Cars have captivated the attention of artists for over a century. They’ve inspired musicians to write songs about them, about the trips they’ve taken in them, and about what they represent beyond a basic way to get from point A to point B. It’s an aspect of the automotive industry most of us can relate to; a majority of motorists have fond memories of at least one car. Even if they hated it, or didn’t care for its color, they loved the freedom it gave them.
The best songs about cars exemplify this. Not every track on this car song list is an obvious choice, although many are. The songs are chosen not only because of their lyrical fidelity, but because of the emotional response they illicit. It’s a myriad of music meant for all types of tastes. Without further ado, here are our picks for the 55 most memorable songs about cars and driving. These are also perfect road trip songs.
Gary Numan may have had a string of hits in the United Kingdom, but Cars was his only Top 40 track in the United States. It’s become a new wave staple more than 40 years later, anchored by analog synthesizers, tambourine breakdowns, and Numan’s nearlyvemotionless delivery. Why exactly does Gary Numan feel so safe in his car? Does wearing massive amounts of guyliner makes you impervious to bodily harm? Nonetheless, the infamous bass line is unforgettable.
You know War’s Low Rider, or you’ve at least heard the cover by George Clinton, Widespread Panic, or others. Written with the help of War saxophonist Charles Miller, the song isn’t necessarily about the practice of souping up classic cars with hydraulics, but moreso the entire lifestyle that goes with it. The track is jazz fusion at its finest, featuring a steady Latin beat and Miller taking the lead vocals. The low rider is a lot of things, but economical isn’t one of them.
The ’80s have a good deal to answer for — male ponytails, acid-wash jeans, anything Howard the Duck-related — but Billy Ocean’s classic isn’t one of them. Though popular song is based on a mere line from Ringo Starr’s Sixteen, it’s surely more famous for its cutting-edge music video, one that spliced cartoon animation with live-action sequences. It starts with a revving engine, before cascading into a frenzy of harmonies, synthesizers, and the most direct chorus of all time.
Though country singer originally wrote One Piece at a Time, it was the great Johnny Cash that brought the song to the limelight. It tells the tale of a General Motors employee who works on the Cadillac assembly line who, over the course of 24 years, smuggles enough parts to assemble a Cadillac of his own (albeit not the most attractive one). The song noted for being Cash’s last chart-toppers, along with first recorded usage of “psychobilly” as a music genre.
Many bands covered Vince Taylor and his Playboys’ 12-bar blues song, but it was the recording that found its way onto the Clash’s landmark album, London Calling, two decades later that truly set the bar. Featuring frontman Joe Strummer’s punk-ish wails and quickhanded electric guitar, the song revolves around a girl who decides to flaunt her new vehicle in front of her man — that is, just prior to leaving him to his own graveling and despair. And they say women can’t be heartless.
Rising from the ashes of what was once Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy’s Passenger Side is a song encapsulating the better parts about losing your driver’s license (specifically having others drive you around while you get intoxicated). The song is more country-leaning than the band’s later work, smeared with twanged electric guitar and soaring fiddle. “You’re gonna make me spill my beer,” nonchalantly sings Tweedy in the first verse, “if you don’t learn how to steer.” Touché.
Sure, you could ask The Car’s bassist Benjamin Orr — who supplied lead vocals on the band’s 1984 hit, Drive — for a ride, but prepare yourself for an electro-pop filled, melodic onslaught of passive aggressive judgment. The gorgeous, heartfelt ballad known as Drive was The Cars’ highest ranking single in the United States and even exhibited a brief comeback two years later when it was featured as background music set to Ethiopian famine images during Live Aid ’85.
Featuring a drum machine and slow synthesizer buildup, Prince’s classic Little Red Corvette is more about making love than an actual automobile. The song encompasses a one-night stand with promiscuous woman, one Prince urges to slow down before she destroys herself. Despite its sexual metaphors and content, the music video was also one of the first two video by a black artist to play in heavy roation on MTV. After all, who wouldn’t drive fast in a red Corvette?
