Here’s the 13 best travel songs. Following my stab at a list of the 13 best movies about travel, I thought I’d work to come up with the very best songs about travel.
That’s a very different exercise than the best songs for travel, this isn’t a ‘play list for the road’ it’s about borrowing someone else’s poetry to describe the travel experience. There’s no question that George Gershwin didn’t write Rhapsody in Blue to be about travel, but it’s equally clear that the 1924 composition has become inextricably linked with United Airlines.
What songs most evoke travel for you and are missing from my list? Which ones here are new to you?
The 13 best travel songs:
- Iggy Pop – The Passenger. This 1977 classic resulted from Iggy Pop travelling with David Bowie on tour in North America and Europe. Reportedly he didn’t have a license and the two drove around in Bowie’s car. Although it’s also said to be loosely based on a Jim Morrison poem.
The song features in the trailer for Up in the Air and in promos for Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. There’s probably nothing more evocative of travel.
- Paul Kelly – Sydney from a 727. I first discovered Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly on a visit to my family Down Under over 25 years ago. I was instantly a fan. He’s been a member of the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame for nearly 20 years, though a virtual unknown in the States though he’s toured here.
Listening to Sydney from a 727 (which was also recorded as being from a 747), you can almost picture coming in for approach off the ocean (“I can see Bondi through my window way off to the right”) while capturing the spirit to take off in search of something (“And quit your job on the spot / Bought that ticket yeah spent the lot”). While no song quite captures the landing sequence quite like this one:
And the captain says belt up now we’ll be touching down in ten
So I press my seat and I straighten up
I fold my tray and I stash my cup
As the red roofs are catching the first rays of the morning sun
- The Animals – We Gotta Get Out of This Place. It’s an anthem that speaks to almost everyone, because everyone wants change. It was popular with soliders in Vietnam, with high school students who can’t wait to get out on their own, and with travelers who need to travel and feel cooped up when they’re at ‘home’.
- The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). As if taking a journey, taking a long arduous journey, to make your way to someone wasn’t enough someone once actually walked 1000 miles to convince his girlfriend to marry him. It turns out the journey wasn’t a real precondition of marriage and she was joking, but he did it anyway.
- David Byrne – A Million Miles Away. No, this Scott singer who once led the Talking Heads isn’t talking about what you have to go through to earn lifetime elite status.
But he is singing about the need to get away — travel far, far away — and become someone else, and be seen as someone else (“A toad is a prince in someone else’s eyes
And you can’t tell a man by his clothes”).
- Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound. Is there any other song that’s truly the business traveler’s anthem? Waking up in the middle of the night, after being on the road for weeks at a time, and wondering what city you’re in you grab your phone because a weather app is on the home screen. And it tells you what city you’re in.
I’m sitting in the railway station.
Got a ticket to my destination.
On a tour of one-night stands my suitcase and guitar in hand.
…Every day’s an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines.
And each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories
And every stranger’s face I see reminds me that I long to be,
- Johnny Cash – I’ve Been Everywhere. Originally an Australian country song from 1959, which named Australian towns, it’s amazing the song has been made to work for Singapore, Belgium, Canada and any number of other places too.
With all the US cities Johnny Cash has been to — Waterloo, Kalamazoo, Kansas City, Sioux City, Cedar City, Dodge City, what a pity — I hope he’s saved up his miles and points because he could really use an international vacation.
- George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue. Gershwin’s classic is more United Airlines now than anything else, at least to a traveler. The original composition from the tunnel connecting United’s B and C concourses at Chicago O’Hare is a riff on Rhapsody in Blue.
- Phil Collins – Take Me Home. Maybe the song isn’t actually about going home. And maybe it’s a protest song against involuntary confinement in mental institutions. But for me it’s about longing for home, being on the road so long that you can hardly remember it but home is still your true North. (.. But, seriously.)
There’s a fire that’s been burning
Right outside my door
I can’t see but I feel it
And it helps to keep me warm
…So take, take me home
‘Cause I don’t remember
- Elvis Costello – Peace Love & Understanding. As I walk through this wicked world, searching for light in the darkness of insanity, I ask myself “Is all hope lost?”
It may not immediately seem like a travel song, but travel is about connecting with and engaging people and culture different from your own and yet building a common bond — of peace, love, and understanding. And it helps that the song was featured in Lost in Translation too.
- Frank Sinatra – Come Fly With Me. Come fly with me let’s fly let’s fly away. It spent 5 weeks at number one, and just as I want to claim George Clooney as one of us for Up in the Air we’ve got to lay claim to Sinatra…
- Ricky Nelson – Travelin’ Man. This 1961 classic shows its age, there’s no question it objectifies women, the song is about each city in the world in which he has a girl. But he clearly gets around.. to Mexico, Berlin, Hong Kong not to mention Hawaii and Alaska. But since its 1961, there’s no music video so it’s safe for work!
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – Around The World (or maybe Aeroplane or Road Trippin’). When I first started thinking about this list it didn’t occur to me that The Red Hot Chili Peppers would be on it, but they have several songs about travel, from the plane to car but Around the World is the most meta and in some sense follows Elvis Costello with lines like “life is beautiful around the world” and indeed it is.
So what am I missing? What belongs on this list?