The Playlist Series: 20 tunes for your road trip

Road trip with Rihanna

The warmer weather means it’s time to contemplate a road trip, and that means you need appropriate tunage.

There’s no way we can account for all musical tastes, but our list of 20 songs includes pop, rock, folk, funk, hip hop and alternative offerings. Songs invoke California, the American desert, the Mississippi Delta, escaping the grind and striking out with the one you love.

Road tripper, here’s your playlist

  1. “Born to Be Wild,” by Steppenwolf. Pure, distilled road lust. "Get your motor runnin'. Head out on the highway. Lookin’ for adventure, in whatever comes our way."
  2. “Born to Run,” by Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen's words and music voice the burning need to get on your bike and break free of a life of drudgery.
  3. “Fast Car,” by Tracy Chapman. Another take on escape by vehicle. “You got a fast car. But is it fast enough so you can fly away? You gotta make a decision, leave tonight or live and die this way.”
  4. “Farther On Down The Road,” by Taj Mahal. A smooth expression of the joy of spending the trip of life with the one you love.
  5. “Life is a highway,” by Tom Cochrane. Many are more familiar with the Rascal Flatts version, but Canadian rocker Tom Cochrane wrote this pop earworm. "Life is a highway. I wanna ride it all night long."
  6. “Higher Ground,” by Stevie Wonder. Stevie is singing more profoundly about the metaphorical road trip of life. "Gonna keep on tryin' till I reach my highest ground."
  7. “Shut Up and Drive,” by Rihanna. There's a somewhat baser metaphor at work here. "Got a ride that's smoother than a limousine. Can you handle the curves?"
  8. “Can't Hold Us,” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. This song isn't specifically about a road trip, but captures the same sense of possibility.
  9. “No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn,” by the Beastie Boys. Oh yeah. "Foot on the pedal. Never ever false metal. Engine running hotter than a boiling kettle. My job ain't a job. It's a damn good time. City to city, I'm running my rhymes."
  10. “I left my wallet in El Segundo,” by A Tribe Called Quest. A story of two road trips: one intentional and the second to retrieve said wallet.
  11. “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade,” by the Decemberists. A beautiful song about a gorgeous highway. "And the road a-winding goes, from Golden Gate to roaring cliff-side. And the light is softly low, as our hearts become sweetly untied, beneath the sun of California One."
  12. “California Dreamin’,” by the Mamas and the Papas. Another California song, about pining for the state's warmth and sunshine.
  13. “Graceland,” by Paul Simon. A different location here. “The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar. I am following the river down the highway through the cradle of the Civil War.”
  14. “Northwest Passage,” by Stan Rogers. Rogers recounts the doomed efforts to find a northern sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific and a modern road trip retracing the steps of early explorers. "Three centuries thereafter, I take passage overland. ... Watching cities rise before me, then behind me sink again."
  15. “In God’s Country,” by U2. If you haven't embarked on a road trip through the American desert, you must. U2 captures some of the magic here.
  16. “Say Hey (I Love You),” by Michael Franti & Spearhead. We'll let Franti spell it out. "Hey, I'll be gone today, but I'll be back all around the way. It seems like everywhere I go, the more I see, the less I know. But I know one thing, that I love you."
  17. “Never Let Me Down Again,” by Depeche Mode. This song has a moodiness that fits the more contemplative moments of a road trip.
  18. “Like a Rolling Stone,” by Bob Dylan. A classic that feels made for rolling down the road and pondering your path in life. Also, it's more than six minutes long, so it eats up a decent chunk of highway, and it's lots of fun to sing along to, even if you only know the chorus.
  19. “On the Road Again,” by Willie Nelson. "Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway. We're the best of friends, insisting that the world be runnin' our way."
  20. “I've Been Everywhere,” by Johnny Cash. Don't stop until you hit all the places mentioned in the song.

That’s it. We hope you find some selections that make your trip a little sweeter. Happy travels.

Photo credit: Flickr/Eva Rinaldi

See also: The Playlist Series: 20 hits for designated drivers

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