Much like the former Prince hit, Drive My Car is really a euphemism for sex. It came out of what Paul McCartney and the late John Lennon called one of the “stickiest” writing sessions in their young career. It follows a woman who recruits the male narrator for a chauffeur position — even though she doesn’t have a car of her own. The upbeat track, the opener to the British version of Rubber Soul, is also one of the most bass-heavy Beatles songs given the double bass.
What better way to celebrate driving than with a song about road rage? Released during The Offspring’s rise to fame in the mid 1990s, Bad Habit tells the story of a man who loses his cool behind the wheel and turns to brash methods to relieve tension. Put simply, he goes completely nuts. While we can’t sign off on the tactics of our “hero”, the song’s blaring punk guitars and frenetic pace could prove cathartic if you find yourself fuming on the commute home.
No doubt cliché, but Canadian Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway remains one of the most endearing metaphors of all time. Cochrane wrote the southern-soul rocker following a trip to west Africa with his family in 1990, as he was raising awareness on behalf of a famine relief organization. Being the case, the Top 40 song makes cursory references to Mozambique and the infamous Khyber Pass, along with his hometown of Vancouver and simply the open road.
Believe it or not, Kings of Leon were a phenomenal band well before topping the charts with a barrage of cringe-worthy tunes. The band’s third LP, Because of the Times, was a standout, with Camaro highlighting the Followill’s effortless brand of southern grit. Much like the Clash’s Brand New Cadillac, the KOL track talks about a girl and her new car as an interplay of electric guitars and a steady percussion ebbs in the background.
Canned Heat’s On the Road Again is essentially a reworked cover of a cover of a cover. Featuring a driving blues-rock boogie and guitarist Alan Wilson on falsetto, the song takes blues guitarist Floyd Jones’ On the Road Again and adds elements of mid-’60s psychedelia with a spare backbeat and an extended harmonica solo. Hell, the song even solidified the E-G-A progression in the rock world, standardizing the classic rock ‘n’ roll pattern for the rest of time.
Golden Earring’s Radar Love is admittedly a little cliché at this point, but it’s the type of unapologetic car song that turns whatever economical crapbox you’re driving into a firebreathing road warrior — at least until the song is over. A staple of classic-rock radio, the song is narrated from the point of view of a automobile driver, one who talks with his lover through a very different means of communication. You’ve heard it before, whether on House or The Simpsons.
Officially credited to the Stills-Young Band, a joint collaboration between Stephen Stills and Neil Young following their brief stint in Buffalo Springfield, Long May You Run is a simple elegy for Young’s first car (a 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse). It’s a nostalgic piece with Young reminiscing about his final days with the car down by the Blind River, along with projections of where “Mort” may now reside. There’s harmonica, sun-dappled guitar, and harmonies galore.
The theme of the 1976 film Car Wash, Motown producer Norman Whitfield’s Car Wash remains one of the few renowned successes of the disco era aside from tracks like Bee Gee’s Stayin’ Alive. The tune describes the easy-going atmosphere of working at a car wash, set to a melange of funky bass, trumpets, and hand claps, the latter component of which has been sampled on countless tracks since. Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliot revamped it in 2005, but to no avail.
Say what you will about Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx’s drug addiction, but the hard rocking Mötley Crüe was at the top of its game when it introduced Dr. Feedgood at the tail end of the ’80s. The song, depicting a drug overdose in which Sixx received two shots of adrenaline to the heart, also opens with one of the most iconic riffs in all of rock. Guitarist Mick Mars’ drops three consecutive strings, producing a classic bridge effect that resembles the sound of a motorcycle shifting gears.
Geggy Tah’s Whoever You Are, and the album on which it resides, was an oddball hit even for the mid-’90s. However, while I respect Tah’s enthusiasm for thanking total strangers for letting him switch lanes, I can’t condone his slappin’ da bass and playing a mini trumpet while trying to drive in the song’s music video. Regardless of my opinion, the song did make it to Number 16 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, a testament to the band’s major-label debut on Warner.
The Dead Milkman have always had an underground following popular with college kids, but Bitchin’ Camaro represents there closest brush with fame. The song is notable for the walking bass line and the improvised dialogue featured during the introduction, one featuring a terrible Jim Morrison impression and a few dead-pan jokes. Still, the 50 seconds in which the satirical punk band actually plays music is a whirlwind of electric guitar, drums, and honest confessions.
Although Janis Joplin died a mere three days after recording Mercedes Benz, that never stop Mercedes-Benz from utilizing the song in a number of the automaker’s advertisements. The acapella track, which graced Joplin’s phenomenal post-humous album Pearl, is also considered a blatant hippie-era rejection of consumerism. It remains one of the most iconic songs about a luxury car, yet it’s also one of the most raw cuts on our list, recorded in a single take.
The Beach Boys’ highest charting B-side, Little Deuce Coupe is specifically about the 1932 Ford Model B. It’s often cited as mastermind Brian Wilson’s favorite car song, instantly glamorizing the life of California teens with a passion for cars and high swells. It’s incredibly bouncy, adorned with some of the most iconic harmonies of all time and featuring a unique shuffle rhythm that was ahead of its time. It simply encapsulates hot-rodding Americana at its pinnacle.
American songwriter Mack Rice may have written Mustang Sally — and change the title from Mustang Mama per Aretha Franklin’s suggestion — but it was the late Wilson Picket that popularized the song a year after its initial radio debut. The hallmark chorus quickly became even more iconic when newspaper headlines pronounced Sally Ride the first American woman in space. Also, bonus points if you’re actually cruising around town in a a classic ’65 ‘Stang.
Folk rocker Don McLean has never fully explained the lyrics of his 1972 magnum opus American Pie, but it’s widely believed to be inspired by the tragic deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. It’s an incredibly sad song of reflection, rollicking in quiet piano before burgeoning with acoustic guitar and brushed drums following the first verse. Madonna’s rendition of the song was absolutely terrible, but the original is the longest song to ever top the charts.
Woody Guthrie — ‘Riding in my Car (Car Song)’ (iTunes) — 1940-ish
Singer-songwriter and folk legend Woody Guthrie might be best known for his classic This Land Is Your Land and the icon slogan “this machine kills fascists” displayed on his guitar. However, his lighthearted, folky ode to the automobile will likely have you grinning from ear to ear. It’s undeniably silly, with Guthrie haphazardly spouting phonetic renditions of a car engine against a backdrop of acoustic guitar. Thankfully, if you’re not a fan, one or two of your kids will be.
The Boss’ Pink Cadillac has never been issued on an official studio album, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t heard it before. It was a staple on his Born in the U.S.A. tour, noted for its not-so-subtle use of metaphor. As one might expect, Springsteen doesn’t necessarily like the girl for her “pink Cadillac,” but something else entirely. Regardless, the chugging bass and spare toms render it the perfect track for cruising down the street, waving to the girls, and feeling out of sight.
In the aftermath of 1974’s widely unpopular National Maximum Speed Law, which prohibited states from posting speed limits higher than 55 miles per hour, Sammy Hagar protested like any red-blooded American would: by melting the collective faces of Congress with his signature hit I Can’t Drive 55. The song became a concert staple throughout Hagar’s career, following him from his quick-footed solo career into his turbulent time with the legendary Van Halen.
Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen might have one of the longest band names ever, but drive the same way the song’s protagonist does, and it’s the fastest way to a night spent in the slammer. The song was a 1951 hit for Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys, but Cody’s version opens with different dialogue and guitar lick, while splicing lyrics from several other covers of the song. At a mere three minutes in length, it’s quick, but it’s the lesson that matters.
