10 Perfect Songs for a Summer Road Trip

Planning a summer road trip? Well, don't forget the most crucial component to having a safe and pleasant trip. No, it's not bottled water and a large plastic container to pee in. It's music. More specifically, a ready-to-go mix of songs skillfully programmed to match the ebb and flow of driving a long distance. We suggest your mix include short, classic pop songs that everyone in the car can shout along to, longer, more lyrically adventurous, and vocally challenging epics, and tracks with extended instrumental passages or no singing at all so you and your passengers can rest your voices. Keeping all of this in mind, check out the following 10 perfect songs for a summer road trip.

  1. "Born to be Wild"

    Yeah, it's obvious, but what else are you going to put on when you pull out of the driveway and "head out on the highway?" Steppenwolf composed and recorded some of the most intense and iconic songs of the psychedelic era, including this one, "Magic Carpet Ride," and "The Pusher." Songs like these aren't "written." They instead bubble up out of the Earth's crust and possess the first hapless group of dudes with electric guitars closest to the vicinity. This song never gets old and everyone in your car should know the words. If they don't, kick them out of the car before you hit the freeway.

  2. "Born to Run"

    This is one song that can make paying a toll, pulling out of a McDonald's drive-thru, or trying to pass someone who refuses to go more than 40 mph in the fast lane, an incredibly melodramatic experience. Although Springsteen's intimations of "suicide" are a bit muddled throughout the lyrics — why exactly are the song's narrator and "Wendy" riding in a "suicide machine" to get out of a town that's a "suicide rap?" — its overall message of one day getting to that "place where we really wanna go" complements any leg of a journey, including pulling into a rest stop for a bathroom break to try to outrun the local highway patrol. Just remember to wear your seatbelt!

  3. "Born Under a Bad Sign"

    You will most likely want to catch your breath after those first two scream-along songs. So next up, we suggest you drop this instrumental version of the blues classic "Born Under a Bad Sign" by Jimi Hendrix, which everyone on board can slowly bob their head to. As the driver, you're guaranteed to feel your mojo workin' as Hendrix's salute to the great blues guitarist Albert King snakes its way throughout the interior of your car and the ear drums of your passengers. By the song's end, everyone will feel cooler than they actually are. And that's not a bad thing!

  4. "Born This Way"

    She was born to make music for clubs, but there's no question Lady Gaga made this song, with a little uncredited help from Madonna, for the car stereo. Now be warned, you're going to have to resist flooring the gas on the song's chorus. Why risk getting pulled over by an unsympathetic highway patrolman who might have issues with a carload of hopped-up highway travelers screaming along to a song by a meat-dress-wearing broad from New York City?

  5. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon

    You can't cherry-pick songs from this classic album. In order to appreciate the full power of this masterpiece in post-psychedelic lunacy, you just have to listen to it in its entirety, from beginning to end. The whole album is a trip. Over the course of the album's 10 tracks, the once-boring passing highway scenery will slowly transform itself into something mysterious and surreal. Halfway through, you and everyone in the car will either scream along with, or be stunned into submission by, the wordless, wailing vocal performance on "The Great Gig in the Sky," by the then-22-year-old session singer Clare Torry.

  6. "Blue Lines" by Massive Attack

    This is the perfect segue out of the epic trip you've just experienced with the Floyd. A sonic respite that allows you to check to see if everyone is still conscious in the back seat and if you accidentally left one of your kids behind at the last rest stop. The lyrics to this joint are completely senseless, and are so steeped in late '90s British slang and attitude, that you can be content to just hum along, maybe make up your own words, while taking a few sips off the 64-ounce Diet Coke you got at the 7-Eleven.

  7. "Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode

    Maybe Depeche Mode's "Behind The Wheel" is the more obvious choice, but "Personal Jesus" just swings in a way that so strongly evokes the feeling of driving down the highway. The timbre of the twanging guitar, the crazy, looped samples of heavy breathing, and recurring tidal wave crescendos of sound all grind, oscillate, and vibrate together like the mechanics of a well-kept engine. Cue this one up and then check your rearview mirror to see if anyone in the back seat is getting, well, you know, "excited!"

  8. "You're All I've Got Tonight" by The Cars

    So maybe we need to include at least one song that mentions a car by name. The problem is, most songs named after cars truly suck. So instead, we suggest a song by The Cars. This is a track from the band's first album, an album that not surprisingly sounds incredible in a car. Crank this song up and, with some help from your passengers, try to match those creamy Cars harmonies. Once this song is over, you're probably good for at least another six hours of driving.

  9. "Cars" by Gary Numan

    Did you really think we wouldn't include this song on our list? What's great about this song is that Numan doesn't name a specific type of car in its lyrics. He's just talking about "cars," as if they were all identical and served one purpose: to protect their inhabitants. The track's extended instrumental ending is pure driving music. In fact, there are so many little hooks, riffs, and melodies throughout the composition, you could try assigning the separate parts of the song to each passenger in the car and see what that sounds like!

  10. "Route 66" by Nat King Cole

    The aforementioned Depeche Mode had the good taste to mash this one up with their own "Behind The Wheel", but its Nat King Cole's mellow yet thoroughly swinging version of "Route 66" that we want to conclude our mix and bring this trip to a safe conclusion. Imagine arriving at your destination while this song plays. The promise of another journey lies ahead, but for the moment, you just want to get out, stretch, and find some place to fall asleep. Happy driving! Be safe.

Leave a comment