The car and the open road, so often eulogised in American music, have long been symbols of freedom, rebellion and teenage rites of passage. We Brits with our clogged up arteries and spaghetti junctions have a slightly different relationship with the car, more Morris Minor than Mercedes. Nevertheless the annals of rock and pop history on both sides of the Atlantic can often read like a Which? Car review, with the ubiquitous Cadillac invariably being awarded Best Buy. From classic road-trip anthems and high-speed car chases, to gear-stick thrusting and top-down chilling, every petrolhead’s taste is catered for.
1. The Rolling Stones – ‘Route 66’
”Well if you ever plan to motor west/ Just take my way it’s the highway that’s the best”
Life on the open road celebrated in an ode to this legendary highway which has produced more covers than there are pit stops between Illinois and California. From a Chuck Berry to Depeche Mode, take your pick.
2. Billy Bragg – ‘A13’
”If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness/ Take the A road, the okay road that’s the best”
Then of course there’s the Anglicised version courtesy of Britain’s favourite rock poet… hopefully driving his Vauxhall Velox.
3. Steppenwolf – ‘Born to be Wild’
“Get your motor runnin’/ Head out on the highway/ Lookin’ for adventure/ And whatever comes our way”
A track forever linked with 1960s counter-culture road movie Easy Rider with its unique drug-addled blur of motorbike existentialism.
4. Madness – ‘Driving in My Car‘
“I’ve been driving in my car, it’s not quite a Jaguar / I bought it in Primrose Hill from a bloke from Brazil”
Suggs and the Nutty Boys lookin’ for adventure on the mean streets of Camden Town.
5. Fountains of Wayne – ‘92 Subaru’
“I’m coming for you/ You better make way ’cause I’m coming through/ In my late 92 baby-blue Subaru”
What woman could possibly resist his baby blue body work – a bona fide babe magnet.
6. Roy Orbison – ‘I Drove All Night‘
“I drove all night to get to you/ Is that all right?”
Well yes Roy, I guess so, as long as you weren’t driving in the dark with those sunglasses on.
7. Bruce Springsteen – ‘Thunder Road’
“You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright/ Oh, and that’s alright with me”
If Brucey wants to drive his prospective paramour into a new tomorrow, he’s gonna have to brush up on his seduction techniques.
8. Kraftwerk – ‘Autobahn’
“Fahr’n auf der autobahn…”
“We’re driving on the autobahn”
Inspirational ‘robot pop’ and a thumbs up for anyone contemplating a German driving holiday from these pioneers of electronic music.
9. Black Box Recorder – ‘The English Motorway System’
“The English motorway system can be quite hypnotising/ You achieve a Zen like state, as someone else’s driving ”
Autobahn for Brexiteers.
These ladies definitely like being in the driving seat. “Beep beep mm beep beep yeah.”
10. Rihanna – ‘Shut Up And Drive’
“I got class like a ’57 Cadillac/ And overdrive with a whole lot of boom in the back/ You look like you can handle what’s under my hood”
Racy Rihanna with her stilettos and daisy dukes feels a world away from moody Mancs New Order whose track ‘Blue Monday’ is credited as a partial basis for the song.
11. Grace Jones – ‘Pull Up to the Bumper’
‘Pull up to my bumper baby/In your long black limousine’
Iconic, trailblazing and utterly fearless.
12. The Beatles – ‘Drive My Car’
“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”
Gender roles are flipped on their head in this saucy Beatles classic about an ambitious starlet with an appetite for fame and men in uniform.
13. Halsey – ‘Drive’
“My hands wrapped around your stick shift/ swerving on the 405.”
14. Keisha – ‘Gold Trans Am‘
“Wham bam, thank you, man/Get inside my fucking gold Trans Am”
No not a car, apparently a metaphor for her vagina.
15. AC/DC – ‘Highway to Hell
“No stop signs, speed limit/ Nobody’s gonna slow me down”
The first song by Aussie hard rockers to chart in the States. Highway to Hell is apparently the name given to the road that runs between.
16. The Prodigy – ‘Roadblox’
“Drive on straight through the roadblox/ Let me see, let me see your tires hot.”
Avoid cranking this one up on the car stereo unless you’re prepared to take points on your licence. Definitely pedal to the floor material.
17. The Cardigans ‘The Perfect Game’
“And I’m losing my favourite game/You’re losing your mind again”
Talking of pedal to the floor, The Cardigans video for ‘The Perfect Game’ sees singer Nina Persson take reckless driving to a whole new level – so much so that the video was rejected by MTV.
18. Iggy Pop – ‘The Passenger’
‘“He see the stars come out tonight/ He sees the city’s ripped backsides”
Iggy wrote this after he’d been “riding around North America and Europe in David (Bowie)’s car ad infinitum”.
19. M.I.A – ‘Bad Girls’
”Shift gear, automatic, damned if I do/ Who’s gonna stop me when I’m coming through?”
The ultimate anthem to badass women everywhere including the Saudi women banned from driving by a car-obsessed patriarchy. “Suki Zuki” in the fourth verse, apparently means “drive, drive” in Arabic.
20. Willie Nelson – ‘On the Road Again’
“Here we go, on the road again/ Like a band of Gypsies we go down the highway”
Apparently written mid-flight on the back of an aeroplane sick bag.
21. Elastica – ‘Car Song’
“Let’s go siesta/ In your Ford Fiesta”
Justine showing she lacks the stamina of Lionel Richie who is another big fan of the award-winning small car.