Willie Nelson’s classic is less about your driving and more about the slew of feelings the open road evokes. It’s a song that has crossed genres and generations, one that defines the automotive experience and the overwhelming freedom we all feel behind the wheel. It’s a country-western song at heart, one written as the theme song for the film Honeysuckle Rose and winner of the Best Country Song at the 23 Annual Grammy Awards. What more do you need to know?
Dr. Dre (featuring Snoop Dogg) — ‘Let Me Ride’ (Amazon) — 1992
Say what you want about the Dr. Dre’s extracurricular activities back in the day, but the man sure knew how to spin some sweet beats. Let Me Ride is one of those tracks that’s as good to listen to while driving in the California sun as it is driving to just about everywhere else — especially if you’re rollin’ in a drop-top ’64 Impala. The blockbuster single, the third from Dre’s hallmark album The Chronic, went on to sell more than three million copies by itself (sans the remixes).
John Prine — ‘Automobile’ (Amazon) — 1979
Although John Prine’s Automobile graces his 1979 album Pink Cadillac, it’s actually a reference to a 1951 Ford Club Coupe. The song is a testament, not to the luxury sedans of the world, but the beater vehicle of the everyday man. There isn’t much more to it aside from chugging acoustic guitar and short harmonica bursts, but it does showcase a breakneck guitar solo and the utter sadness accompanying a dead battery. Apparently, it takes nine versus just to convey it, though.
Despite a sea of swirling rumors, Jerry Was a Race Car Driver was not the first single from Primus. However, it was the first Primus track to land on a Tony Hawk Pro Skater title. The songs tells the tale of an intoxicated race car driver who collides with a telephone pole, along with a retired fireman named Captain Pierce. Les Claypool’s idiosyncratic finger tapping anchors the song, but guitarist Larry LaLonde’s soloing and Tim Alexander’s drumming keep it all in check.
There are more than 15 official versions of Coolio’s Fantastic Voyage. The song could mean a lot of things — see Dr. Dre’s aforementioned extracurricular activities — but let’s forget all of that and buy into the perfect utopia where “Ain’t nobody cryin’/ain’t nobody dyin’/ain’t nobody worried/ everybody’s tryin’.” The song samples Lakeside’s Fantastic Voyage, hence the title and funky instrumentation, with a fantastic music video clearly rooted in everything the ’90s had to offer.
Modest Mouse is known for using a lot of nautical themes in their music given both Float On, the band’s biggest hit, and Invisible make mention of cars. Nonetheless, Dashboard is the most obvious of them all and humorously reminds us to make the best out of our automotive situations (and life in general) despite how abysmal they may be. It’s said former MM guitarist Johnny Marr improvised the lyrics on the spot, making a quick reference to a John Candy film.
There’s something to be said about a band who’s drummer often turns out to be a better singer than the lead singer of most other bands. Queen frontman Freddie Mercury decided to simply take piano duties on I’m in Love With My Car, and as a result,” Roger Taylor took lead vocals. Also, rumor as it, Taylor locked himself in a cupboard until Mercury agreed to make the track the B-side to Bohemian Rhapsody. Plus, it’s still a better love story than any Twilight novel to date.
The formula for Cake’s The Distance doesn’t deviate much from the band’s lengthy discography. It features a familiar setup of drums, bass, and guitar, along with lead vocalist John McCrea’s deadpan delivery and a dense peppering of synthesizers. However, it does make use of trumpet, melodica, and a few other non-traditional instruments. It’s simply a unique blend of alternative rock and rap, but fortunately for McCrea & Co., it somehow manages to work beautifully.
Edgar Winter’s Free Ride is one of the few songs in which you may truly yearn for the cowbell. Musician Dan Hartman wrote the tune, and though the radio single and LP version of the track varied substantially, it charted well on the Billboard Hot 100 when released in the early ’70s. The electric guitar and quick percussion are brighter than anything else featured in the band’s work, with lyrics urging the listener to catch a ride to a better place. Talk about empty promises.
