Whether or not you’ll be first in line for the new Fast & Furious movie this weekend, the movie’s release confirms what we’ve long suspected: It’s officially car season. Popular music has been occupied with all things automotive for ages, but particularly since the COVID pandemic started, cars have been everywhere in songs, videos and performances — unsurprising, given our crescendoing desire to hit the road to just go somewhere, anywhere this past year-plus. And now, with the world reopening, there is absolutely no time like the present to (responsibly) pile into the nearest ride and (safely) hit the highway for some quality road tripping.
In honor of this moment — as well as Billboard‘s recent digital cover story on the musical impact of the Fast & Furious franchise — we’ve compiled a list of our staff’s 100 favorite driving songs, spanning each of the past 10 decades of auto tunes. Most are of course road-focused, but not all; we wanted to pay tribute to the car’s place in music history as not just a transportation tool but a status symbol, a metaphor for excitement and escape, and a place for whatever backseat business needs to be accomplished. Truck songs were also considered, though not bus or motorcycle, and while not all songs are explicitly (or entirely) four-wheel-focused, all need at least some specific lyrical mention of cars or driving and riding to be counted.
Check out our list below, with a Spotify playlist of all 100 songs at the bottom, and try not to run through too many red lights and stop signs when blasting them out of your Bugatti, GTO or Little Red Corvette this weekend.
100. THE CARS, “DRIVE”
Make and Model: The only Billboard Hot 100 entry for new wave greats The Cars with an automotive title to match their band name, “Drive” was also their biggest hit on the chart, motoring all the way to No. 3 in the fall of 1984.
Fuel Economy: Truth told, “Drive” is pretty tangentially car-themed for a song with its title — the lyric is mostly focused on a man asking rhetorical questions to demonstrate his value in a relationship, which is the only reason the stunning synth-rock ballad isn’t higher on this list — but the central chorus Q (and the artist/song name combo) makes its appearance here essential nonetheless.
Overdrive: “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?” All the history, intimacy, trust and distance of a relationship in one six-word question from motorist to passenger. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
99. JONI MITCHELL, “CAR ON A HILL”
Make and Model: Mitchell turns waiting for her absent lover to arrive into a sonic masterpiece that sounds as innovative, ambitious and magical today as it did when it came out nearly 50 years ago on 1974’s Court and Spark.
Fuel Economy: Mitchell perfectly captures her fears that her once red-hot romance has turned tepid as her man is three hours late — and counting — but it’s the shifting tempos, bleating horns and choral interlude,all surrounding a funky beat, that keep the listener captivated.
Overdrive: Rumors are that Mitchell wrote the song about Jackson Browne or Glenn Frey, but we owe whoever kept her waiting a debt of thanks for inspiring such lines as “Fast tires come screaming around the bend/ But there’s still no buzzer/ They roll on/ And I’m waiting for his car on the hill.” — MELINDA NEWMAN
98. LLOYD BANKS FEAT. JUELZ SANTANA, “BEAMER, BENZ OR BENTLEY”
Make and Model: A hip-hop classic from 2010, “Beamer, Benz or Bentley” finds Lloyd Banks and Juelz Santana lyrically flexing about all the perks of being fresh, fly and so damn high.
Fuel Economy: With rhymes and bars that flow as fast as a 500-horsepower engine, Banks and Santana’s raps perfectly ride the track’s electric beat.
Overdrive: Banks became the early pace car for limber rhymes in 2010s hip-hop with the lyric, “I’m so fly, I’m so ferry and the way I flow is very/ Ginsu or machete, way my pencil move is deadly.” — DARLENE ADEROJU
97. LEE ANN WOMACK, “A LITTLE PAST LITTLE ROCK”
Make and Model: In her first Hot 100 hit, country star Lee Ann Womack speeds away from Dallas heading due north in the hopes of putting physical and emotional distance between her and heartbreak — though she finds the former unsurprisingly easier than the latter.
Fuel Economy: The chest-tightening ballad does a brilliant job of demonstrating the liberation that hitting the road can represent for those desperately in need of a second chance at life or love — though only up to a point.
Overdrive: If you’re listening to this one in the car, maybe best to pull over when Womack’s voice frays just a little on the “I’ve got to keep my heart out of this/ And both hands on the wheel” part of the chorus; driving through tears isn’t particularly safe for anyone. — A.U.
