As both a travel and music enthusiast, I often go somewhere with the perfect song or album already in mind for the journey there. Listening to that particular album while getting to or in that destination is like the cherry on top of a complete life experience. In fact, not having access to that music may even take away a bit from the experience.
What albums do you have to have with you in the car for a long drive? Here’s a countdown of Husband’s all time top 20 road trip albums.
Rules of the list:
- Any album considered for the list is a proper LP, not a greatest hits, anthology, or compilation.
- The albums listed are being ranked solely for their value on a road trip. They are not necessarily my 20 favorite albums, but simply those that are essential for road trippin’.
Well, let’s get to it!
20. Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
From the hard-rocking intro of the title track “Bleed American” to the sheer joy of “Sweetness” to the dramatic winding down of “Cautioners” and “My Sundown,” Jimmy Eat World’s breakthrough album is the perfect way to kickstart your road trip.
19. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
Perfectly suited for a nighttime drive, Home Again evokes feelings of solitary roads with occasional sightings of headlights. Even if your road trip partner may be sound asleep, Kiwanuka’s soothing croon will keep you going through the night.
18. Saves the Day – Through Being Cool
“We drive, Dave steps on the gas, the world that’s flying by is slick and smooth; big waves of light, the radio’s playing Queen, and we’re rocking out.” I dare you to listen to “Shoulder to the Wheel” and keep your windows up, follow the speed limit, and not sing along. Bet you can’t do it! Best suited for the time in the evening right after you and your compadres pound a pack of Red Bulls to keep you going for the last few hours.
17. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
The afro-beat-loving Columbia University foursome’s freshman album is for more than just getting “out of Cape Cod tonight.” You can enjoy their fine debut under any circumstances behind the wheel. It’s a fun, diverse singalong album that perks you up as you’re working on your sixth hour behind the wheel.
16. HAIM – Days Are Gone
The SoCal sister trio is the perfect accompaniment to a road trip, and not just through SoCal. Their sound could fit a trip through the United States, through Europe, through Australia. The Haim sisters have been compared to Fleetwood Mac; their music has the smooth sound of their predecessors while still appealing to the millennial generation.
15. The Beatles – Let It Be
How could I not include the album that features the song that inspired the name of this blog? Be sure to not miss out on this album while driving “the long and winding road.” Additionally, the title track is perhaps my all-time favorite song. Be sure to listen to the album version of the title track and not the single version, as George Harrison’s late addition of a searing guitar solo takes the song to another level.
14. Bruce Springsteen – The River
From the high-energy rock and roll of “Sherry Darling” and “Out in the Street” to the yearning singalong “Hungry Heart” to the storytelling ballad title track, The River packs 83 minutes of emotional road-trip wallop.
13. Coldplay – Parachutes
This is the playlist on a road trip of a romantic – and it’s not even too sappy. Perfect for driving through quiet stretches of desolate stretches of Route 80 at 4 a.m., Coldplay’s magnificent debut calls to mind the love you’re searching for, the love you hope to find at your destination, or, if you happen to be so blessed, the love that’s sleeping in the seat next to you.
12. Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever
I can’t imagine that Thomas Earl Petty didn’t have the pavement in mind when he wrote this album. I mean, c’mon…”Free Fallin,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” on the same album? This has “road trip” written all over it.
11. Beach House – Bloom
Close your eyes and listen to this album. If you don’t feel like you’re in an airplane, floating above the clouds, I don’t understand you. Alternatively, you can imagine that you’re gliding at 70 mph a few inches above the pavement. Either way, this album perfectly complements your mode of travel.
10. The Format – Dog Problems
The Format’s underrated 2006 masterpiece is as close to a modern day Pet Sounds as I think I’ve heard. It’s perfect for driving on a sunny day with the top down and your Wayfarers on.
9. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Dylan’s transition to electric bestowed road trip music on America. His greatest album (in my opinion) is perfect for cruising over the midwest plains with the sun shining, Wayfarers on, and miles to go. It’s a playlist for the introspective vagrant.
8. U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind
Everything about this album speaks to humanity’s collective desire for freedom – which can be found on four wheels. The album begins with the epic “Beautiful Day,” which calls to mind “China right in front of you…the Bedouin fires at night…” and being “on the road, but you got no destination.” This transitions into the soaring “Elevation” and “Kite,” and Bono’s wistful recollection of a “little girl with Spanish eyes” over The Edge’s bleeding guitar in “In a Little While” and culminates with a multicultural celebration in “New York.”
7. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
Conor Oberst beautifully articulates the words and music that you want to express when you’re “nowhere, and it’s now.” This album speaks to you when you’re in every lonely corner of Nebraska, every weary curve of Highway 1 in California, every small-town midwest diner.
6. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
I think the name says it all – this album reminds us all why we want to run, where we’re running, and who we’re running to. When we’re on the road, all we want to do is go, and this album inspires you to do just that.
5. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
If you’re driving anywhere in a) a convertible, b) a car with a sunroof, or c) California, this album should be on your queue. There’s just something about listening to “Dreams” that makes me want to get in a car with nowhere in particular to go but everywhere.
4. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
While I had left Brian Wilson’s magnum opus off my original list because I had deemed it more of an album that I’d listen to upon arrival at my destination, preferably on vinyl, while sipping on a glass of wine. However, this gem can really fit in anywhere on your trip, and multiple listens to Pet Sounds are never a bad thing.
3. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
Van Morrison’s masterpiece is a bouquet of folk, blues, jazz, soul, and poetry. It feels like the perfect soundtrack for rambling anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Influenced by Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Astral Weeks is oozing with scenes from roadsides flying by on a Super 8 film shot from a VW bus.
2. Paul Simon – Graceland
Due to the fact that the title track is named after a road trip that Simon took with his son to Memphis, this is the perfect soundtrack to your asphalt journey. Bonus road trip points if you listen to this while in South Africa (as we did ad nauseum in summer 2014), where Graceland was controversially conceived – and by which the album was heavily influenced – amid the apartheid struggles of the 1980s.
1. U2 – Joshua Tree
The easy #1 pick for me, the first three songs of Joshua Tree may be the greatest three-song intro to an album of all time. It is and will remain a “bucket list” desire of mine to drive through the rolling hills of Ireland, at dusk, at roughly 10-15 kilometers above the speed limit, with the windows down, while listening to this album at a high volume. And nobody will say a word, because there’s no need to. They will watch the world fly by, and simply listen.
So there’s my list. What would you bring on a road trip?