Get ready and strap yourselves in for a rollercoaster ride of road trip anthems compiled by our Founder & Rally Director, Paul Clayton. There must be very few overlanders on the planet to cover as many miles, in as many different countries, as him – with only CD Players in his vehicles!
We therefore have to break the news to you, that if your favourite track hasn’t been released on CD, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find it in this list. Furthermore, we’re not playing to the cheap seats here, so with the exception of one or two songs, you’re not going to find this list representative of any “Best Driving Anthems” CD you’ll find in your local garage. This is something much more bizarre.
Not necessarily a road trip playlist, but a collection of road trip songs that hold their own, in their own right. Whether that be cruising through traffic on the highway or thundering down a freshly graded gravel track.
Let’s kick this off!
10. Send Me On My Way – by Rusted Root
The sun’s rising above the road, there’s not a cloud in the sky, and you’re still in that pre-coffee daze knowing that driving in the cool of the morning is a good idea for both you and your vehicle. There’s a café a hundred or so kms ahead where you plan to stop for a spot of breakfast, but for now you just need a song to get you there.
We’ve been listening to this song in just such a situation for years, and if we’re honest, we still don’t know what they are singing about, or what the lyrics are – but it doesn’t matter. The beat keeps you heading forwards, and the ability to mumble along with the tune ensures just the right amount of engagement to not distract from the road in front.
A great early morning road trip anthem if we ever heard one.
9. Follow the Sun – by Xavier Rudd
A particular track can often remind you of an exact place and time, and this is especially the case for this one. Sitting on the floor of a campsite, next to a Ford Cortina, at the bottom of Fish River Canyon, Namibia. A random stranger (soon to be a new friend) had pulled up in his early 1970s VW Kombi, invited people to come and sit around, and started playing this tune through a quite impressive sound system.
It was a beautiful evening where sound echoed around the valley, fresh oryx steak was served, and the rum and coke flowed freely.
What a great way to make new friends, and this track will always remind us of that.
8. Regulate – by Warren G
It’s fair to say that different musical tastes help extenuate different situations, moods, and emotions. The same track played at a different speed, with different instruments can make someone feel wholly different to another. This track however, played with the bass pumping, while rolling through traffic, is guaranteed to put you in a good mood – you’ll also be singing along in no time with the addictively smooth lyrics.
7. On Days Like These – by Matt Monro
Picture this, you’re cruising through the Italian alps in a Lamborghini Miura. Grabbing the apex perfectly on those sweeping switchbacks as you climb high into the mountains. Surely there’s only one track that can be playing!
This relaxing Italian anthem made famous in the opening scene of The Italian Job (1969) epitomises the style of the day, with Rossano Brazzi as Beckerman driving up the Great St Bernard Pass. Still holding it’s own today, our team had just as much fun listening to this track while driving over the Stelvio Pass, albeit in a relatively modern Jaguar XJ rather than a Lamborghini.
Just beware of those tunnels!
6. Shambala – by Three Dog Night
A fantastically uplifting and inspirational track perfectly suited to a trip where you may be adventuring out into the unknown, beyond the edges of the map. Shambala or Shambhala is a mythical Buddhist Kingdom that is said to exist somewhere between the Himalayan Mountains and the Gobi Desert. A place where all citizens are said to have achieved true enlightenment.
The name itself means the “spring of divine bliss” and honestly, our bliss is being on the road, having new life experiences, and becoming more at one with the world while witnessing all of it’s wonders. The more you delve into this track, the more interesting it becomes, but for the casual listener it’s still a sing-a-long anthem of note great for any road trip.
5. Take on the World – by Judas Priest
It’s fair to say that we’ve had to cover some big distances over the years, and it can sometimes be a bit daunting when you hit the road first thing in the morning, knowing that 1,000kms lay ahead. In particular if it’s the first time you’ve driven that stretch of road, and you’re in a classic car.
For these moments you need a great song to get you going, and they don’t come much greater than Take on the World by Judas Priest. Guaranteed to get you singing along, and eating up those kms in no time!
4. Seven Seas of Rhye – by Queen
No, it’s not Bohemian Rhapsody. Yes, we do still love that track and have had many a moment headbanging “Garth-style” to it in a variety of vehicles, but trust us that you need to fire up your engines to the Seven Seas of Rye. When the piano line starts and that guitar strums in imitation of a vehicle revving it’s engine, you know you’re in for a great track, which only encourages you to put that right foot down, turn up the volume, and open the windows.
3. Moonlight Shadow by Mike Oldfield ft. Maggie Reilly
A driving anthem doesn’t have to be balls to the wall loud and fast to be enjoyable, and sometimes a track encouraging the driver to glide through sweeping “S” bends can elicit the same types of positive emotions.
We’ve found this track works just as well driving through the highlands of Scotland as it does through the Karoo Desert in South Africa. That in itself is a rarity. Add in the fact it immediately puts the driver at ease, and compliments the more lively road trip anthems with a more serene balance, we highly recommend it for your playlist.
2. The Road – by Frank Turner
One of Frank Turner’s more infamous tracks, in particular because the music video consists of him playing (and filming) 24 gigs in 24 hours!
We’re serious, and we think he even started late-afternoon making the whole challenge that much more difficult…
…this is a great road trip song for many reasons, often referencing similar experiences to our Africa Rally Advanced Research Team, but also because at it’s essence is the phrase “only shackled to the road, could ever I be free” which is both poignant and moving for a number of reasons.
Keen to have similar experiences? Checkout the next Africa Rally!
- Cool the Engines – by Boston
Possibly because the largest and most epic of the cross-Africa trips involved vehicles being purchased with Boston’s Greatest Hits CD already in the glove box, or possibly because the tracks are often summing up the exact mood and thoughts of the people in the vehicle – this track in particular has to make our Number 1 spot.
Cool the Engines! How many times has that phrase crossed your mind while in a classic vehicle watching the temperature gauge rise?
At this point in time we think our team almost have to sing it as a reflex.
Where do you get the CDs from?
You’d be surprised what you can find in a market in central Africa. I often wonder if Ozzy Osborne, or Johnny Rotten ever expected their CDs to find their ways to some of the most remote places on the planet. For the most part, our team tries to stock up on new music before departing for a long trip.
One of the best spots for cheap CDs are in charity shops in London, as the variety and price makes it a great option. That said, although variety is sometimes limited, South Africa also has its fair share of flea markets with many a CD option, suitable for a road trip. Just plan ahead. Unfortunately, although hostels and backpackers bars have been great with book exchanges, (see our blog on Top 5 Best Travel Books), they’ve not yet got to the point where there’s an accompanying CD Library.
Please, if you are reading this as a hostel owner, or manager at a backpackers bar, start stocking and exchanging CDs for those of us travelling overland in ridiculous vehicles, as well as those who are backpacking – you have our thanks!
What would you include as an ultimate road trip anthem? What have we missed? We are always trying to discover new music, so please do let us know in the comments!