"I've heard all the songs about the endless highway"
July 6, 2010 5:47 PM   Subscribe

"I'm headin' down the Atlanta highway, lookin' for the love getaway." These lyrics to the B-52s' "Love Shack" inspired a lengthy list modestly titled "Some Road Songs." Planning to make a road song mix tape? This is the motherlode. Surprisingly (or not?), the list is hosted on the Federal Highway Administration website. Browsing around the site, you'll also find information on the history of the Interstate System, articles from Public Roads magazine, and a selection of "Back in Time" articles about highway history by Rickie Longfellow.

Now for the fun of it, just a few of the many songs you ought to to consider listening to from the Road Songs list:

"Transfusion" -- Nervous Norvus
"Rocket 88" -- Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats (with Ike Turner)
"Crawling from the Wreckage" -- Dave Edmunds
"Bitchin' Camaro" -- Dead Milkmen
"Drivin'" -- The Kinks
"Driving Sideways" -- Aimee Mann
"Roadrunner" -- Jonathan Richman (this is the 1977 45 version)
"I Drove All Night" -- Roy Orbison
"Highway Forever" -- The Presidents of the United States of America
"Bicycle Race" -- Queen
"See The USA in your Chevrolet" -- Dinah Shore
"Long Old Road" -- Bessie Smith
"18 Miles to Memphis" -- Stray Cats
1952 Vincent Black Lightning -- Richard Thompson
"Hot Rod Lincoln" -- Charlie Ryan and the Timberline Riders (Actually, it's the Commander Cody version that's on the list, but this -- the original version -- is nifty and I think you might enjoy it.)

(I wanted to make a post to commemorate my 10th birthday on MetaFilter, but I didn't find something I wanted to post about until now.)
posted by litlnemo (43 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
(Not that I am 10 years old. Just 10 years of killing time on MeFi.)

Heh, I'm old. "Mix tape."
posted by litlnemo at 5:51 PM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:55 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would add:

The Triffids - Wide Open Road

For now.
posted by elmono at 6:01 PM on July 6, 2010

posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:02 PM on July 6, 2010

Don't forget the Building Code Violations for the Love Shack!
posted by dhammond at 6:04 PM on July 6, 2010

Songs about roads, cars, or highways do not necessarily make good road trip songs--and the best road trip songs usually aren't about those things, either.
posted by sourwookie at 6:17 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Federal Government recommends I listen to "System of a Down". Fun times.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:23 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is cool.
posted by nola at 6:28 PM on July 6, 2010

One of my favorites:

Robert Mitchum sings "Ballad of Thunder Road".
posted by darkstar at 6:33 PM on July 6, 2010

Here's the mix I just made last week for my trip from DC to NY and back:

1. Passion Pit - Sleepyhead
2. Julian Casablancas - Eleventh Dimension
3. Vampire Weekend - Giving Up the Gun
4. John Butler Trio - One Way Road
5. Edwin Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes - Home
6. Cake - Sheep Go to Heaven
7. Cracker - Teen Angst
8. Soup Dragons - I'm Free
9. Zwan - Honestly
10. Chemical Brothers - Where Do I Begin?
11. Tricky - Hell is Around the Corner
12. Ke$ha - Tik Tok
13. Lady Gaga - Poker Face
14. Glee Cast - Any Way You Want It
15. Passion Pit - Little Secrets

It's not perfect. Doing it now I'd take out "Teen Angst" for "Get Off This," "Poker Face" for "Bad Romance," and "Honestly" for Sleigh Bells' "Rill Rill," but it made the trek up and down 95 nonetheless extremely amusing. I stand by the Ke$ha, because that one song hits the dead center of my hedonistic pleasure center.

Anyway, this sort of thing is the absolute definition of subjective.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:37 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it's interesting that they pick a song called "CRASH AND BURN". Not to mention There Is A Light that Never Goes Out ("And if a double-decker bus / Crashes into us / To die by your side / Is such a heavenly way to die").
posted by Trielli at 6:50 PM on July 6, 2010

The one time in my life I spent the most time on the road was 1978... working in the San Joaquin Valley/Fresno area, escaping almost weekly to the Central Coast or L.A... and my favorite 'road' songs are not on the list:

Paul Simon - Slip Sliding Away
"The nearer your destination, the more you're slip sliding away..."
Yeah, more downbeat, but good for cruising when you know you have to stay under the speed limit.

Gerry Rafferty - City to City
I know he's specifically singing about a train "gonna carry me home", but it's perfectly constructed traveling music with a tasty chunk of country/blues harmonica. So many of the the other best Traveling Songs are more train- than car-oriented; it's the single greatest contribution of Country Music, IMO.

The list also got the title of my favorite Springsteen road song wrong, it's "Spirit in the NIGHT", not "Sky". I'm certainly not going to Greasy Lake to see Jesus!
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:53 PM on July 6, 2010

See, as my previous list would confirm, I could give a shit if the songs in my road mix have any lyrics about being on the road. I need something to keep my mood up. Interesting.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:58 PM on July 6, 2010

Though it has nothing to do with cars, driving, highways, or any other sort of vehicular conveyance or device, the Cult's "Love Removal Machine" is the best driving song ever. Fact.

Does Ian Astbury really yell "saltshaker!" at 3:19 in that song? That's what it's always sounded like to me.....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:59 PM on July 6, 2010

Isn't publishing the lyrics to copyrighted songs illegal? Why is this on a government website?
posted by waitingtoderail at 7:02 PM on July 6, 2010

"Isn't publishing the lyrics to copyrighted songs illegal? Why is this on a government website?"

They are only short excerpts (arguably for the purposes of education) so have a pretty strong fair use case. And I can't imagine even the RIAA is too anxious to go up against the US Fed.
posted by Mitheral at 7:12 PM on July 6, 2010

"Driving on 9" by the Breeders.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:13 PM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

8. Soup Dragons - I'm Free

This was the first song I played in my car when I passed my driving test.
posted by nev at 7:14 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

They are only short excerpts (arguably for the purposes of education) so have a pretty strong fair use case.

I could care less one way or the other, I like that someone did this, it just seems like this is the sort of thing anti-government types would go into a froth over.
posted by waitingtoderail at 7:16 PM on July 6, 2010

Cancon, yes. But it also needs to be on any list of road songs.

It'd be interesting to see how many Canuck MeFites know what I've linked before clicking.
posted by Grimgrin at 7:31 PM on July 6, 2010

This list is useless without Warm Leatherette.
posted by Opposite George at 7:33 PM on July 6, 2010

Ha! I just came down here to throw out that very same track - Warm Leatherette.
posted by Flashman at 7:37 PM on July 6, 2010

The Mountain Goats (okay, John Darnielle) have 46 "Going to..." songs, each of which is basically the dark mirror of "Thunder Road" or "Born to Run" -- I think things will get better when I get out of here / when I get there, but I also know that I'm probably wrong. Any of them will tear your heart out, and several will take your lungs with it.
posted by Etrigan at 7:47 PM on July 6, 2010

I love that Nervous Norvus song. I used to hear it all the time on Doctor Demento. It's interesting that, even with 20 songs on the list by the boss, they missed The Angel by Bruce Springsteen.
posted by DaddyNewt at 7:51 PM on July 6, 2010

That reminds me, The Magnetic Fields' "Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side," should really be on this list.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:57 PM on July 6, 2010

I thought this would be a lot more... well... square than it is.
posted by NoraReed at 7:58 PM on July 6, 2010

Any list with Highway Star on it is a good list. Ian Paice is the drivingest drummer ever.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:05 PM on July 6, 2010

Here's another of my favorite driving mixes that I've made, for y'all's edification and all. This one came on the heels of me ending a relationship that needed to end, but which was still very troubling to cut off. Again, largely to keep my spirits up, but was great earlier today as well:

1. The Hold Steady - South Town GIrls
2. Ida Maria - Oh My God
3. Pearl Jam - The Fixer
4. Badly Drawn Boy - The Further I Slide
5. Soul Asylum - Sexual Healing*
6. Death Cab for Cutie - This Charming Man**
7. Stars - 14 Forever
8. Ting Tings - That's Not My Name
9. T.I. - Live Your Life
10. Rilo Kiley - Portions for Foxes
11. The Replacements - Alex Chilton
12. B-52s - Rock Lobster
13. The Nails - 88 Lines About 44 Women
14. Sufjan Stevens - The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts

*Yes, Soul Asylum. They're cover is shockingly good, and is particularly fun following the Badly Drawn Boy, as they're the exact same song and structure, beneath the lyrics.
**I'm a die-hard Smiths fan, but the Death Cab version is more propulsive. Sue me.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:10 PM on July 6, 2010

"Cancon, yes. But it also needs to be on any list of road songs.

"It'd be interesting to see how many Canuck MeFites know what I've linked before clicking."

They've got the Hip on the list so CanCon would seem to be OK.
posted by Mitheral at 8:10 PM on July 6, 2010

I'm not even Canadian, but I knew which song was gonna be on the other end of Grimgrin's list.
posted by litlnemo at 8:14 PM on July 6, 2010

I mean, Grimgrin's link. Augh.
posted by litlnemo at 8:16 PM on July 6, 2010

Songs about roads, cars, or highways do not necessarily make good road trip songs

This. I still argue that Van Halen I is one of the best beach albums ever, though it makes no mention of sand, surf, or sun (Atomic radiation and ice cream are as close as it gets)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:20 PM on July 6, 2010

Grimgrin, you've made a grave mistake. Surely you intended to link to this one.