Some of these songs are great because they tell a story, and some are great because they inspire bad behavior. Deep Purple’s Highway Star is definitely the latter, as it makes you want to go fast. The song is stuffed to the brim with overdriven guitar and airy vocals that perfectly encapsulate 1970s-era hard rock, and it buzzes with an energy that’s hard to deny. As if that weren’t enough, the track features two epically harmonized guitar solos for your face-melting pleasure.
Snoop Dogg featuring The Doors — ‘Riders On the Storm’ (iTunes) — 2004
Need for Speed: Underground 2 is one of the most celebrated games in the Need for Speed franchise, but it’s not just the endless customization or open world environment that keeps players coming back — it’s the soundtrack. And perhaps the crown jewel of that soundtrack is the Fredwreck remix of Riders On the Storm. The track perfectly combines the classic driving tones of The Doors with the uniquely smooth lyricism of Snoop Dogg, making it the perfect choice for long cruises, police chases, and anything in between.
You may know French house artist Kavinsky from the movie Drive, where his single Nightcall was used in the title sequence. We thought Pacific Coast Highway was a better fit for this list though, and it’s not only because of the name. Propelled by pulsing synth, the song’s “lyrics” are pulled from a Court TV examination of an NYPD dash cam video, one where a deranged driver takes officers on a wild chase before using seemingly supernatural tactics to escape. Hoax or not, the song’s retro flair and catchy hook are good enough to stand on their own.
Rush’s Red Barchetta starts off quietly, but once it gets going, there’s no stopping it. After a long harmonic-laden intro, the classic punch of Alex Lifeson’s guitar bursts through the surface, after which an unsettling depiction of the future begins to unfold. In the song, sports cars have been banned by a so-called “Motor Law,” however our protagonist obtains a pristine Barchetta from his uncle. He takes the open-top two-seater for an illegal drive and is eventually chased back home by a “gleaming alloy air car.” The tune is fantastic, but we hope you’ll agree that the future in Red Barchetta is one we hope to avoid.
As its name implies, Rascal Flatts’ Life Is a Highway likens life to a road trip. Originally written by Tom Cochrane, the song depicts driving through cities and towns, much like the ones you’d visit on a trek across the country. It’s also a metaphor for the idea that life can take you just about anywhere, with or without warning. If the song sounds familiar to parents of young kids, it’s probably because it was used in Pixar’s Cars.
Dishwalla has been active on and off for nearly a quarter of a century, yet the quintet’s best-known song is still the 1996 hit Counting Blue Cars. The song isn’t entirely about counting blue cars — that would be boring, unless you’re a die-hard fan of the television show Blue’s Clues. It touches on a wide variety of topics you’ll have plenty of time to think about on a long drive. We won’t spoil it; take a listen for yourself.
You’re not alone if you love your car. The singer of Scottish band Belle & Sebastian does, too, and he wrong a song about it. He also talks about someone he doesn’t love as much as his car, namely the person he wrote the song for. Ouch. Lyrically speaking, it’s one of Belle & Sebastian’s more angsty songs.
There’s one line in particular from Yo La Tengo’s Today Is the Day that really struck a chord with us. “I’m driving by your parents’ farm in the Chevrolet/I remember that rusty car like it was yesterday.” Most of us have fond memories of a rusty, beat-up car. It could be your first car, or the truck on your grandpa’s farm. There are two versions of this song. The first has plenty of distortion and a catchy drum beat, while the second is more melodic with a shoegazer vibe.
Fast Car takes listeners through the life of a young couple trying to get by. At first, the fast car is a welcome getaway from what sounds like a rough life with little in the way of thrills. The make and model isn’t identified; for some reason, we’ve always imagined it’s a Chevrolet Camaro from the 1980s. As the song goes on, Chapman opines driving fast won’t make you forget about all of life’s problems and realizes she needs to find another way out.
You’ll relate to Lee Dorsey’s 1967 hit My Old Car if you’ve ever been stuck with a cheap beater that you don’t trust to get you from point A to point B. A jazzy overtone accompanies a list of the breakdowns he encounters with his daily driver. It includes a dead battery, a stuck fuel pump, a slipping fan belt, and a clutch that’s completely shot. Are you getting déjà vu yet?
