Summer is the prime time for highway driving, whether you're cruising Route 66 from end to end or just rolling through the rural routes to get to Johnson's Shut In State Park. A good highway driving song is just like a good road trip; it creates a story from start to finish and gets you there in good time.
Here is a collection of tunes that tend to find their way into my long-trip mixes for one reason or another. Also, like a good road trip, my list goes from point to point with no real rhyme or reason -- but when you reach the destination, you know you're someplace good.
"Radar Love" – Golden Earring
This classic track has to be one of the most, if not THE most, covered driving song of all time. With its quick pace and lyrics about a driver heading out on the darkened streets to meet with his lover, accompanied by Brenda Lee's hit "Coming on Strong" on the radio.
"Lone Star" – Stu Hamm
Close your eyes and listen to this tune. If it doesn't immediately bring to mind cruising along a desert highway in a '57 Mustang convertible with the top down, flirting with the speed limit by the time Eric Johnson finishes his first guitar lick, you might need to have your head checked.
"Going Up the Country" – Canned Heat
While this tune is a reworking of the classic Henry Thomas blues tune "Bull Doze Blues," Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson and crew give it a life of their own with their upbeat rhythm and lilting vocals. This is one of those tracks that force me to set the cruise control since I usually end up pushing 80 before I realize what's going on.
"Wicked and Weird" – Buck 65
This is a strange tale of a road trip, told by an even stranger underground rapper. Buck 65 has some tremendous imagery in this track, making note of those small things that make for great road trips, such as running a beater with duct tape holding the top on and crank windows operated with hand tools and those items you only seem to find at gas stations and truck stops.
"Jesus Built my Hotrod" – Ministry
Filled with quotes from "Blue Velvet" and "Wise Blood" and guest starring Butthole Surfers lead vocalist Gibby Haynes, this is another one of those tracks that set a pace that will cause you to run afoul of the law if you aren't careful. The whole song is testosterone and jet fuel from beginning to end.
"Highway 61 Revisited" - Johnny Winter
This electric blues rampage is a fine example of what a damn good musician can do when working with the words of another damn good musician. This song tells a few small tales of Highway 61, which by all the accounts given must be the highway to Hell that AC/DC had sung about.
"North Star" – Rural Alberta Advantage
This track is the tale of a road trip nearing its end, with the instrumentation increasing as they approach the city and their destination. Another song with fantastic images, it reminds me of those long highway rides with old flames by my side and great tunes on the radio.
"Gone" – Wes Cunningham
This tune always struck me as a road trip song as seen by a pedestrian. I think we've all driven by houses that line the rural highways and seen someone sitting on the porch, looking as if they wish they were in the cars driving by instead of on their porch.
"Jump on It" – Sir Mix-A-Lot
I'm sure I'm going to catch some hell for including this one, but it's my top 10 and I like Sir Mix-A-Lot and I cannot lie. This song is all about reminiscing about long highway trips and the partying that happens along the way. Think of it as the audiobook version of the flick "Sex Drive."
"Duke of Earl" - Gene Chandler
This will always be the ultimate highway driving song for me for one reason. If you adjust your speed so the broken line in the center of the road hits the bottom of your windshield in time with the backing vocals, you'll be traveling at approximately 55 miles per hour, which was the speed limit back in those days. "Duke of Earl" was the speedometer in one of my cars, which had a broken speedometer on the laundry list of things wrong with it. Gene Chandler was my speedometer and cruise control, and kept me from getting more than one ticket on a long summer trip.