Regardless, we're revoking your passport.
posted by gompa at 8:34 PM on July 6, 2010

I'm impressed that the Federal Highway Administration compiled the list in the first place, and that it contains some good and non-obvious selections. I also find it interesting to consider whether the highway driving theme is a particularly American one. But ultimately I agree with sourwookie that songs about cars and highways do not necessarily make good road trip songs and vice versa. Taking a dedicated compilation of car and highway songs out on a road trip seems to me like losing one's virginity to a mix tape of songs about losing one's virginity; Either way, I'd be too distracted for want of a metaphor.
posted by applemeat at 8:53 PM on July 6, 2010

Should say "particularly North-American one"
posted by applemeat at 8:55 PM on July 6, 2010

Cancon, yes. But it also needs to be on any list of road songs.

For the record, my guess was Locked in the Trunk of a Car.
posted by mannequito at 8:57 PM on July 6, 2010

There is a difference between a "road song mix" and a "road trip mix." They may or may not overlap.

Looking at my road trip mixes, they don't seem to have a lot of "road songs." But I might make a road song mix now. Basically when I make a road trip mix it has to be high energy (unless it's a Driving at Night mix, which has a different feel entirely) and so I go for poppy singalong sort of stuff.

One of my extra power-poppy road trip mixes from five or six years ago went like this:

One For The Road / Glenn Tilbrook
Love for Tender / Elvis Costello
Another Nail for my Heart / Squeeze
Destination Anywhere / Commitments
In Between Days / cure
Some Postman (Is Grooving) / The Presidents of the United States of America
Monkey Wrench / Foo Fighters
Stacy's Mom / Fountains of Wayne
Humble Bee / John Wesley Harding
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces / Ben Folds Five
Pop Goes the World / Men Without Hats
Come Dancing / Kinks
Goody Two Shoes / Adam Ant
Like Wow Wipeout / Hoodoo Gurus
Stutter / Elastica
Saltwater Drinks / The Merrymakers
Oh No the Radio / Owsley
Joining a Fan Club / Jellyfish
Guy Fawkes Day / Paul Melançon
Crash / The Primitives
When I Get To California / Linus Of Hollywood
Star Wars Theme / Cantina Band (12" Disco Mix) / Meco

Yes, it's goofy. I know.
posted by litlnemo at 9:42 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a mix somewhere of tunes about car crashes, which I will only dust off if I fear I may grow sleepy during a drive. My strangest road trip mix, which I have archived somewhere, is a rip of the Fear and Loathing DVD, with the deleted scenes re-inserted, then bits of the radio play to fill in one or two parts left out of filming entirely, and rounded out with songs Thompson mentions in the book and a couple of bits from the soundtrack.

Sometimes I avoid mix tapes for long trips. Instead, a chronological record of a given artist offers many opportunities for reflection on their career. For lengthy drives, I suggest ZZ Top's first eight studio albums. A little bit shorter, Black Sabbath's first five albums, which are particularly nice if you are driving in the dead of night. The coffin Misfits box set is also good, if only because you want to hear every possible version of, say, "Halloween."

Do not do this with Kate Bush. If you are a fan of KT, you may be tempted.

posted by adipocere at 10:29 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tell Mama - Savoy Brown
My Love Is Like A Freeway - Robert Plant
Freeway Jam - Jeff Beck (I know: no lyrics)

Never trust a list that omits The Clash. Grocery lists included.
posted by hal9k at 3:35 AM on July 7, 2010

Taking a look at that mix I have to say that there be some prime baby-making music. Seriously, don't you ask yourself how many babies were conceived to a tune?
posted by jadepearl at 5:54 AM on July 7, 2010

gompa: Damnit this is worse than the time I was arrested for sedition after not knowing who won the Stanley Cup.

For the record, I like the Hip, and they have a ton of great road songs, but they weren't beaten into my long term memory during the 90's the way "Life is a Highway" was.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:40 AM on July 7, 2010

they weren't beaten into my long term memory during the 90's the way "Life is a Highway" was.

Precisely my point. "Life is a Highway" is global pop cultural pablum. It belongs to nowhere in particular. My daughter knows it as the theme song in the Pixar movie Cars. It has nothing at all to do with Canada, despite the "Vancouver's lights" reference. And the lyrics are so fucking stupid. ("From Mozambique to those Memphis nights"? What the hell kind of continuum is that?) Whereas "Last American Exit" is as true to the Canadian road experience as Springsteen is to Jersey, you know?
posted by gompa at 11:43 AM on July 7, 2010

Michael Penn, "Brave New World"
Sugar, "Needle Hits E"
House of Schock, "Middle of Nowhere"
posted by kirkaracha at 11:45 AM on July 7, 2010

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