A friend recently asked me to come up with a playlist of songs for a road trip he was taking this summer. He has never been real choosy, and all he told me was to put a variety of genre on it with some familiar and unfamiliar songs.
Initially I considered just going alphabetically through my CDs and placing one song from each artist. The second artist I reached gave me another idea. I had grabbed my only AC/DC album, a greatest hits collection, and there I saw the track “Highway to Hell.”
I hated to include such a title to a friend who was taking a long trip, so I began to think of other songs that had the word “highway” in their titles. Here is the list I came up with, though I added a few others (Frank Black’s “Highway to Lowdown,””Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” “Queen of the Highway” by The Doors, “Take the Highway” by The Marshall Tucker Band and “Key to the Highway” by The Band).
10. “Rockin’ Down the Highway” by The Doobie Brothers: This song is one of the many that use highway as the object of the preposition down. (I cannot recall any song about going up the highway.) It’s not as memorable as “Black Water,” but it shows that the Doobies could rock before Michael McDonald joined them.
9. “Highway Knees” by T. Rex: Marc Bolan takes a bluesy, laid back approach to this seventies T. Rex track from the Tanx album. I have always been intrigued by the line, “I could loved her on the highway.”
8. “Highway Patrolman” by Bruce Springsteen: A standout track from the acoustic album Nebraska, the Boss tells the poignant story of a trooper who lets his brother flee to Canada after causing an accident on a Michigan highway.
7. “Roll Down the Highway” by Bachman Turner Overdrive: This tune from Not Fragile has been popularized in TV ads for automobiles and gasoline, so it’s almost as familiar as the band’s smash hit “Takin’ Care of Business.”
6. “Twin Human Highway Flares” by The Mountain Goats: By far the most interesting title on this list, the folk track from Full Force Galesburg has the typical acoustic guitar backing John Darnielle’s clever, image-rich lyrics.
5. “The Highwayman” by Phil Ochs: The folksinger from Ohio adapted several classic poems to his acoustic guitar. This one from Alfred Noyes has sex and murder in it, but it still is not as appealing as Ochs’ adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells.”
4. “Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan: The title track from one of the greatest albums of all time features an unusual whistle sound that prepares the listener for Dylan’s witty, images. It has long been debated that the lyrics are autobiographical, since Dylan sings “God said to Abraham (Zimmerman perhaps), Kill me a son.”
3. “Ventura Highway” by America: The song describes a beautiful setting where “Days are longer, the nights are stronger than moonshine.” It’s a great song to sing along with, though I’ve always been a little confused as to why Joe would change his name.
2. “Two Lane Highway” by Pure Prairie League: The title track to the album that followed up “Amie,” the band’s biggest hit, is a much better song. It is a sweet message about the conflicting desire to stay and the temptation of wanderlust.
1. “Carefree Highway” by Gordon Lightfoot: This song is the second biggest hit from the classic Sundown album. The nostalgic lyrics delivered by Lightfoot’s powerful vocals are backed by an innovative chord sequence. The combination has kept the song endurable over the last thirty years.