There are only a few pleasures in life better than cruising down a long stretch of highway on a beautiful day, with windows open and good music blasting. As the wind blows through our hair as we sing along, sometimes we daydream we’re in some sort of a music video of life. But just as we are pumped up by music while driving, so too have cars and driving inspired countless songs and music videos. It brought some pop, rock and country songs made perfect for driving.
1. “Racing in the Street” – Bruce Springsteen
Album: Darkness on the Edge Of Town (1978)
Bruce Springsteen showed his fragile side with this elegy, “Racing in the Street,” telling a story of a man proud of his ’69 Chevy. The man seemed completely in love with his car as he sings tales of taking it drag racing all across the Northeast. This song was just one of The Boss’ many odes about cars, engines and driving.
I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396
Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor
She’s waiting tonight down in the parking lot
Outside the Seven-Eleven store
2. “One Piece at a Time” – Johnny Cash
Album: One Piece at a Time (1976)
Johnny Cash was a country music icon. “One Piece at a Time” is a song telling the story of a man who built his own Cadillac by stealing parts from the production line at General Motors since 1949 to 1970. Rather than having a car that would be the envy of most man in town, the narrator ended up with a “free” but weird-looking assembly of mismatched parts. The song reached no. 1 in Billboard’s Hot Country Songs in the US, but it seems to me that Johnny Cash was simply narrating a story with a background music. Sorry, not sorry.
The transmission was a fifty-three
And the motor turned out to be a seventy-three
And when we tried to put in the bolts all the holes were gone.
3. “Life is a Highway” – Tom Cochran
Album: Mad Mad World (1991)
“Life is a Highway” speaks less about driving or cars itself and more about life. Basically, the song compares life to a highway, with the man in the song realizing that the sun is setting too soon and he should take the open road with a fun-loving company. Most millennials and little kids recognize this song because of Rascal Flatts’ cover from Disney Pixar’s Cars.
Life is a highway
I want to ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I want to drive it all night long.
4. “Born to Be Wild” – Steppenwolf
Album: Steppenwolf (1968)
Listen to the song, especially its chorus, and most probably the picture you would have in mind are riders on their motorcycles or cars cruising down an open road. This is because the song is often invoked to denote that image. Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” has been used in a lot of movies, trailers TV shows and commercials, but it was first made as a soundtrack for the 1969 movie Easy Rider. This 60s hard rock anthem is a Grammy Hall of Fame award winner and a place holder on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time list.
Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way
5. “Fun, Fun, Fun” – The Beach Boys
Album: Shut Down Volume 2 (1964)
“Fun, Fun, Fun” is one of the songs that made The Beach Boys truly the sound of summer. The opening riff was very popular, and it was lifted from Chuck Berry’s “Johnnie B. Goode,” which seemed to gain inspiration from Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five’s 1946 song “Ain’t Than Just Like a Woman.” This classic pop-rock song is about a teenage girl who borrowed her dad’s car, saying she’d go to the library but she would actually use it for cruising and hot-rod racing. Her dad found out and took the keys away. The narrator of the song eventually comes to her rescue and offers her to ride in his car.
And she’ll have fun fun fun
‘Til her daddy takes the T-Bird away
6. “Drive My Car” – The Beatles
Album: Rubber Soul (1965)
Of course, a Beatles song would make it to this list. On this opening track for the Rubber Soul album, the Beatles put the car genre on its head by presenting a story of a female wannabe star asking for a man as his driver. This classic rock song also speaks of sexual innuendos, and as Paul McCartney revealed: Drive my car’ was an old blues euphemism for sex.
Baby you can drive my car
Yes, I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I’ll love you
Beep beep’m beep beep yeah
7. “Panama” – Van Halen
Album: 1984 (1984)
Panama… Is it the name of David Lee Roth’s 1969 Opel Kadett Caravan wagon? Is it about a drag racer he saw named Panama Express? Or is it about a dancer he met in Arizona? Or all three of them? We really don’t know. But this song’s so pleasing to the ears.
Ain’t nothin’ like it, her shiny machine
Got the feel for the wheel, keep the moving parts clean
Hot shoe, burnin’ down the avenue
Got an on-ramp comin’ through my bedroom
8. “On the Road Again” – Willie Nelson
Movie: Honeysuckle Rose (1980)
“On The Road Again” is a tribute to the travelling lifestyle of a musician. Willie Nelson wrote and performed it for the movie Honeysuckle Rose, which is a tale of an aging musician who travels with his band across the country. The song was his biggest pop hit that earned him a Grammy Award for Best Country song in 1981 and a spot in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of all time.
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
9. “Low Rider” – War
Album: Why Can’t We Be Friends? (1975)
War – a multi-cultural band that delved in funk, reggae, blues and Latin – created an iconic driving song with “Low Rider.” It celebrates Chicano hot rod culture in California with just a few lyrics, but you can feel that funky groove with this track.
Key lyric: All my friends know the low rider
The low rider is a little higher
10. “Fast Car” – Tracy Chapman
Album: Tracy Chapman (1988)
This nostalgic composition full of wishful thinking is perfect for a late-night drive. The song talks about a story of a working poor woman trying to get the feeling of freedom and thinking about escaping the life of poverty while driving a fast car. Chapman brought a uniquely Black perspective to acoustic folk-rock’s generally White, middle class listeners, according to Jim Cullen.
So remember when we were driving driving in your car
Speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged