10 Great Rock Driving Songs

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Summertime and the time is right for… road trip! But keep your hands on the wheel

1967_chevrolet_camaro-pic-3402-1600x1200As the Stones were wont to say about the swelter season, the most tune-a-licious prospects for the well-appointed classic rocker are just down the road apiece. All you need to do is get in your car and drive.

Is there anything that goes together better than cruising in your wheels and with some great tuneage blasting away to set the soundtrack? Actually, yes. Make the music some cool driving songs and it all aligns as a peak experience.

The right driving songs set the pace, enhance the experience, and provide hi-test fuel for the driver and passengers. And these classic cuts will have you bouncing up and down in the fast lane, so remember to keep your seat belt buckled.

10) “Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors

Jim Morrison opens this live version of the cautionary tale with a stop at a New York roadhouse, invoking to the audience, who are ready to ride along with him, “Hi, how you doin’ there? Y-e-ah. Looking good. Everything is fucked up as usual… you know…” A psychedelic way to prepare for a road trip with L.A.’s finest, as long as you don’t forget to “A-keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.”

9) “Drive My Car” by The Beatles

Van Halen covered it, and so did the Jonas Brothers. And Paul McCartney does a rockin’ version of it on tour. But the meanest way to motivate to this tune is to crank up the original, off Rubber Soul by the Fab Four. But wait … sadly you can’t get this recording on YouTube anymore. So Macca it is. Beep beep, yeah!

8) “Radar Love” by Golden Earring

The Dutch band’s 1973 thumper has fueled many a half-crazed jaunt up the freeway. While the live versions have their period charm, this pastiche-y music video is quaint yet comical. You will be amused.

7) “Little Floater” by NRBQ

“I’m in love with an automobile and I know it’s in love with me/When I get behind the wheel I know what it is to be free,” is the refrain crooned in this actual love song to a car off the band’s 1989 Virgin Records release, Wild Weekend. It’s a little bit more lilting than you’d expect from the often more hard-chargin Q, but hey, let’s lilt again like we did last summer.

6) “Truckin'” by The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead is not known for three-minute singles by any means, so if you want to hear/see the extended version of this song, whose title is synonymous with four-wheel transportation, get yourself a copy of The Grateful Dead Movie, the feature-length film shot by cinematographer Leon Gast during the Dead’s so-called “retirement run” of shows at San Francisco’s Winterland Arena during mid-October 1974 – after which the band was to take an extended sabbatical from touring. Get your doo-dah on right here.

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5) “You Can’t Catch Me” by The Rolling Stones

When the Stones released their take on Chuck Berry’s ultimate drive-and-pursuit saga in 1964 on the U.K. studio album The Rolling Stones No. 2, they were at the height of their good-times get-happy phase in which they introduced white audiences to black R&B and blues. So when Mick says, “…bye bye New Jersey I was so airborne … if you get too close I’ll be gone like a cool breeze,” we are literally transported to the New Jersey Turnpike in the wee wee hours. About two-thirds of the way in, check out a playful Keith as he channels Chuck, even way back then. Trivia bit: John Lennon’s “Here come ol’ flat top…” that starts “Come Together” is derived from Chuck’s “Up come a flattop/he was movin’ up with me…” from this very song.

4) “Crawling From The Wreckage” by Dave Edmunds

Ya’d think that the retro-rocker would learn from his experiences in this cautionary tale – from 1979’s Repeat When Necessary, composed by the very-sober Graham Parker – not to go right back “into a brand-new car.” But crawl back he does, and we are happy as a sow in a Studebaker to ride along with him and his crew: Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams, collectively known as Rockpile.

3) “La Grange” by ZZ Top

Whether you got here by way of the Geico Motorcycle ad, or you got disoriented at the corner of Red Light and Going My Way, Big Boy, you are definitely motivatin’ now, or at least you will be by the second “haw, haw, haw.” Then you get run over by a Greatest Guitarists of All Time-level riff that powers this homage to sin, John Lee Hooker and “a lotta nice girls, ah.” From ZZ Top’s 1973 album Tres Hombres. Have mercy!

2) “Two Trains” by Little Feat

Who says the ultimate driving song has to be about a car? I’ve had some fairly unique road experiences riding the rails. Not to be confused with that other iron horse classic, “Two Trains Running” by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, this boogie-down get-down off 1973’s Dixie Chicken by the ultimate funky slide guitarist, Lowell George, god rest his wise old soul, makes you want to dance. Revisiting this tune caused me to reach up for my dog-eared copy of the LP (the greatest in the Feat canon) and wear the grooves down even further.

1) “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The best live version of this certified classic drivin’ song – with Clarence Clemons pumping the overdrive – is agreed to be his performance at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1975, but the YouTube video for it is audio only. Have no fear. A most rockin’ live version was captured of Bruce and the E Street Band at the Capital Centre in Landover, MD on August 15, 1978.

Noe Gold

Founding Editor of Guitar World magazine and Creative Consultant to the Jimi Hendrix Foundation, Noe Gold has worked for Crawdaddy and The Hollywood Reporter, The Village Voice and the New York Daily News. His stories have appeared in GQ, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Premiere, The Movies and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. The author of articles and books on the music of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Albert King, among others, his latest project is the forthcoming book, Hendrix Now! Backstory of a Legend, which features Mick Taylor, the late Alan Douglas and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Stevens, Joe Satriani, Leonard Nimoy and a few other Hendrix intimates and devotees in the ultimate followup to his seminal work started at Guitar World thirty years ago. Go to www.hendrixnow.com.
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  1. Vic Garbarini
    #1 Vic Garbarini 9 July, 2016, 01:10

    Good call on “La Grange”. Would add “Roundabout” by Yes. About a drive around Loch Lomand in Scotland, with chugging riffs not always associated with Yes.

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  2. Dan
    #2 Dan 9 July, 2016, 11:29

    This list is not complete without Highway Star by Deep Purple.

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    • Stratman
      Stratman 9 July, 2016, 20:08

      Definitely Highway Star. I’d also highly recommend Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re an American Band.”

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  3. PRS guitar
    #3 PRS guitar 26 March, 2017, 08:25

    The Doobie Brothers “Rockin’ Down the Highway” should be on this list, definitely!

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  4. mad f dawg
    #4 mad f dawg 30 June, 2017, 15:32

    sammy hagar’s i can’t drive 55 is the ultimate road song

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  5. Morgen
    #5 Morgen 2 July, 2017, 10:38

    Though neither are classic rock, every driving playlist I’ve ever made has included Bloodhound Gang’s “Asleep At the Wheel.” Though often relegated to the novelty-act dustbin, this one is too-notch rap-rock guaranteed to wake you out of your endless highway daze. Another must-have is Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again.”

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