to get in the car and drive somewhere as soon as possible.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads,” John Denver. You don’t have to be from the country to relate to this 1971 classic. It’s easy to sing along to and it’s also a reminder that part of the beauty of traveling is the journey home, back to the place you know best.
“Ramblin’ Man,” The Allman Brothers Band. This 1973 hit has a way of making you feel like you’re a lifelong rambler too, even if you’re just on a short vacation—or sitting at your desk reminiscing about one: “Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can.”
“Drive My Car,” The Beatles. This 1965 song tells a boy-meets-girl story with a twist, but the plot hardly matters. It’s the tempo, the chorus and that little “Beep beep ‘m beep beep yeah” that make this a necessary addition to any road trip playlist.
“Pink Cadillac,” Natalie Cole. Originally released in 1994 by Bruce Springsteen, who wrote the song, it gained widespread popularity when Cole’s version hit the airwaves four years later. Like other great euphemistic car songs, this one also can be interpreted as a simple road trip anthem.
“Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” Billy Ocean. Released in 1988, this catchy song about the allure of driving with an attractive passenger is also fairly likely to tempt you into dancing in the driver’s seat—even if you’re all alone.
“Born to Be Wild,” Steppenwolf. This 1968 release is ubiquitous, for good reason. Both the music and the lyrics (“Get your motor runnin’/Head out on the highway/Lookin’ for adventure/And whatever comes our way”) perfectly encapsulate the feeling of freedom on the open road.
“Kyrie,” Mr. Mister. With lyrics about praying for good fortune on a long journey, and music that takes you right back to 1985, the year it was released, this hit song conjures up the image—and the feeling—of driving down a lonely highway with the windows down and the wind in your hair.
“I’ve Been Everywhere,” Johnny Cash. Released in 1996, at the tail end of Generation X’s early driving years, this road atlas of a song feels like it comes from an earlier era—because it does. Originally written about traveling Australian roads in 1959, it became a U.S. hit in 1962 when Hank Snow recorded a version with North American locations. It’s also been adapted and sung by other artists across the world. But Cash’s version, recorded with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, is more likely to be found on a car radio today and therefore more likely to make you want to get out a map and a highlighter—or turn to your trusty GPS.
This is, of course, only a small sample of the many songs—both driving-themed and not—that can instantly take us back to those first years of driving around town or that special long trip on the open road. Everyone who’s ever sat behind the wheel of a car will have their own memories.
What’s the first song that you remember playing in your car? What’s your favorite song (or album, or genre) to play on a long road trip? Let us know about your musical memories in the comments.
Van Halen, Kiss, Rod Stewart, The Eagles, Kansas, The Beatles, Head East and The Cars! (Way too many to list properly) Those favorite driving/riding around songs while in High School and always brings back some great memories.
I love all classic rock though and still wouldn’t drive anywhere without it!
radar love by golden earring
Put some Lynyrd Skynyrd songs on there please. Sweet Home Alabama, Free Bird
First song I remember playing in my car was Hot Shower by Chance the Rapper! I don’t like this song anymore!
Slow Ride – Foghat
Free Ride – Edgar Winter
Two Tickets to Paradise – Eddie Money
Mississippi Queen – Mountain
Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
Let it Ride – Bachman Turner Overdrive
Bad Motor Scooter – Montrose
I Can’t Drive 55 – Sammy Hagar
Driving My Life Away ~Eddie Rabbit
I love it when America’s “Ventura Highway” is playing when I’m driving.
Little Red Corvette-Prince, always a good driving song
You forgot Neil Young’s “Long May You Run!”
Tree Top Flyer: Stephen Stills, Southern Cross: CSN, Anything by Traveling Willbury’s
RADAR LOVE, Golden Earring needs to be on the list
How about some good country songs…………….
Dirt Road Anthem,” by Jason Aldean
Jerry Reed – ‘East Bound and Down’
Florida Georgia Line – ‘Cruise’
Dwight Yoakam – ‘A Thousand Miles From Nowhere’
Lot Of Leavin’ Left To Do, Settle For A Slowdown, Every Mile A Memory, by Dierks Bentely
Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler) – Alabama
Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses by Kathy Mattea
Radar Love ….by Golden Earring .
