Far Out 40: The greatest road trip songs of all time


“On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.” – Hunter S. Thompson 

Music was made for the road. In fact, in a more primitive sense, the modern mixing bowl of rock ‘n’ roll is a product of the journeying ways of our song espousing ancestors. Aside from the primordial nexus of music and movement, there is something simpler and truly cathartic about setting off in the car and soundtracking an adventure that not even the army of cheesy Instagram quotes can besmirch. 

This link between road trips and music is not purely transcendental either; it is so intrinsically connected that it has even attracted the attention of psychologists who, back in 2015, teamed up with musicians to create “the world’s safest driving song.” Whilst here at Far Out we understand the paramountcy of being sensible on the roads, we’re here to champion the sort of songs that celebrate the marriage of travel and tunes as opposed to creating sonic road safety adverts. 

No publication in history has eulogised this wayfaring wedding of adventure and its aural accompaniment quite like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and in turn, few published works have had as much of an impact on that joyous link. On the cover of most recent editions is a quote from Bob Dylan, who states: “It changed my life like it changed everyone else.” And David Bowie was so moved by it as a young lad that he ditched the suburbs for good, headed for the bohemian roads of London and never looked back. 

Over the years, its influence has not waned; although the counterculture movement may have mutated beyond recognition, the impressionable impact of the novel remains. Most of that is down to the fact that, unlike many trending novels, it had the prose to support the proposition. Throughout the book, in triumphant tones, Kerouac extols the beauty of escaping the concrete sprawl and setting off with the sun on your back and a song ringing in your ears. 

Similarly, many of the songs that the book spawned worship the ways of wandering the open land with some music to whisk you along. As Bob Dylan sings on ‘Mr Tambourine Man’: “I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade / Into my own parade /Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it.” Although that line might be about walking the streets of New Orleans, it translates just as well with a wheel in your hand.

Likewise, the perfectly crafted modulation in songs like Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’ helps to create an inherent sense of movement via a building melody and other tracks like ‘Road to Nowhere’ simply shout day-tripping song from the rafters. We’ve curated all of these and more in the playlist below, primed to get you through your next exultant excursion. 

The perfect road trip playlist:

  • ‘American Girl’ by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  • ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac
  • ‘Life’s A Gas’ by T. Rex
  • ‘Young Folks’ by Peter, Bjorn and John
  • ‘Caravan’ by Van Morrison
  • ‘No Woman’ by Whitney
  • ‘Baby’ by Donnie & Joe Emerson
  • ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ by Tame Impala
  • ‘Cloudbusting’ by Kate Bush
  • ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ by Arctic Monkeys
  • ‘My Sweet Lord’ by George Harrison
  • ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ by Lou Reed
  • ‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen
  • ‘Goin’ Up the Country’ by Canned Heat
  • ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ by Bob Dylan
  • ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’ Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • ‘Red Eyes’ by The War on Drugs
  • ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ by The Replacements
  • ‘California Soul’ by Marlena Shaw
  • ‘Don’t Change’ by INXS
  • ‘Les Fleurs’ by Minnie Ripperton
  • ‘The Passenger’ by Iggy Pop
  • ‘Whip It’ by Devo
  • ‘Here Comes Your Man’ by Pixies
  • ‘Baby Driver’ by Simon & Garfunkel
  • ‘California Dreamin” by The Mamas & The Papas
  • ‘Chicago’ by Sufjan Stevens
  • ‘Hang Loose’ by Alabama Shakes
  • ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ by King Curtis
  • ‘Weather With You’ by Crowded House
  • ‘Road to Nowhere’ by Talking Heads
  • ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’ by The Beach Boys
  • ‘L.A. Woman’ by The Doors
  • ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers
  • ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ by Tears for Fears
  • ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s
  • ‘Sweet Jane’ by The Velvet Underground
  • ‘California Waiting’ by Kings of Leon
  • ‘Range Life’ by Pavement
  • ‘Everybody’s Talkin” by Harry Nilsson