Picture it now. You’re at San Francisco International Airport. You’ve just picked up your hire car – a convertible of course! You’re not heading into town though – you’re heading for the miles of open road in every direction. The sun’s out. The breeze is rippling through your hair. You’re wearing sunglasses. As Steppenwolf advised, it’s time to “get your motor running, get out on the highway!”

But wait . . . we need some sounds! Let’s not beat around the bush – you simply can’t drive a rag-top Mustang along I-90 or Route 66 without the appropriate tunes. Fortunately, as song after song has proved, driving and music go together like Batman and Robin, strawberries and cream, pizza and beer . . . well, you get it.

Road trip

Now of course, all lists of music, films and other cultural phenomena are subjective. But, without beating around the bush, this is my blog and therefore my opinion counts! So, although you may have your own, here’s my top ten greatest driving tracks. Enjoy!

The 10 Greatest Driving Songs: 

 

“Highway To Hell” by AC/DC

ACDC

Seriously, where else could you start? Written as homage to the rigours of life on the road and long hours in a tour bus, Malcolm Young’s guitar riff became an instant classic and inspired head-bangers everywhere to start pounding their steering wheels. It was their first major hit and made the Aussie-rockers a globe-straddling colossus. What can you say about this track that it doesn’t say for itself. Just turn it up . . . to eleven!

Factoid: The Canning Highway in Australia runs from Fremantle (the home of lead singer Bon Scott) to a bar called The Raffles, which was a big Rock ‘n Roll drinking hole in the ’70s. Legend has it that so many people were killed by driving fast (and/or drunk) on the way to or from a good night out, that it became known as the highway to hell.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l482T0yNkeo

 

“No Particular Place To Go” by Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

Berry is perhaps more famous in terms of driving songs for the classic “Route 66” but, for me, this one has the right tempo for a driving song. It tells the age-old story of a young guy driving his girlfriend around town, anticipating a night of young romance – only for her safety belt to become stuck and ruin his amorous plans! In doing so, it features the classic line: “Ridin’ along in my calaboose, still tryin’ to get her belt a-loose”. What is a “calaboose” anyway?

Factoid: The song features exactly the same tune as Chuck’s earlier hit “School Days” just with different lyrics. You could get away with that sort of stuff 50 years ago!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_enBoNg6pQQ

 

“Crazy Horses” by The Osmonds.

CH

Yes. You heard me. The Osmonds. Of course the toothsome brothers from Utah were mostly known for their easy-listening harmonies, a pre-cursor of the Vegas-style act they would become, but for a brief moment in 1973, they nailed it. This one chugs along with an almost-heavy rock riff and the screaming slide-guitar sound (which was actually an overdriven organ played by Donny) over the top of it. I guarantee this one will have you drumming along on the steering wheel, although ironically it was actually written as a protest against automobile pollution!

Factoid: This song was originally banned in South Africa because “horse” is a slang term for heroin and the authorities assumed it was referring to drugs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS8ZfVTE4SM

“Gotta See Jane” by R. Dean Taylor

Gotta see

Released in 1968, “Gotta See Jane” was written by Taylor and Eddie Holland (of the Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown song-writing partnership). It’s another staple, the guy trying to get back to his hometown girl, after realising the big City is too much for him. The opening lyric sets the scene perfectly: “Red light, green light, speedin’ through the dark night, drivin’ through the poundin’ rain, I gotta see Jane.” You can hear the windscreen wipers, you can see the lights speeding by through the raindrops – and you can almost taste the desperation in Taylor’s desire to get home to his love. Soul perfection!

Factoid: Canadian-born Richard Dean Taylor was the first white artist to have a hit on the Tamla Motown label.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrZJnc4_C8A

 

“Boys of Summer” by Don Henley

Boys of summer

Written in 1984 during one of The Eagles’ myriad break-ups (there’s a whole other story right there!), this isn’t a car-based song by any means. In fact, the song itself is about regret and nostalgia for fading youth and lost love. But the driving beat and the lines “You’ve got the top pulled down and your sunglasses on, baby” paint the perfect picture of the all-American girl-next-door cruising by the beach in the sun. It’s a perfect summer driving song for that reason alone. Just remember where you are – if it’s pouring down outside, don’t pull the rag-top down just because this song comes on!