22. Gary Newman – ‘Cars’
“Here in my car/ I feel safest of all/ I can lock all my doors/ It’s the only way to live”
We feel you Gaz, ‘specially with all this COVID about.
23. UK Subs – ‘I Live in a Car’
“Well I live in a car/ Yeah I live in a car/ Well I ain’t got no television set or stereo/ Cos I live in a car”
Of course there’s always some who take it just a bit too far…
24. Black Coffee and David Guetta ft. Delilah Montagu – ‘Drive’
“So I’ll drive ten thousand miles into the dead of night/ Till I run out of love for you, baby/ Till I’ve got no more love for you, baby/ Oh, I’ll drive”
Guetta’s collaboration with South African DJ, Black Coffee, has a deep house vibe and a balmy vocal from 22-year-old rising star Delilah Montagu.
25. The Flaming Lips – ‘Plastic Jesus’
“I don’t care if it rains or freezes/ Long as I got my plastic Jesus/ Sittin’ on the dashboard of my car”
Do nodding dachshunds confer the same protective properties?
26. The Gorillaz – ‘19-2000’
‘The world is spinning too fast/ I’m buying lead Nike shoes’
You don’t get to torpedo a giant moose in Mario Kart, as Gorillaz do in this video.
27. The Cars – ‘Drive’
“Who’s gonna pay attention/ To your dreams?/ Who’s gonna plug their ears/ When you scream?”
A melancholic track which packed an emotional punch when played over a montage of images of the Ethiopian famine during the Live Aid concert. Apparently also banned from the air by Radio X (formerly XFM) after the death of Princess Diana, in case it upset the British public too much.
28. Talking Heads – ‘Road to Nowhere’
“We’re on a road to nowhere/ Come on inside/ Taking that ride to nowhere/ We’ll take that ride”
Better than being on the M25 during rush hour.
29. David Bowie – ‘Always Crashing in the Same Car’
“I was always looking left and right/ Oh, but I’m/ Always crashing in the same car”
David Byrne isn’t the only one on a road to nowhere. Here Bowie provides his own commentary on the hamster wheel of life.
30. Taylor Swift – ‘Red’
“Loving him is like/ Driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street”
We’ve all been there Swifty. Maybe you should go for the Skoda Octavia next time.
31. Ian Dury – ‘Bus Driver’s Prayer’
“Our Father/ Who art in Hendon/ Harrow Road be Thy name”
One of many gems from Cockney poet and philosopher taken from his album of the same name on which appear other delights such as ‘Poo-poo in the Prawn’.
32. A Tribe Called Quest – ‘I Left My Wallet in El Segundo’
“So we left Brooklyn and we made big tracks/ Drove down the Belt, got on the Conduit/ Came to a toll, we paid and went through it/ Had no destination, we was on a quest”
Watch out for Peter Dinklage (aka Tyrion Lannister) making a cameo appearance in this interstate road trip video.
33. Tracy Chapman – ‘Fast Car’
“You got a fast car/ Is it fast enough so we can fly away”
A bluesy ballad about escaping poverty and hardship only to find the promise of a brighter future is just another version of the past.
34. Echo & the Bunnymen – ‘Get in the Car’
“Let’s go and take a starlit drive/ To where the shaping of our lives/ Had just begun when we were young”
A nostalgic song about trying to recapture that lost feeling of youthful optimism and possibility.
35. Prefab Sprout – ’Cars and Girls’
“’Cos life’s no cruise with a cool chick/ Too many folks feelin’ car sick,”
A song which sticks a very British two-fingered salute to the romanticised imagery of the American highway rock ballad epitomised by Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen.
36. Sonic Youth – ‘Shoot’
“Can I have the car keys? I’m gonna go for a ride/ Can I have the car please? I’m going out for a while/ Can I have the car now? I wanna drive all around/ Can I have the car dear? I’m gonna to leave this town”
A disturbing song about domestic violence and coercive control.
37. Chris Rea – ’Road to Hell’
Apparently Chris Rea got the inspiration for this song while stuck in a traffic jam on the M4.
38. The Fun Loving Criminals – Scooby Snacks’
“Running around robbing banks/ All whacked off of Scooby Snacks”
Don’t drug and drive, kids. Robbing banks is also inadvisable.
40. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – ’White Walls’
“I got that off-black Cadillac, midnight drive/ Got that gas pedal, leaning back, taking my time/ I’m rolling that roof off, letting in sky/ I shine, the city never looked so bright”
Chilled out summer vibes.
41. The B52s – ‘Love Shack’
“I got me a car, it’s as big as a whale/ And we’re headin’ on down to the love shack/ I got me a Chrysler, it seats about twenty/ So hurry up and bring your jukebox money”
Definitely one for your road-trip playlist. The B52s just have the knack for just making shiny happy people of us all.
42. Chuck Berry – ‘No Particular Place to Go’
“Ridin’ along in my automobile/ My baby beside me at the wheel”
“Clunk, click on every trip” gives safe sex a whole new meaning in this enduring rock n’ roll classic
43. War – ’Low Rider’
“All my friends know the low rider/ The low rider is a little higher”
Although born out of Mexican American car culture, low rider hot rodding is perhaps now best associated with west coast hip hop – and the 1990s TV advert for marmite.
44. Canned Heat – ’On the Road Again’
“Well, I’m so tired of crying/ But I’m out on the road again”
Aptly described as a ‘driving blues rock boogie.’
45. The Breeders – ’Drivin on 9’
“Drivin’ on 9/ I sure miss you/ Pass a motel/ Looking at the pines”
A country-tinged ballad perfect for aimless driving in the summer sunshine.