The image of a highway is a recurring theme throughout music history. Whether a representation of a lonely and solitary journey, or a universal metaphor for freedom and fun, here are the best songs about highways to ever hit the radio waves.
The Best Songs About Highways
The Wedge by Phish
“The Wedge” by Phish is a cut off their 1993 album, Rift. The song is an upbeat and uplifting track that remains a staple of the band’s live shows today, featuring bassist Mike Gordon’s trademark funky style.
While the lyrics are as lighthearted as most of the band’s material, as the group is known for its silliness and irreverence, the familiar refrain of “take the highway to the great divide” is one every Phish fan knows and sings along to at the show.
Highway Star by Deep Purple
Deep Purple are one of the most influential hard rock bands to ever take the stage. Noted as one of the earliest examples of heavy metal before heavy metal was its own genre, Deep Purple took a decidedly less mystical lyrical approach than contemporaries like Led Zeppelin and Uriah Heep.
Their 1972 album Machine Head is full of powerful, driving, fun hard rock music, and “Highway Star” kicks things off in style. This is the type of song that makes you want to get in a 70’s muscle car and drive as fast as possible. There’s also one of Ritchie Blackmore’s finest guitar solos on this track, a shredder that holds up to this day.
Born to Take the Highway by Joni Mitchell
Released in 1965, Joni Mitchell’s “Born to Take the Highway” is noteworthy not just for being a great song. It’s also one of the first instances in popular music of a woman writing a song about the highway. This was a time in American history when women were still seen as second-class citizens in many parts of the country, and this song is all about one of the most influential female artists declaring her independence and desire for freedom.
Much like her contemporary, Bob Dylan, Mitchell’s vocals can be polarizing for music fans, but she sings with such passion and writes lyrics with such powerful imagery that it’s hard not to feel inspired.
Take the Long Way Home by Supertramp
While not an explicitly obvious reference to a highway, this is a textbook road song about the depression and isolation that comes with being in a famous touring rock band. Ever the masters of juxtaposing serious and introspective lyrics with upbeat, immaculate arena rock, this track from 1979’s bestselling Breakfast in America is a classic you’ve likely heard even if you don’t know you have.
The instrumentation and the lyrics fit together perfectly, and it’s one of my favorite road trip songs to unwind on the way back home. There is a solemn yet playful feel to the lyrics, as the narrator humorously references his wife not recognizing him after a long tour on the road.
Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan
Furthering Bob Dylan’s journey into electric guitar-driven music, this is the title track of his most critically acclaimed album. This is a bluesy, twangy number that blends together several components Dylan is known for, such as biblical allusion and wry social commentary.
This is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and its faster pace and danceable groove make it one of Dylan’s most rocking tracks for driving down the highway. It evokes an image of a depression-era road setting in the 1930s, which is often the vibe Dylan is going for.
Walkin’ After Midnight by Patsy Cline
Here is a classic tale of solitude. While the genre often catches flak for what mainstream country has become over the past twenty years, singers and songwriters like Patsy Cline had an artistry and poeticism rarely found today. Like the aforementioned “Born to Take the Highway” by Joni Mitchell, here is an independent woman’s artistic voice amidst a time period when such a thing was rare.
The somber and moody atmosphere of the song pairs well with Cline’s evocative and powerful imagery, making it a perfect choice for late night walks when I want to clear my mind. The image of a lonesome wanderer walking down the highway is soothing and strangely freeing, as the narrator of the track ponders getting away from it all.
Truckin’ by The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead, especially during this period of the band, were known for their intensive and unrelenting touring schedules. It makes sense the band’s primary lyricist, Robert Hunter, would have gotten help from the band to pen one of their most beloved tracks.
While most Deadheads may be tired of the studio version from 1970’s American Beauty and opt for the multitude of exploratory, jam-filled live versions available, the studio track still holds up as an endearing classic of Americana-infused folky rock music. The powerful imagery of Hunter and Jerry Garcia, combined with the bouncy, bluesy groove that propels the song into one of the Dead’s most rocking numbers, paints a picture in the head of the listener.
