The Traveler's Playlist: 10 Best Road Trip Songs
The Busy Rats present (drum roll please)... our first top ten listicle! It’s only fitting that we begin this trend with something so dear to our hearts: travel playlists. Andrew and I are self-titled music junkies. He collects vinyl, I collect CD’s, and we both play guitar, piano, and sing. In fact, we first met after I took an interest in music journalism and hopped on board with Music in Press, where Andrew worked. But, the truth is, we simply adore music in as many forms as it comes. Hopefully that lends us a little credence, as we are here to offer you a totally fantastic (and super biased) list of top ten songs to travel with. So crack a window, crank it to eleven, and embrace the melody of the open road.
Don’t worry, "Hotel California" is nowhere to be seen.
1-5 are Andrew's picks, and 6-10 are Elise's.
1. Going To Georgia - The Mountain Goats
“The world throws its light underneath your hair. Forty miles from Atlanta, this is nowhere”
Going To Georgia is a cult classic to The Mountain Goats devotees. And for good reason. John Darnielle claims that he wrote this rough, twangy outcry when back when he thought the only way to “really show a woman the depth’s of your love is do something stupid.” This song embodies the youthful angst of a young man driving through America with a gun in hand because he thinks it will make him bad ass. He was right, but that's aside from the point.
2. Marrakesh Express - Crosby Still and Nash
“Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes. Trying to make the train through clear Moroccan skies”
"Marrakesh Express" is an upbeat, whimsical song based on the pure cacophony that is a Moroccan train ride. Graham Nash reportedly wrote it from a personal experience, when he took the first class train to Marrakesh. Apparently, he got so bored that he moved to coach to experience the chaos and grit of true train travel! Though I’ve never been on a train through Morocco myself, this song awakens a part of me that has no plans to slow down. Full speed ahead, the world is waiting!
3. Magical Mystery Tour - The Beatles
“The Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away.”
I took an interest in The Beatles at a very young age. My grandmother, who was elated when I told her of my newest obsession, gifted me her entire vinyl collection. That dusty box of mysteries contained the The Magical Mystery Tour, with the booklet, old notes written by my grandmother, and more. I remember putting this album on the turntable and imagining what my life would have looked like in the 60’s. I desperately wanted to live there, with John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Nothing but freedom, the open road, and all of my friends stuffed into a hand-painted bus chasing after the aesthetic of the merry pranksters themselves. Of course, that was a romanticized version of the past, but to this day, that longing for freedom has shaped the person I am.
4. Here’s To Now - Ugly Casanova
“Actually was thinking said everything out loud. Well, actually was thinking, here's to right now”
Written for the adventurous travel documentary 180 Degrees South, "Here’s to Now" acts as a beautiful companion to any journey. After all, the whole point of traveling is appreciating the now! The future will always be there, and it’s not getting any less terrifying... so why not drop everything and go?
5. I Shall Be Released - Bob Dylan
“ I see my light come shining, from the west down to the east. Any day now, any day now, I shall be released.”
"I Shall Be Released" is a song of a prisoner's repeated mantra, and his hope to one day be set free. Sometimes it can feel that way when you’ve been stuck at home too long. When you get itchy feet, and you just can’t wait till that next trip, give this song a listen and sing along with woe. But don’t get too down because any day now, you shall be released!
6. This time tomorrow - the kinks
“Leave the sun behind me, and I watch the clouds as they sadly pass me by. Seven miles below me, I can see the world and it ain’t so big at all”
This is one of my favorite songs by the Kinks, and having first heard it on the Darjeeling Limited soundtrack (my favorite colorful, no-holds-barred travel movie) made it the perfect embodiment of the “let go of your worries and just leave” lifestyle. Sometimes you just have to trust yourself and commit without doubting your choices, and when that first chord strikes after the plane engine fires up, you get a head rush from all of the possibilities. "This Time Tomorrow" makes me want to take to open road, sail across the ocean, or go somewhere that I would have never thought to go. It will always encourage me to let loose every once and awhile. Stop your worrying, they say: the world ain’t so big at all!
