Playlist: Road Trip Anthems

Playlist: Road Trip Anthems

· music · playlists
Celebrate the last days of summer with us on a cross-country musical journey featuring Metallica, Olivia Rodrigo, Tom Petty, Cocteau Twins, Limp Bizkit & more.

Roll down the windows, put the top down and turn the stereo up. Wherever you’re going, these road trip anthems will get you there.

Every road trip needs a killer playlist—upbeat songs to get you through a long drive, mellow songs to soundtrack your daydreams while you stare out the window and vibey songs with that certain something that makes you feel like you’re in a music video.

Celebrate the last days of summer with us on a cross-country musical journey featuring classic road trip songs, cult favorites, quirky covers, throwback TRL hits and current pop jams.

Are you ready? Buckle up—we’re going for a little joyride with this ode to the road trip.

Whether you’re riding on four wheels or eighteen (or just sitting in your office and daydreaming about going on vacation) here’s a wild and wonderful mix for your next road trip, even if it’s only in your mind.

Limp Bizkit — “Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle)”

Limp Bizkit kicks things off in high gear with “Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle),” the second single from 2000’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.

The merry band of rap-rock misfits from Jacksonville, Florida collaborated with producer Swizz Beatz (DMX) on this nü-metal anthem that spent 17 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 and won the VMA for “Best Rock Video” at the 2001 MTV Music Video Awards.

Long before they brought us “Dad Vibes,” Limp Bizkit put the pedal to the metal with guitarist Wes Borland’s supercharged bizarro riffs firing on all cylinders. Top it off with a fiery hi-octane Fred Durst rap, and you’re ready to keep on rollin’.

Deep Purple — “Space Truckin’”

Deep Purple reach for the stars on “Space Truckin’,” their psychedelic heavy metal ode to interstellar travel and the epic grand finale of their landmark 1972 LP, Machine Head.

The band planned to record their sixth album at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland but were forced into an unexpected detour when an audience member at a Frank Zappa concert (conveniently scheduled right before the session) fired a flare into the venue’s ceiling. Everyone inside was evacuated safely, but the casino—and Deep Purple’s plan—went up in flames.

Undeterred, Deep Purple parked the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Studio truck outside the nearby Grand Hotel and the Machine Head sessions shifted into gear. With its lively production and a supernova drum solo, “Space Truckin’” sounds positively interstellar in a set of good earbuds.

Tom Petty — “Runnin’ Down a Dream”

Tom Petty hitches a ride with ELO’s Jeff Lynne and fellow Heartbreaker Mike Campbell to co-write “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” a chooglin’ heartland rock stomper from his debut 1989 solo album Full Moon Fever—recorded (appropriately enough) in Mike Campbell’s garage.

Roll the windows down, turn the music up and listen closely and you’ll hear layers of impeccably stacked vocal harmonies plus the roar of the rhythm section tailgating this barnburner into white line overdrive.

With a ragged Mike Campbell fuzz riff and Lynne’s slick production—listen for the delays at the end of each couplet—“Runnin’ Down a Dream” rides shiny and chrome into classic rock history. In 2019, Full Moon Fever was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Hot Snakes — “LAX”

San Diego punk veterans Hot Snakes take flight on “LAX,” an aerodynamic, high-altitude highwire act of taut dual guitar interplay and a tribute to (waiting in traffic outside) Southern California’s favorite airport-slash-parking lot.

Before forming Hot Snakes, John Reis (guitar) and Rick Froberg (vocals/guitar) played in the influential post-hardcore band Drive Like Jehu, where their complex song structures and unusual guitar playing inspired future punk, metal, emo and indie bands including At the Drive-In, Deftones, Modest Mouse and Jimmy Eat World.

On “LAX,” the dynamic duo of post-hardcore guitar heroes join forces with bassist Gar Wood and drummer Jason Kourkounis to elevate their turbulent garage-punk riffs into the stratosphere.

Yo La Tengo — “Little Honda”

Yo La Tengo offer a revved-up take on a classic Beach Boys tune with “Little Honda,” adding tons of fuzzy feedback to supercharge Brian Wilson and Mike Love’s tribute to their favorite vintage motorcycle—the Honda 50.

Yo La Tengo released “Little Honda” as a single ahead of their 1997 album I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, a sprawling 68-minute adventure of an album that’s all over the map but never loses direction. In 2020, Rolling Stone included I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One at number 423 on its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings — “Midnight Rider”

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings fire up the horn section for their funky take on the Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider,” released digitally in 2016.

Jones was forty years old and working as a corrections officer at New York’s infamous Rikers Island facility when a session singing backing vocals for funk legend Lee Fields paved the way for her breakout music career. With her band the Dap-Kings, Jones released Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (2002), the first album on Daptone Records, the independent label founded by Neal Sugarman and Dap-King bassist Gabriel Roth.

The Dap-Kings released seven LPs before Jones’ death in 2016, helping to kickstart the ‘00s retro-soul movement that includes masterpieces like Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. In 2014, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ Give the People What They Want received a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album.

