The internet likes lists and I’m getting on that train. One of the two bloggers I read frequently is Matt at Dinosaur Dracula. I’m going to blame him for putting the idea in my head. He makes lists of best toys, commercials, holiday junk food, etc. To copy him while staying with the theme of my blog, I’m going to try out lists of travel themed music I enjoy. I’ve already started compiling some themes and songs so I’m ahead of the game, but feel free to mention your favorites in the comments section.
Music is essential to any of my road trips. Actually it’s essential for my grocery shopping, shower, day at work, cleaning, etc. I figure the best place to start is with the classics. Below are 5 songs I would consider timeless and essential to any mention of travel related music.
On the Road – written and performed by Willie Nelson
I am unflinching in my dedication to this song. It must be played at the start of any major road trip. Now it shouldn’t be wasted building up your energy for a short drive to the beach (unless you live in the Midwest and that is a large trip). Like champagne christening a new boat, this needs to be used sparingly. You don’t christen a sunfish sailboat (do you? I imagine not). But when you have your lovely schooner ready to set sail, you pull out the God damn good champagne. And Willie is damn good.
This song was 20 on Billboard Hot 100, nominated for an Oscar, and won a Grammy. More importantly it received the high honor of being covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks on their Urban Chipmunk album. The song was written for the movie Honeysuckle Rose (Nelson’s first leading role) at the request of the executive producer. It was written hastily on a barf bag, and while I never get car sick, I appreciate the irony.
Favorite line: Entire song. It’s a cop out but true, this song can’t be boiled down to one or two lines.
Route 66 – written by Bobby Troup and performed by Glenn Frey
This blues song was first recorded by Nat King Cole but it didn’t hit the charts (#14) until it was performed by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (stupid cultural appropriation). The song stuck around through the 50s and made a big resurgence in the 60s when covered by Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones. I really struggled with which version to share since those are all such iconic musicians. Instead I decided to go at it from a different angle with a (fairly) recent and jazzier performance by The Eagle’s lead singer Glenn Frey. I recommend checking out all of the other versions though and figuring out which you like best.
I’ve been on Rt 66 many, many times but I have yet to drive the entire length. Reaching from Chicago to LA, it was established in 1926 and originally covered 2,448 miles. After Eisenhower’s creation of modern interstates (something I am passionate about, loving sometimes and despising others), it got cut up and eventually decommissioned by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (bunch of trifling bitches).
Thankfully there has been a resurrection of the road and its spirit. Restaurants, motels, and gift shops are taking up a retro look and playing off the original feel of the road (I assume, I wasn’t there, I don’t know how it felt). In 1999 President Clinton signed the National Route 66 Preservation Bill and dropped a cool $10 mil on restoration projects. Figures a guy who plays the sex-aphone would be down with Rt 66. Eventually I will drive the entire length only wearing cool guy clothes from the 40s and using hep cat slang.
Favorite line: “Won’t you get hip to this timely tip: when you make the California trip get your kicks on Route 66.”
I will get hip. I will totally get hip.
I’ve Been Everywhere – written by Geoff Mack and performed by Johnny Cash
I’m glad I included this song in the list as I learned a lot and will now school you on its history! This was originally an Australian song mentioning Australian towns (makes sense) and made famous by Lucky Starr in 1962. A mere year later the towns were changed to U.S. locations for Canadian singer Hank Snow. So there you go, what I always thought was a Johnny Cash all-American song is actually Australian!
It’s hard to say which version I like better. The American version has more meaning to me because I know and have been to many places mentioned. The Australian version however, starts off a hundred times better than the U.S’s.
American first line: “I was toting my pack along the dusty Winnemucca road.”
Solid start. Winnemucca is a fun word.
Australian first line: “Well, I was humpin’ my bluey on the dusty Oodnadatta road.”
I have no clue what that means but I love it. Humpin’ a bluey. Fantastic.
Favorite line: The Australian first line or “For Pete’s Sake I’ve been everywhere, man” in the American version.
Born to Run – written and performed by Bruce Springsteen
My opinion of Springsteen has been a slow evolution as I’ve always thought he was a bit over-hyped. How can he be this representative of the blue collar working class and a rock star? Gradually I’ve come around and started to like some of his music. I’m not ashamed to say I dance like Courtney Cox in the shower when “Dancing in the Dark” comes on. I’m a white boy, it’s essentially the only dance I can do…well I can also do the turn in a circle middle school slow dance.
What can I tell you about this song? Though Bruce wrote it in 1975, The Hollies released a cover of it a year before his album. He considers this song his “show at the title. A 24 year old kid aiming at ‘The greatest rock ‘n’ roll record ever.'” Because Springsteen is New Jersey’s darling, there was a push to make it the state song. It was his straight up last attempt to become a successful musician and it totally worked.
Favorite line: “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive”
Running on Empty – written and performed by Jackson Browne
This song is soooo good! It’s currently one of my favorites and thankfully SiriusXM alerts me whenever it’s on. Suck it, terrestrial radio! I’ve listened to this song so much in the past year and yet I still get excited when it comes on my Andy’s Classic Rock playlist. I’ve embedded this song in a previous post and I unabashedly embed it again here. It needs to be recognized and shared repeatedly.
The humble beginnings of the song were inspired by Browne literally never filling up his gas tank while driving to the studio each day “because how far was it anyway? Just a few blocks.” What seems like such a silly subject morphed into so much depth. Watching Forrest Gump run across the U.S. to this song was powerful. Such a great way to demonstrate how worn out the character was.
In 2008 the John McCain campaign used the song to try and imply Obama’s energy policy would leave us “running on empty.” Being a solid democrat, Browne sued McCain, the Ohio Republican Party, and the RNC. The case was settled out of court and each group had to apologize. Hopefully Browne got some serious money in the settlement because this song deserves every penny it makes.
The song hit number 11 on the Hot 100 in 1978 which is pretty awesome. I was surprised to learn though, this was only his third-biggest hit. Somebody’s Baby and Doctor My Eyes are great songs but damn, Running on Empty is the song for me.
Favorite line: I want to say the whole song again but I won’t do that twice. “If it takes all night, that’ll be all right, if I can get you to smile before I leave.”
For reading this whole post, here’s a bonus song for you that has nothing to do with traveling. Born to Add is Sesame Street’s response to Born to Run.
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