7. the passenger - iggy pop
“I am the passenger, and I ride and I ride. I ride through the city's backsides, I see the stars come out of the sky”
O.K. This may be embarrassing, but every time I set out on some big journey I put this song on and get a little teary eyed. Iggy Pop’s low and brooding voice slithering alongside that charming, lonely guitar is something I will never get tired of. There are a few songs I’ve crossed that almost seem too good to be true: they contain moments within them that climax, swing and lull so sweetly that they make your heart drop. This is that song for me. I would say it is the perfect road trip song, and if you don’t believe me, press play as you’re staring out into a dark forest, the sun setting behind you. Just try and tell me that you didn't feel adventurous, with your head resting on the chilled glass window, fingers tapping along with the poetic “And everything was made for you and me. ‘Cause it just belongs to you and me!” Please report back and tell me that you didn’t get teary eyed--I won’t believe you!
8. untitled bonus track - Against Me!
"Electric lights carry the night—we move in 4/4 time, our feet on wheels and in the sky—yes we're going cause we'd die if we stayed here. And those dying dreams will carry what's good, and real, and pure. And the rest can burn in hell"
I can’t tell you how many angsty nights I've spent sitting on the floor, angrily drawing or sadly lamenting while listening to Against Me! Because they still hold up as my favorite band of all time, this was a tough decision to make. Against Me! makes the kind of music that inspires me to be great: every guttural belt atop frantic strumming is about rising above all obstacles, becoming a “shot heard round the world, fucking unstoppable,” and embodying who you were meant to be and believing in it. That’s why this song, "Untitled Bonus Track," is the perfect song to travel with. It is hopeful, blunt, and truly terrifying—you couldn't get more honest if you tried. It is upbeat and loud, speaking to the people that never tried to follow their dreams and failed miserably because of it. It makes us fear the future, but reach towards greatness knowing that we can achieve it if we only try. “This distance is not something we’ll regret” it spews, challenging us to stop making excuses and go live life to the fullest. If you’re looking for more after taking a bite of this Against Me! pie (because out of any of the songs on this list, I hope you check this one out) listen to "We Did it all for Don" and "We Laugh at Danger (and Break all the Rules)." This is only a starting point.
9. muzzle - the smashing pumpkins
“And the world, so hard to understand, is the world you can't live without”
The Smashing Pumpkins are a weathered love of mine. Sure, sometimes when I share that I’m a fan people squish their face and ask “why?,” but hey! I can’t deny my undying love for this dramatic and semi-forgotten 90’s band. At least I didn’t list “Smells like Teen Spirit” on here. "Muzzle" is a brilliant song. It really tugs on your heartstrings, alongside the entirety of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. You can tell how aggressive the message is right from the start, as they launch off immediately with that strikingly vibrant “I fear that I am ordinary just like everyone.” Nobody wants to be ordinary, and if Billy Corgan is just an ordinary guy then I fear I am not even worth the waste of breath. This is a great song to mix in with your travel playlist because of it's smooth and triumphant energy, not to mention those inspiring lyrics. The Smashing Pumpkins have a great tendency to build up invigorating momentum, and then let off steam with a frantic guitar solo and a soft, mumbled outro. Don’t expect anything less out of Muzzle.
10. fill your heart - David bowie
“Fear's just in your head, only in your head
Fear is in your head, only in your head
So forget your head and you'll be free”
"Fill Your Heart" is such an underappreciated Bowie song. Sure, we all jam to "Drive in Saturday" and "Life On Mars?" on our road trips, but when is the last time you heard someone blast “Oh, happiness is happening / Dragons have been bled!” out of their car window? Maybe If you’ve passed me on my way to work you’ve heard it, but all joking aside, I really think this song deserves a spot on anyone's playlist. If it serves no other purpose, this song will at least promise to brighten your day anytime it passes through your speakers. "Fill your Heart" commemorates the beauty of love and freedom with it's romantic, jittery jive. Don’t lose your mind to worry and darkness, he muses, just live, love, and be happy. Really... what road trip would be complete without a little magic and hedonism? One of my favorite aspects of this song is the brief yet triumphant intermission (call back to another fabulous Against Me! song... I am having too much fun with this) in which the volume raises just a smidge, and a horde of horns play a jolly and snappy melody. It mirrors the entire song, and really enforces the message: relax, enjoy the view! That is all we can try to do sometimes.
6-10 are Elise's Top Five
Thank you so much for reading about our top ten travel songs. We hope you check them out, and share your favorites in the comments below!