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‘Life Is A Highway’: The Story Behind Tom Cochrane And Rascal Flatts’ Hit

The enduring positive anthem became a massive hit not once but twice.

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Disney Pixar Cars
Cover: Courtesy of Disney

Tom Cochrane was already a household name in his native Canada before releasing the international hit “Life Is A Highway.” The musician had spent more than ten years fronting the rock band Red Rider, releasing seven albums with the group before it split in 1990. After its split, Cochrane ventured into the spotlight alone, and his new solo career got off to a roaring start.

Order Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway” as part of the NOW ‘90s Pop Deluxe compilation.

In September 1991, the star shared his debut solo studio album, Mad Mad World, which featured “Life Is A Highway” on its tracklist. Although new, the song had first begun to take shape years prior. It was only after the musician visited Mozambique as part of a trip with the famine relief organization World Vision that he returned to the initial sketch of the song and completed it.

Tom Cochrane - Life Is A Highway (Official Video)

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Despite the “soul-sapping” poverty Cochrane witnessed on that trip, “Life Is A Highway” became a beacon of positivity for the artist. “The song became a pep talk to myself […] saying you can’t really control all of this stuff, you just do the best you can,” he told The Star in 2017. Soon after its release, the single became a buoyant force for listeners around the world, too, topping the Canadian charts for two weeks and scoring Cochrane his only US Top 40 hit when it peaked at No.6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1992.

Around the track’s 15th anniversary, it was given a new lease of life thanks to a cover by American country band Rascal Flatts. The Nashville trio was riding a wave of success in the country music scene when it was asked to put its own spin on Cochrane’s hit for Pixar’s animated movie Cars.

“You know, there’s certain songs you just wanna leave alone. You’re, like, ‘How can you re-do that?’ There are staples of music history, and ‘Life Is A Highway’ is one of them with Tom Cochrane. But [Pixar boss John Lasseter] was like, ‘I want you guys to do ‘Life Is A Highway.” And we were, like, ‘Wow! Really?’” singer Gary LeVox recalled to Songfacts in 2021.

Rascal Flatts - Life Is a Highway (From "Cars"/Official Video)

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Although Rascal Flatts’ version of “Life Is A Highway” wasn’t officially released to country radio, it still found huge success on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, peaking at No.18. It fared even better on the Hot 100, landing at No.7 and giving the band its second-highest charting single. The cover has since been certified 6x platinum in the US by the RIAA.

Both versions are still beloved. For Cochrane, this led to a stretch of the highway near his hometown of Lynn Lake, Manitoba, being renamed “Tom Cochrane’s Life Is A Highway” in 2016. “A song like that changes people’s lives,” he reflected to GoBe Weekly in 2023. “People come up to me and say this song got me through this or helped me through that. You just realize that you are a steward for people’s emotions and a steward of these songs that actually enhance people’s emotions and their lifestyle and their world.”

Order Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway” as part of the NOW ‘90s Pop Deluxe compilation.

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