Radar Love ….by Golden Earring
Hotel California, on highway 49 going home Pilot Hill, California
Radar Love – Golden Earring
COWBOY – Kid Rock
Rooster – Alice in Chains
Rosalita – Springsteen (Live)
Tiny Dancer – Elton John
Stacked Actors – Foo Fighters (Live)
Beep Beep- THE LITTLE NASH RAMBLER
I like Hot Rod Lincoln, Hey Little Cobra, Traveling Man, Little GTO and My little Corvette for road songs.
Layla is number one anything Eric Clapton is on my list. Europa, Carlos Santana Crazy Train, Ozzy Fly By Night, Working Man, Rush Whipping Post, Midnight Rider, Statesboro Blues Allman Brothers , Midnight in Harlem Tedeschi Trucks Band, Under my Wheels Alice Cooper.
Truckin’ Grateful Dead- theme song of a 1972 cross country road trip
“Life in the Fast Lane” by the Eagles
My sister was moving out west to finish school at Arizona State University, so we took a road
trip together the summer before. The truckers along the way kept referring to us as the
“Jersey Queens”. We had some great adventures!
“Carefree Highway” by Gordon Lightfoot
A good read
AC/DCs “Highway to Hell”
“Roll Me Away” by Bob Seger. Both my wife and I ride motorcycles. We have traveled over 80,000 miles on our 2 wheelers, from coast to coast and border to border. Every time we hear this song we just want to get on our Indian Springfield’s and roll away.
All good !! I would add :
Take it Easy – The Eagles
Running on Empty – Jackson Brown
“Driven” by Rush. (check out the music video)
Lyrics written by a man (a legend) that had spent much time on the road, in times both good and bad.
“The road unwinds towards me
What was there is gone
The road unwinds before me
And I go riding on”
I can’t believe Cruisin’ wasn’t on your list.
I would add “Run Run Run” by Jo Jo Gunne. It has a hard driving beat and fun chorus.
My family ALWAYS traveled with C.W. McCall, the Statler Brothers and the Beach Boys
Radar Love by Golden earing
Roadhouse Blues-The Doors
anything by Bruce Springsteen or Bob Seeger
Good choices for sure
1st song I heard in MY first car was Tommy James & the Shondells “Hanky Panky”.
Long road trip album, any thing by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. The days having an 8 track tape deck I mounted into the dash board of my old Ford Custom.
My travels in our motorhome made me think of other faraway places, so my song choice for the list is:
“You Belong to Me”
‘See the pyramids along the Nile,
Watch the sunrise on a tropic isle…’
A few years ago, I recorded a CD or three of favorites to keep you cruisin’ down the highway at a good clip. Some of them:
“On the Road Again” Canned Heat (1968)
“Soul Deep” The Boxtops (1969)
“Hold Your Head Up” Argent (1972)
“Workin’ On It” Chris Rhea (1988)
“She Runs Hot” Little village (1992)
“Again Tonight” John Mellencamp(1991)
“Waiting for the Bus/Jesus Left Chicago” ZZ Top(1972)
“I’m a Man” Spencer Davis Group(1966)
“Angry Eyes” Loggins and Messina (1979)
“La Grange” ZZ Top (1973)
“Blue’s Theme” Davey Allen and the Arrows (1966)
“Hush” Deep Purple(1968)
“Rumble” Link Wray and the Wraymen (1958)
“Born on the Bayou” Credence Clearwater Revival (1969)
I love the road trip songs.
I created an iTunes playlist of all the suggestions, both from the list and the comments.
Gimme Some Loving by The Spencer Davis Group
On the Road Again- Canned Heat
Please tell me where to get this CD?
Too long ago to remember (50 yrs!)
Put on The Devil Makes Three live Stomp & Smash and I could drive to the moon,or at least across Texas.
My favorite SONG when beginning a road trip (or a trip across town) is “The Bug” from Mark Knopfler and the Dire Straits album “On Every Street”, from the early 90s. The whole album is really “road-worthy”, but I love to start with track #5 (“The Bug”).
riders on the storm
Maybelline, Sweet Little Sixteen, No Particular Place to Go, School Day…just about all of Chuck Berry’s great hits!
Favorite genre is easy, heavy or nu metal and hard rock. Back when I started driving I was probably listening to Motown, Beach Boys, Kinks, etc. As for first song there are too many. I can’t think of any recent hard rock songs, but Depeche Mode’s “Route 66” and AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” come close.
