The last time we did this (favorite movie cars), we took a lot of grief. We mean, a lot of grief, for not liking what our audience thought we should like. Well, we’ve donned out Kevlar helmets and vests and are ready to take another beating. So, here goes. Please remember that we’re not calling these the best songs about cars and driving, just our favorite songs on the topic. So, if your favorite is Cars by Gary Numan, Drive my Car by the Beatles or On the Road Again by Willie, we mean no offense by leaving those out (although we know that won’t save us any flack, which is fine). Also, we’re including wheeled vehicles of all kinds, as you’ll see below. So, without further ado, here we go.
10. Little Deuce Coup – The Beach Boys
You almost can’t write this list without including the Beach Boys. They wrote a lot of great songs about cars and driving, as well as many other topics. Since we can’t stretch our definitions far enough to call a ship a car/vehicle, that eliminates Sloop John B, for our money the best Beach Boys song of all time. Little Deuce Coupe isn’t far behind. It features trademark Beach Boys harmonies and a classic melody, plus it is a kid’s love song to his ride:
“Just a little deuce coupe with a flathead mill
But she’ll walk a Thunderbird like she’s standing still
She’s ported and relieved and she’s stroked and bored
She’ll do a hundred and forty with the top end floored”
A great start to our list.
9. No Particular Place to Go – Chuck Berry
Like The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry wrote a lot of songs about driving and freedom and youthfulness. Also, like The Beach Boys, he’s (maybe even more so) a cornerstone of American popular music. For our money, this is the best of his tunes related to cars, a song that encapsulates the joy of riding around with your special someone, with a bit of typical Chuck Berry innuendo thrown in for good measure.
“Ridin’ along in my automobile
My baby beside me at the wheel
I stole a kiss at the turn of a mile
My curiosity runnin’ wild
Cruisin’ and playin’ the radio
With no particular place to go”
You really can’t beat a good Chuck Berry tune.
8. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – Richard Thompson
We said we we’re including anything with wheels and this is one of two reasons why. This song is a low key guitar tour de force, but at its heart it is about someone who loves their bike as much as anyone in the history of music has loved a vehicle. If you don’t know this one, do yourself a favor and check it out. If you prefer a bluegrass version, Del McCoury does an amazing version of it as well. But, we’ll stick with the original.
Says James, “In my opinion, there’s nothing in this world
Beats a ’52 Vincent and a red-headed girl
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won’t do
They don’t have a soul like a Vincent ’52”
Such a great song.
7. The Passenger – Iggy Pop
This one is ironic in a couple of ways. First, it was written by someone who didn’t have a driver’s license or a car. He truly was the passenger, in this case crossing the country in David Bowie’s car. Second, this song was released as a B-side, yet has had a much higher profile that its accompanying A-side, currently with 348 million Spotify plays vs 3 million. Not close. This one turned out to be a signature song in his repertoire.
A classic for sure.
6. Route 66 – The Rolling Stones
This song, originally written and performed by Bobby Troup, has been covered by many artists, perhaps none more famously than The Rolling Stones. Of course, it was also covered by Chuck Berry, which is likely why it was a song they wanted to cover. After all, Keith Richards has said many times that he has always been obsessed with Chuck Berry and has stolen every one of his guitar licks. It must have been a bit strange to see a British Invasion hit maker like The Stones singing the glories of an American road.
“Well it goes from St. Louie down to Missouri
Oklahoma City looks oh so pretty
You’ll see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Winona
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino”
Also, it must have been very cool.
5. Low Rider – War
Here’s a classic song dedicated to a specific class of car and a specific car culture. For us, there are few songs that seem so tied to their moment as this song is. Released in 1975, it was and still is War’s most popular song, racking up 175 million plays on Spotify (100 million more than their next song). When it comes on, if you’re in your car, it feels just right every time. Plus, it’s pulled major duty in many car-related movies.
“All my friends know the low rider
The low rider is a little higher
The low rider drives a little slower
Low rider, is a real goer”
The best kind of time capsule.
4. Magic Bus – The Who
Again, stretching our vehicle definitions here, but it’s worth it. This one is a true classic, originally released as a single in 1968, though written three years earlier by Pete Townsend. Fun fact: it was originally released by a band called Pudding a year before The Who release it as a single. Although the single and original album releases are fine, our favorite rendition is from The Who’s Live at Leeds album.
Like many other songs featured on this list, this one has been featured prominently in several films.
3. Racing in the Streets – Bruce Springsteen
Most lists of this sort will typically go for Thunder Road, another great song by Springsteen, but for us, this is the one. Like Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys, cars and driving have been common themes in his music. Pink Cadillac, State Trooper, Used Cars… there are so many to choose from. This is our choice. A great song from a truly underrated (if such a thing exists) Bruce and the E Street Band album.
“I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a three-ninety-six
Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor
She’s waiting tonight down in the parking lot
Outside the Seven-Eleven store
Me and my partner Sonny built her straight out of scratch
And he rides with me from town to town
We only run for the money, got no strings attached
We shut ’em up and then we shut ’em down”
So darn good.
2. Ride on Josephine – Bo Diddley
Like Chuck Berry, we are not sure that you can compile a list like this without including something from Bo, and this classic (given a second life by George Thorogood) is a true powerhouse. Put aside the fact that the Bo Diddley beat, while it could be seen to represent any type of propulsion, is a perfect representation of a quickly moving vehicle. This tune is off the charts with its driving rhythm and its automotive references.
“Well, Josephine driving a hot rod Ford
Twin carburetor will eat up the road
Twin exhaust sticking out the rear
Something that will really take away from here”
An absolute favorite.
1. Roadrunner – The Modern Lovers
Here it is. For us, this is the song that best exemplifies the freedom, fun and pure joy of loving your ride and loving to drive and what it can mean to a person when they’re out on the road. For sure, the most famous and popular song in The Modern Lovers’ catalog, it is a frenetic, exuberant love song to Route 128 in Massachusetts. Like several songs on the list, it is a bit of a time capsule (singing the praises of neon lights) and has been covered many times by a wide range of artists, from Wire to The Sleaford Mods.
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive to the Stop ‘n’ Shop
With the radio on at night
And me in love with modern moonlight
Me in love with modern rock and roll
Modern girls and modern rock and roll
Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner”
Journalist Laura Barton described it as “one of the most magical songs in existence”.
We couldn’t agree more.
We usually ask for comments on our articles, but we suspect we won’t have to encourage you to share your thoughts on this one. So, let us have it. What did we miss? We’d love to hear from you and learn about your favorite songs about cars, driving and being on the road.