The requirement for any good road trip is, as everyone knows, a killer soundtrack. And summer is the optimal time to hit the road and go on an adventure. Whether you’re embarking on a solo trip or gathering with friends and family, you’re going to need some tunes to keep you company along the way. We’ve collated classic driving songs from throughout the eras and assembled the best road trip songs to fire up as you head out on the open road.
25: Youngblood Hawke: ‘We Come Running’
With its driving beat and epic build up, this indie-pop gem from LA pop-rockers Youngblood Hawke will get you revving up the engine. They spell it out directly, inviting the listener to head “for the open door, tell me what you’re waiting for”.
24: blink-182: ‘What’s My Age Again?’
In just under two and a half minutes, blink-182’s ‘What My Age Again’ is pop-punk perfection. This song cooks and there’s nary a second wasted, which is exactly what you want in the best road trip songs.
23: The Killers: ‘Mr Brightside’
Pomp, bombast, killer riffs and melodies is one way to set you free, even when stuck in traffic. ‘Mr Brightside’ from The Killers’ debut album, Hot Fuss, is the rare road trip song that can get you through the traffic blues and out of the “cage” that is the daily grind.
22: Nirvana: ‘Breed’
Just like Appetite For Destruction, Nirvana’s Nevermind features an endless array of road trip songs, but there’s one standout track that sounds like burning rubber. With its blast of feedback and machine-gun intensity, ‘Breed’ will get everybody headbanging in the backseat.
21: Sammy Hagar: ‘I Can’t Drive 55’
This is the classic driving song. If the Red Rocker can’t you get to go past the speed limit (which we’re not officially condoning), nothing else will. Sammy Hagar’s breakout solo single has been blasting out of every car stereo since 1984, and has never stopped.
20: Katy Perry: ‘Teenage Dream’
When there’s a long stretch of road ahead, sometimes you want psychedelic acid rock where you can put cruise control on and zone out, but when you’re traveling with a crew, singalong pop anthems are the best road trip songs. Katy Perry’s ode to the endless possibilities of adolescence will have you sticking your head out the sunroof like a drunk teen on prom night.
19: Warren G (featuring Nate Dogg): ‘Regulate’
Fewer songs that encapsulate an entire era than this 1994 G-funk classic. Between Warren G’s storytelling and Nate Dogg’s smooth vocals, this is the song you can blast whether you’re cruising in your drop top or mid-sized sedan.
18: John Mellencamp: ‘Pink Houses’
This slice of heartland rock isn’t all that it seems. John Mellencamp seems to paint the perfect picture of the American dream, but if you keep listening, it’s really the indictment of a broken system. On one hand it remains a misunderstood political song but on the other, it’s a great road trip song.
17: The Rolling Stones: ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’
Tapping into that feeling of wanderlust, The Rolling Stones’ search for satisfaction landed them their first No.1 hit. From Charlie Watts’ propulsive drumming to Mick Jagger’s cracking vocals and Keith Richards’ fuzz-box riff, ‘Satisfaction’ beckons you to the road and the dancefloor.
16: U2: ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’
Like the morning’s first light coming over the desert highway, this U2 anthem begins with the sound of heavenly organs that quickly build to a driving rhythm led by The Edge’s arpeggiated guitar lines. Political origins aside, the song conjures images of the American West and the open road. It’s hard not to feel nostalgia when you glide in and out of traffic.
15: Guns N’ Roses: Appetite For Destruction (yes, all of it)
Forget road trip songs, this is a road trip album. From the menacing ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ to the soaring ‘Rocket Queen’ that closes Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction, you won’t find an album better suited to the road than this.
14: Dr Dre: ‘Let Me Ride’
Any G-funk track is made for driving, but this cut off The Chronic is the ultimate road trip song. Between the Parliament-sampling chorus and Dre’s evocative verses, ‘Let Me Ride’ was tailor-made for summer driving… and is even better if you’re cruising around in a drop top.
13: Bob Seger: ‘Hollywood Nights’
While Bob Seger sings about “looking down at the lights of LA” in this 1978 hit, the anticipation of a night on the town is universal. Seger’s frantic vocals and epic storytelling, combined with the uptempo music, is the perfect formula to speed towards the horizon.
12: Cyndi Lauper: ‘I Drove All Night’
Some people escape the “sticky and cruel” city by seeking solace in the great outdoors. Not Ms Lauper. Her vocal callisthenics are just the motivation to drive all night to see your lover.
11: Snoop Dogg: ‘Gin And Juice’
Another slice of G-funk heaven. You don’t need hydraulics to roll with the melodic flow of “D-O-double-G”. Released during the heyday of gangsta rap, Snoop took the wild antics of his hometown, Long Beach, and turned them into an idyllic summer jam.
10: Jackson Browne: ‘Running On Empty’
Few artists embodied the late-70s Laurel Canyon sound quite like Jackson Browne. ‘Running On Empty’ isn’t a hard road rocker, but Browne could turn the most mundane experiences (like running out of gas) into a metaphor for missing out on the connections in life.
9: The Beatles: ‘Day Tripper’
The Beatles have an endless catalogue of travel tunes, from ‘Ticket To Ride’ to ‘Drive My Car’, but ‘Day Tripper’ is the real road-tripping song. Featuring one of the best guitar riffs of all time, ‘Day Tripper’ is not so much about a quick getaway but about trying on the hippie lifestyle for a day or two.
8: Stevie Wonder: ‘Master Blaster (Jammin’)’
This could be included among the best road trip songs for the intro alone, but the whole thing swings with a swagger that won’t (hopefully) have you swerving from side-to-side. Stevie Wonder’s tribute to Bob Marley saw Stevie moving away from his typical one-man show and inviting a whole crew to boogie down.
7: Willie Nelson: ‘On The Road Again’
Country music is littered with dirt-road anthems, but one of the true classics is Willie Nelson’s ode to the nomadic life, ‘On The Road Again’. Nelson was tasked with creating an original song for the aging rocker character he played in the film Honeysuckle Rose. Willie delivered and nabbed an Oscar nomination in the process.
6: Tom Cochrane: ‘Life Is A Highway’
Canadian treasure Tom Cochrane is a household name up north, but in rest of the world he’s best known for this road-warrior anthem that’s become the perfect pep talk for hitting tarmac.
5: Prince: ‘Little Red Corvette’
Prince seemingly never suffered from either writer’s block or a shortage of sexual metaphors, as evidenced on his 1983 classic, ‘Little Red Corvette’. This tale of an ill-fated one-night stand was supposedly inspired by his bandmate Lisa Coleman’s pink Edsel, but “little red Edsel” just isn’t as catchy a refrain.
4: The Beach Boys: ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, ‘I Get Around’
Both of these Beach Boys tunes helped define the 60s driving culture, particularly in the winding highways of Southern California. Tight harmonies and terrific rhythms, these songs will transport you to the windswept cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway, driving along with the top down.
3: Tom Petty: ‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’
‘Free Fallin’ is a great singalong, but when it comes to essential Tom Petty road trip songs, ‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’ takes the cake. Thanks to the highway imagery and scuzzy guitar riffs, this hard-charging tune is best listened to with the windows down and your foot on the gas.
2: Bruce Springsteen: ‘Born To Run’
No survey of the best road trip songs would be complete without The Boss. Bruce Springfield’s entire body of work unpacks the experience of small-town living and the feeling that escape is just a car ride away.
1: Steppenwolf: ‘Born To Be Wild’
You don’t need a bike or road leather to blare this Steppenwolf classic. Most famously featured the film Easy Rider, Jon Kay’s invitation to “head out on the highway” became an American anthem and a call for rebellion.