When you just don’t want to get home right away….”Take the Long Way Home, Supertramp”.
“Going mobile” by the who should be on this list.
I don’t agree that the above list will “amp up” a drive; while those are classic songs, there are many tracks that are more exciting than most of those.
“Running on empty” by jackson brown
Always on a road trip
Anything by Santana!
I Rode All Night to Be With You by Roy Orbison
On the road again. Always my favs…
I would add Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones…….and drop Kyrie……
Add Be True to your School…Beach Boys….drop Road to Nowhere…..
Great List, and great suggestions. Personally I’d add La Grange (Expanded Edition on Tres Hombres album) by ZZ Top.
Radar Love by Golden Earring
One of my favorite driving songs. Unfortunately, I keep speeding up as the song goes on.
Love these songs!
Cadillac Ranch (Springsteen)
Take it Easy (Eagles)
“Low Rider” by War
I love the percussion and the smooth horns.
It is just hard to believe no one has picked the greatest love driving song of all time. “Come on man!”
Radar Love by Golden Earring Friday nights driving home from college 2miles from town song came on the old ‘64 Buick’s AM radio hit the gas, hit the black ice, hit the one concrete guard rail, put it up in the corn field. Drove the beast out of the snow covered corn field. Learned my lesson. I have never hit the gas again when it comes on the radio.
Running Down A Dream by Tom Petty!
Absolutely add this one!
Daddy took the T-Bird Away , I believe by the Beach Boys back in the 70’s
Love the oldies, my 1 song while I was driving age, was by Frank Sinatra
Fun, Fun, Fun – Beach Boys
Mustang Sally. At the time I didn’t have a car at all, but I wanted a mustang. In the end I have had 8 cars and never a mustang!
I can’t drive fifty five by Sammy Hagar
My foot depresses on the gas pedal when I hear this classic rock song as my head is bobbing and the volume is at eleven
SLOWRIDE by FOGHAT – Little GTO by Ronnie & the Daytonas – Terraplane Blues, Foghat’s cover of Robert Johnson’s Hudson Terraplane is best.
‘Fast Car’ — Tracy Chapman
‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’ — Tom Petty
I like to dream, yes, yes
Right between the sound machine
On a cloud of sound I drift in the night
Any place it goes is right
Goes far, flies near
To the stars away from here
Magic Carpet Ride
To this very day whenever I hear the first few bars, the volume goes up and I become that chick driving my dads ’73 Oldsmobile… :o)
The good part, the old man loves classic rock also… :o)
‘Drive’, by The Cars. Obviously.
Willie Nelson’s song…….On The Road again, just can’t wait to get on the
road again. I feel just like that today !! We need MORE Music every day !!
Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel
Smoke on the water
Album- Machine Head
Your list is terrible
Alice Cooper, 18!!!
“American Pie” by Don McLean. Amazingly, when my daughter got her first car (a convertible), she played that same song one evening where we bundled up, put the top down, and cruised around listening to her favorites. She was so surprised when I knew all the words.
Anything by Bon Jovi makes great road tripping music.Lost Highway is a great one.
Hold on Tight, Electric Light Orchestra
Sammy Hagar “I can’t drive 55!”
Don’t forget “Radar Love” by Golden Earring.
500 Miles by the Pretenders
1 Thermadore “Three Days”
2 Rick Gervais & Noel Gallagher – Freelove Freeway
3 Tom Waits “Ol ’55” covered by the Eagles.
Thanks for the invite
I was really hoping a link to the songs would be included. Your choices did put me back in the convertible.
What radio station is this???
Hit the Road Jack
Hit the road Jack! And don’t ya come back no more no more no more no more!
Hit the road Jack! And don’t ya come back no more!
I live in the New Orleans area of the country. This is a fantastic
drive home rock song “Hit The Road” by Glitter N’ Gold
I live in Portland, Oregon. It gets nasty weather here a lot. I remember on a long drive hearing ‘Riders on the Storm’ by The Doors. Perfect song at the right moment!!
Hi John. Great song choice!
Highway Star by Deep Purple!!!!!!!
Roll on Down the Highway by BTO
Wayne Moyer hit the nail on the head!