In Maybellene, Chuck Berry tells the story of a man who is following his cheating wife on the highway. That’s hardly an envious situation, but he’s got at least one trick up his sleeve. Maybellene’s Cadillac Coupe de Ville is no match for his V8-powered Ford, even as the speedometer needle reaches the 110-mph mark. Cooling issues can’t stop the Blue Oval-built eight-cylinder, either.
Life isn’t always perfect, but The Wallflowers argue that you can make the best out of a bad situation. Sometimes you have no choice but to roll with the punches, even if it means “[driving] it home with one headlight.” This is one of the songs that helped propel The Wallflowers to the top of the charts in the mid-1990s.
Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers use its unparalleled story-telling ability to explore the racing career of a man who wanted to follow his father’s dream. The song starts early on in the man’s life, when he’s learning about the various parts that make up an engine from his dad. His first car is a Ford Mustang which he immediately modifies for track use. The song continues with a tuneful southern twang as the racer gives it all he’s got in a bid to win the trophy his dad always wanted to take home.
Iggy Pop’s The Passenger isn’t so much about the joy of horsepower or thrilling car chases, but rather the introspective experience of being a touring musician. Channeling his wandering spirit, the “Godfather of Punk” wrote the track while riding around North America and Europe in David Bowie’s car. Pop didn’t have a driver’s license or a vehicle of his own at the time, but the track’s propulsive rhythms and nomadic vibe make it one of the most memorable driving songs ever.
Don Henley — ‘Boys of Summer’ (iTunes) — 1984,
Don Henley’s Boys of Summer captures the vibe of driving around in late August and early September. Fall’s approach makes the days shorter and the nights cooler, and businesses that thrive on tourism start slowing down. The original song released in 1984 is a classic. If you prefer a faster version that hits a little bit harder, check out the cover released by The Ataris in 2003.
Death Cab for Cutie — ‘Passenger Seat’ (iTunes) — 2003,
In Passenger Seat, Death Cab for Cutie describes driving late at night on a country road in an area without a lot of light pollution. Clear skies give the front passengers views of shooting stars and satellites, which are sometimes difficult to tell apart. The line, “With my feet on the dash, the world doesn’t matter,” represents the joyous, lighthearted mood of the moment. Don’t try that at home, though; it’s a great way to embed your knee cap into your forehead, especially if there’s an airbag in your dashboard.
The Dresden Dolls — ‘The Jeep Song’ (iTunes) — 2003,
The XJ-generation Jeep Cherokee must have been immensely popular in Boston during the early 2000s. Indie rock band The Dresden Dolls wrote a song (with, listener beware, some explicit language) about seeing a never-ending streak of black 1996 Jeep Cherokees in the city. Unfortunately, that’s what the singer’s ex drives. The song also reveals she owns a light blue Volvo. It doesn’t specify the model, but we like to think it’s an older 240.
Florida Georgia Line — ‘May We All’ (iTunes) — 2016,
Released two years ago, May We All by Florida Georgia Line recounts what it’s like to grow up in a small town. The song starts with the line, “May we all get to grow up in our red white and blue little town/get a one-star hand-me-down Ford to try to fix up with some part-time cash from driving a tractor.” The singer gets the Ford running, apparently, because later in the song he’s “slow-rolling with the top off in the back of a Bronco.” We suggest adding it to your playlist before driving across the Midwest.
Johnny Cash — ‘A Wednesday Car’ (iTunes) — 1977,
Johnny Cash gives listeners advice on how to buy a car. “If you’re going to buy yourself a new car, you just better hope you’re lucky enough to get one made on Wednesday.” Cars made on every other day of the week, Cash argues and explains, are bound to suffer from quality problems. The worst day is Friday. “If your car was made on Friday, friend, you’ll soon be in the creek.” Luckily, Cash’s car was built on a Wednesday.
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