Albums that really move and can go the distance to make the miles fly by
What makes for a good road trip record? First, it must have some serious propulsion. The highway or the back roads call for premium gas and the pedal to the metal… most of the way.
Just like the trip, the music you play needs to be a scenic journey. That’s one reason why double albums make up a good part of this list. They also have a breadth and sprawl to cover the long miles. And some here also offer fine compendiums of an artist’s work so you can soak up an overview as you cruise along. There’s also a number of live albums here, because there’s nothing like the energy of a truly great band firing on all pistons in concert to make the miles glide by.
Although we’d assure that utilizing this list will make your next long drive a superior musical experience, as said in some of the entries, there’s a range of options that serve road time well. Consider this a guide to the parameters that make for great and effective road trip music, and mix and match our suggestions – all of them road tested – with your favorites to find a soundtrack for your journey that goes the distance. And may the road rise to meet you.
10) Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore by Humble Pie
Gotta have something hard and heavy and loud and proud along on the journey. For that I turn to this 1971 live in concert two-fer, largely because its metallic thrust is enhanced by Steve Marriott’s soulfully wailing voice. It’s also an album that forcefully proves how Peter Frampton was quite the guitar hero prior to becoming a classic rock pin-up boy. The 23-minute-plus version of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” is a thing of wonder, and the one-two punch of “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor” that ends this album will kick your travels into overdrive.
9) Strings Attached by Ian Hunter
Few classic rockers continue to make as vibrant music today as the former frontman for Mott the Hoople. And just as few have also managed such a seamless meld of orchestra and rock band as Hunter did with this 2004 live album tracked in Oslo, Norway, backed by members of his superb Rant Band and 20 orchestral players. This set has muscular versions of Mott rockers like “All The Way From Memphis” and “All the Young Dudes” as well as that band’s more sensitive songs like “I Wish I Was Your Mother” and “Saturday Gigs,” cool solo numbers, and what’s likely the best song about 9/11, “Twisted Steel.” Plus this heartbreakingly poignant tribute to his late mate Mick Ronson, “Michael Picasso.”
8) Graceland by Paul Simon
Just about as perfect a single album as can be found in the entire classic rock genre, and a musical creation so rich and inspired that one can never tire of listening to it. Admittedly, this disc became a road trip staple for me when I played it at the start of a journey on which I visited Graceland; but hey, can you think of another song based around a trip that expands so magically into a rumination of love and life? The African, Cajun and Mexican rhythms lock into the rolling wheels on the roadway to carry you along like the wind.
7) Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello
Slip this energetic and lyrically pointed sucker – from when E.C. and the Attractions were passionately on point – into the car player and feel the momentum. This 1980 release is Costello’s fourth album, and it’s brimming with vim and vigor mixed with the piss and vinegar of E.C.’s early (and still best) songwriting, along with a couple of covers, most notably the 1967 Sam and Dave number “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down.” This disc’s like a sleek sports car zipping along, taking the curves with tight precision as Elvis and his band barrel out the big beat and cool tunes.
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6) Last Dance by Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden
Every road trip soundtrack needs its chill pill for when the traffic slows and snarls. And any rocker with a genuine love of music should always verge off into other genres, especially jazz. You can’t do any better than this 2014 set by longtime collaborators Keith Jarrett on piano and Charlie Haden on bass – in the latter’s last recording before his passing that year – for a stylistic and vibe intermezzo. If the tone of Jarrett’s playing sounds familiar, it may be that he’s a prime influence on Bruce Hornsby’s pianistics. The interplay between the two on songs that include Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” and Cole Porter’s “Everytime We Say Goodbye” gives this album a dynamism that even in its quietest moments keeps you moving right along toward your destination.
5) London Calling by The Clash
Either this, the band’s third album, or the similarly sprawling Sandinista that followed it – both shine when given car stereo time. This is the album on which punk rock grew up and opened itself up to stylistic variations and greater thematic depth and range. Starting with the pummeling title song and wrapping up 19 tracks later with “Train in Vain,” it rocks the roadway with such songs as “Brand New Cadillac,” “Spanish Bombs,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Clampdown” and “I’m Not Down,” plus some “Lover’s Rock,” rock steady, “Jimmy Jazz” and more.
4) Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones
No true rock fan can roam far without taking the Stones along. A nice long drive could be enhanced by the churning live-on-stage drive of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! or provide the ideal way to savor all the elements that make Exile on Main Street such a treasure. But instead we’ll drop one concise studio LP by The World’s Greatest into this mix. It’s not an easy choice, but Let It Bleed serves our need brilliantly. The group’s final release of the 1960s (issued in December 1969, to be exact), it finds the Stones in transition – both Brian Jones and Mick Taylor play guitar on it – yet atop their game. Starting with the haunting strains of “Gimme Shelter” and wrapping up with the anthemic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” it offers blues (Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain),” backporch C&W (“Country Honk”) and some sterling Stones rockers like “Live With Me,” “Midnight Rambler” and “Monkey Man” that help make the miles roll by smoothly.
3) At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band
In its merely seven-song form over two discs that blew my mind when it arrived in 1971, this truly classic live album brought a propulsion to the blues that ups the octane on your travels. Plus the concentration afforded by windshield listening spotlights the pleasures of this LP’s myriad thrills, chills, treats and delights, especially on the extended jams of “You Don’t Love Me,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post.” For longer mileage there are a few expanded editions that’ll go the distance nicely. Duane Allman’s slide playing provides the spark plugs that ignite this musical fuel, reiterating how his death is a loss that rock guitar playing has never fully recovered from.
2) Live at Leeds (Deluxe Edition) by The Who
One could just as easily slot Tommy or Quadrophenia into this list for a Who entry. Both are albums that can play across the miles magnificently. But this Who fanatic opts for the band at the height of its sheer power in concert in 1970. The 2001 Deluxe Edition package offers both remixes of the original LP tracks and their live Tommy set from that same show. If it’s a really long road trip you could always opt for the 2010 Super Deluxe Edition, which literally doubles down by including the next night’s show in Hull (which some argue was an even better gig). No matter, it’s all music with an atomic-powered drive.
1) Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 by Bruce Springsteen
True confession time: As much as I love and admire the artistry of Bruce Springsteen, I’m not much for listening to his studio albums. Blame the mind-blowing conversion experience of seeing him live not long after this set was recorded. The E Street Band, recently configured into its prime lineup, cooks like a gourmet chef here, bringing fullest fruition to songs from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, while numbers from Born to Run have a looseness and simmering energy that makes the studio renditions sound a bit belabored. There’s abundant dynamics and Springsteen’s delivery epitomizes heartfelt. This set makes the miles roll by beautifully. “Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair,” indeed.