Jackson Browne — “Running on Empty”

Jackson Browne took the show (and recording studio) on the road to make Running on Empty, his Grammy nominated 1977 concept album about #tourlife recorded in hotel rooms, backstage areas and live on stage.

The title track, from Browne’s August 27, 1977 concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Colombia, Maryland, peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for seventeen weeks.

“Running on Empty” hit the road again in 1994 when it was featured in Forrest Gump’s famous cross-country montage scene. Run, Forrest, run.

Jerry Reed — “East Bound and Down”

Jerry Reed throws the hammer down in support of the power of independent trucking on “East Bound and Down,” written and recorded for the 1977 hit blockbuster Smokey and the Bandit starring Burt Reynolds as “the Bandit” and Reed as Cledus “Snowman” Snow.

Before he lit up the silver screen, Reed set Nashville alight with his mischievous songwriting and smokin’ hot-stuff guitar solos. Elvis Presley covered Reed’s “Guitar Man” in 1967, setting the guitar slinger on the path to success. In 1972, Reed made his animated debut as himself in an episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies titled “The Phantom of the Country Music Hall.”

Reed certainly plays guitar like a man possessed on “East Bound and Down.” With a twangy Telecaster bite and cinematic three-act structure, the song’s nearly minute-long double-tracked and harmonized guitar solo has more twists and turns than the last season of Yellowstone.

Metallica — “Turn the Page”

Bob Seger’s road-weary anthem about the ups and downs of touring gets a tuneup courtesy of Metallica, who inject “Turn the Page” with enough furious fuel and fire to race straight to number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, where it kept on truckin’ for eleven weeks.

The first single from Garage, Inc. (1998) swaps the iconic original saxophone line for Kirk Hammett’s chrome diamond plate slide guitar—souped up, of course, with his signature wah-wah licks.

Tracy Chapman — “Fast Car”

Tracy Chapman escapes her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio in “Fast Car,” the runaway hit from the singer-songwriter’s 1988 debut album Tracy Chapman.

“Fast Car” raced into the top ten of Billboard’s Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart after an impromptu white-knuckle performance at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute. When a hard drive containing Stevie Wonder’s synthesizer sounds turned up missing, Chapman stepped in to buy crew members time with a solo acoustic rendition of “Fast Car.” It resonated so strongly with the audience that sales of Tracy Chapman quadrupled the next week, eventually reaching 6x Platinum status.

Olivia Rodrigo — “drivers license”

Olivia Rodrigo jump-started the Sour album cycle with her record-breaking single “drivers license,” speeding into first place with the most first-week streams on Amazon Music and Spotify. The breakout ballad also made Rodrigo the youngest artist to ever debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and won the Grammy for “Best Pop Solo Performance.”

The sparse bedroom pop production is perfect for test driving a new set of earbuds—the relative lack of reverb puts Rodrigo’s vocal front and center, building to the cathartic stacked harmonies of the song’s climax.

Cocteau Twins — “Heaven or Las Vegas”

Is there a difference? With a diverse and eclectic roster of fans that includes artists like Prince, Napalm Death and The Weeknd—to name just a few—the Cocteau Twins are a safe bet for any roadtrip playlist.

The enigmatic dream pop band hit the jackpot on the title track of their 1990 album Heaven or Las Vegas, cashing out at number seven on the UK albums chart. With dance-y drum programming, swirling quadruple-tracked guitars and Elizabeth Frazer’s unmistakable vocals, it’s easy to hear the Cocteau's’ influence across dream pop, shoegaze and chillwave.

Prince — “Little Red Corvette (7” Edit)”

Hand over your keys—Prince is behind the wheel and burning rubber with “Little Red Corvette.” The Artist Formerly Known As scored his first US top-ten hit in 1983 with the second single from the album 1999.

Prince’s vocal here packs enough horsepower that if you listen closely, you can hear him distorting the microphone around 0:45 with a torqued-up scream.

CAKE — “The Distance”

CAKE take the checkered flag on “The Distance,” the breakout hit from the Sacramento alt/funk-rock band’s second album, Fashion Nugget (1996).

The rhythm section of Todd Roper (drums) and Victor Damiani (bass) burn rubber on an oil-slicked funk groove dotted with twangy old west guitar licks and John McCrea’s monotone engine room vocal on this Gen-X college radio classic that’s sure to get your motor running.

Guided By Voices — “Motor Away”

Riding off into the sunset is Guided By Voices with “Motor Away” from 1995’s lo-fi masterpiece (and Magnet magazine’s album of the year) Alien Lanes.

In a retrospective Pitchfork review, Steven Hyden writes, “In ‘Motor Away,’... Pollard sings about the liberation of blasting down an open road in order to ‘belittle every little voice’ in your crummy town that ever doubted your ability to escape, while also acknowledging that those people might be right. [Don’t] give up hope because the destination might not end up being what you envision, but rather… enjoy the thrill ride that takes you there.”

Hear and feel the difference. Love them or your money back.

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