This is an enduring road anthem, and like all Dead lyrics, there’s a bit of humor in the seriousness. The narrator is someone who can’t seem to find contentment whether he’s on the road or sitting at home. This is relatable to all of us who travel frequently. I might not enjoy certain aspects of being on the road, but I have to leave my house and hit the road to form the powerful memories that color my life.
Rock’n Me by Steve Miller Band
This one’s a staple of classic rock radio, television commercials, and sports games. Arguably we’ve all heard it enough for one lifetime, and possibly two or three. And yet I keep returning to this catchy, driving, uplifting hit song from 1976’s breakout hit, Fly Like an Eagle.
“I went from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A,” is a familiar line likely embedded into our DNA at this point, such is the enduring exposure this song continues to receive. Steve Miller did a great job exploring a more positive and simplistic side of 1970’s rock. It’s not quite heavy and not quite soft, but his hit songs are simply well-constructed rock ‘n roll tracks, and this one is no different.
Home at Last by Steely Dan
“I know this super highway, this bright familiar sun, I guess that I’m the lucky one.” That opening line alone is all you need to detect that trademark wit Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were celebrated for. These guys were masters of subverting pop and rock norms and utilizing juxtaposition.
The narrator is clearly in LA, like most of the characters described on their 1977 classic Aja, but the cadence of how Fagen sings “I guess that I’m the lucky one” tells us there’s some despair and sarcasm lurking beneath the serenity and tranquility.
Musically, it is groovy and relaxing, but lyrically the Dan always had something stirring beneath the shadows. One of my fondest vacation memories is driving down the highway on the way to meet a girl and witnessing the sunset as this song played in my car. Something about it was simply perfect.
Detroit Rock City by KISS
This is not only one of the best album openers in rock history, kicking off the band’s landmark 1976 Destroyer album with style, but there’s also a pretty good reason it’s frequently opened most of the band’s concerts since its release. This is a perfect driving song, and one of the heavier songs in the band’s catalogue.
While on the surface it may seem like another lighthearted KISS song about partying and having a good time, Paul Stanley stated in an interview with Guitar World back in 1992 what the song was actually about. This gives it an aura of darkness and seriousness often not seen in the band’s lyrical repertoire.
Stanley states that it’s actually based off a true story about a fan getting too drunk and high and dying in a car crash on the way to see his favorite band at the time, KISS. This raises the urgency and grit of the song, making it a favorite of mine to blast while driving.
Heading Out to the Highway by Judas Priest
Judas Priest, one of the undisputed masters of heavy metal, have plenty of songs in their catalogue that are perfect for letting loose and taking a road trip. “Heading Out to the Highway,” from their 1981 Point of Entry album, is a classic and still performed in concert by the band today.
This song gives the listener the feeling that he can take over the world, as vocalist Rob Halford sings about having “nothing to lose at all.” This track, like so many great Judas Priest songs, instills a sense of freedom in me, a feeling that I can accomplish anything I want to do.
Highway to Hell by AC/DC
If it’s not obvious by now that I’m a fan of hard rock music, this final entry in my list should seal the deal. How can a list about highway songs not include this classic? Sure, it’s a radio hit we’ve likely all heard, but it still holds up to this day. And in my opinion, it’s probably the most well known of all the songs with highways in the title that have ever been made.
“No stop signs, speed limits, nobody’s gonna slow me down,” Bon Scott sings with utmost passion and intensity, backed by one of the simplest yet most effective riffs in rock history, courtesy of Malcolm and Angus Young. The title track to their 1979 classic is a road trip staple, and no matter how many times I hear it, it always gets me pumped.
I hope you enjoyed reading my list of songs about highways. Some of these you probably already know and hopefully love, and I also hope any readers out there are turned on to some great tracks they might have missed. From jazz rock, to classic country, to jam rock, to heavy metal, I think there should be a little something here for everyone to enjoy on their next road trip.