Factoid: The title comes from a baseball book of the same name by Roger Kahn. The book is about The Brooklyn Dodgers, who broke the hearts of their fans when they moved to Los Angeles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi3OnJT4Qjw

 

“2-4-6-8 Motorway” by The Tom Robinson Band

Motorway

OK, now this is a proper driving song. No thinly-veiled references, no hidden messages, this is a pure celebration of getting out on the road and putting the pedal to the metal. This up-tempo foot-stomper is all about the freedom of the open road, with driving drums, soaring guitars and that shout-a-long chorus hook of “2-4-6-8, ain’t never too late, to leave my radio truckin’ on through the night/3-5-7-9 and a double white line, motorway sun coming up through the morning light.”

Factoid: Robinson was a committed left-winger and most of his early material was overtly political. He wrote this commercial, radio-friendly song with no particular political message as a bit of throwaway fun – and it became his biggest hit by far.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK0LZu80FHU

 

“Autobahn” by Kraftwerk.

Kraftwerk

The Teutonic tinkerers caused quite a stir in the early 70s with their innovative use of new synthesiser technology. The German lyrics didn’t exactly endear them to traditionalists either. Now unless you’re an established fan, I would steer clear of the 22-minute album version of this song and bask in the 4-minute single version. It starts with the chugging of a starting engine and slowly, inexorably, draws you in on a rhythmic journey down the famous German auto-routes. You can almost hear the wind rushing by; smell the diesel and the pine trees; experience the speed.

Factoid: Contrary to a popular misconception, the lyrics don’t actually say “fun, fun, fun, on the Autobahn” but “fahren, fahren, fahren, auf de Autobahn”. “Fahren is the German word for “drive.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iukUMRlaBBE

 

“Driving In My Car” by Madness

Madness

Possibly one of the ‘Nutty Boys’ silliest moments, this song was written as a tribute to a 1959 Morris Minor that was used by the group in the early years before they became famous. A cacophony of (car) horns and clanking spanners, it rattles along like only a Morris Minor could, and features some of the typical funny couplets that pervade the Madness catalogue: “Last week it went round the clock, I also had a little knock/I dented somebody’s fender, he learnt not to park on a bender!”

Factoid: Famed for their humorous videos, Madness front-man Graham ‘Suggs’ MacPherson commented on this one: “Madness videos were seven extroverts all mucking about trying to out-do each other, to the point where, in that particular video, Lee [Thompson, sax player] turned up as an exploding traffic warden. There was nowhere to go after that!”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rV1_7R_3cXA

“Cars and Girls” by Prefab Sprout

Cars and Girls

“Brucie dreams life’s a highway, too many roads bypass my way” sang Paddy MacAloon, before backing it up with “some things hurt more, much more than cars and girls” in this thinly veiled reference to the lyrical style and perceived narrow repertoire of Bruce Springsteen. Of course, Paddy was subversive enough to back up these anti-driving song lyrics with a wonderful driving beat (clever fella!) and so it transpired that the song’s popularity became mostly due to it being misinterpreted as a “driving song” to the extent that, these days, nearly every driving-themed compilation album features it.

Factoid: Paddy continues making great music to this day, despite being unable to hear bass frequencies after contracting Meniere’s disease in 2007.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEJdfDD4dVg

 

“Radar Love” by Golden Earring

Golden

Another song about a guy driving through the night to be with his girl, but whereas R. Dean Taylor used a slap-back soul beat, Dutch rockers Golden Earring went 100% rock. A pounding single-note bass line establishes the thumping rhythm, as the other instruments join in one-by-one to build the tension. Drummers will tell you (with spod-like glee) that although the song is in straight 4:4 time, the shuffle on the snare drum is semi-triplets, which gives the illusion of the song speeding up – so there! Whatever, when this song was written there were no mobile phones or text messages, so you needed a telepathic “Radar” love to tell your baby you were coming home!

Factoid: Golden Earring  a four-piece formed in 1961 and continue to perform to this very day, with two of the founder members and two others who both joined in the ‘60s. These four guys reckon they’ve played this song live more than 15,000 times!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NzZ1mCNbNA

Right, now you’ve got your ‘choons’ sorted, don’t forget your travel insurance and your car hire excess cover. Because Bruce Springsteen won’t be around to bale you out if you find yourself saddled with a large bill . . . and some things really do hurt more than cars and girls!

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