96. RICK ROSS FEAT. CHRISETTE MICHELE AND DRAKE, “ASTON MARTON MUSIC”
Make and Model: Though released in 2010, the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-produced beat to this luxurious cruising anthem strikes an old-school feel, with Rick Ross and Drake trading turns rapping and crooning, respectively — while Chrisette Michele anchors the track with a breezy, carefree hook.
Fuel Economy: Aside from the sheer star power — at the time of the song’s release, all three artists had scored a Billboard 200 No. 1 entry in the prior year-plus — the track oozes top-down, stereo-up vibes, though Drake’s backseat driving is there to remind you that you’re always just a few blocks away from your ex’s place.
Overdrive: Hard to go against the chorus in this instance, but if you listen closely at the end of Rozay’s first verse, he raps “In my two-seater she’s the one that I would take,” before throwing in a jubilant wee! that’s too good to pass up. — JOSH GLICKSMAN
95. DAVID LINDLEY, “MERCURY BLUES”
Make and Model: Originally co-written and recorded as a jaunty blues by K.C. Douglas in 1948, and subsequently covered by such artists as Steve Miller and Alan Jackson, Lindley’s 1981 version cuts the brake line and lead-foots it from the opening count to the cacophonous guitar-and-drum pile-up at the end. (Cue ‘70s TV detective show clip of a car plunging over a cliff and bursting into flames.)
Fuel Economy: Lindley’s guitar virtuosity, which helped define the California rock sound of the mid-‘70s and early ‘80s, and his high-register vocals — that’s his falsetto on Jackson Browne’s live version of Maurice Williams’ ’“Stay” — make his “Mercury Blues” a giddy joy ride down an empty four-lane.
Fourth Gear: “I’m crazy ‘bout a Mercury” figures in all but one verse — and, between the lines, Lindley brings that fervor to life with some crazy-good guitar runs that channel Chuck Berry through his sui generis six-string sound. –FRANK DIGIACOMO
94. OBZESIÓN, “MI TROKITA”
Make and Model: One of the first norteño songs to go viral on TikTok, Obzesión’s “Mi Trokita” stood out thanks to its cheeky and catchy lyrics, inspired by Texas’ truck scene, and an irresistible uptempo cambia beat that gave life to yet another dance challenge on the social media platform. Released in late 2020, the track peaked at No. 19 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart this March.
Fuel Economy: The song’s simple yet effective lyrics speak to that special bond with an old but mighty truck that can still get you from point A to B. Even better, the flashy and customized trokita is still turning heads as you cruise around the neighborhood.
Fourth Gear: The love for the truck scene in Texas at the song’s core is perfectly captured in the song’s hook — “Y run, run, run, No se raja mi trokita, Tirando aceite pasando la garita” — which essentially translates to “vroom vroom vroom, my little truck doesn’t give up/ Leaking oil passing by la garita” (a famous parking lot where truck aficionados meet up).— GRISELDA FLORES
93. HARRY CHAPIN, “TAXI”
Make and Model: The big single off Chapin’s 1972 debut, Heads and Tales, made the album a hit and Chapin a folk star. A bittersweet, meandering tale of two mismatched people confronting the disappointments of life (“She was gonna be an actress/I was gonna learn to fly”), the six-minute-plus track — with dramatic cello and bass-player-singing-falsetto interludes — is anchored by Chapin’s expressive voice and natural raconteur skills.
Fuel Economy: Well, it’s a song about a taxi driver, that takes place in a taxi. But Chapin also manages to make the listener feel like they’re actually in the taxi with him, taking the long route home, watching driver Harry and mysterious passenger Sue catch up while simultaneously hearing their inner monologues.
Overdrive: There may always be a point in a Chapin song when you wonder “are we there yet?” — but stick it out for all six minutes and you’ll be rewarded with the sardonic wink of a final lyric summing up how Harry’s disappointment is at least a little more fun than Sue’s: “And here she’s acting happy inside her handsome home/ And me, I’m flying in my taxi/ Taking tips, and getting stoned.” — REBECCA MILZOFF
92. THURSDAY, “UNDERSTANDING IN A CAR CRASH”
Make and Model: The closest thing to a breakout hit ever enjoyed by New Jersey emo royals Thursday, 2001’s “Understanding in a Car Crash” is the exhilarating, terrifying sonic approximation of bracing for inevitable on-road impact.
Fuel Economy: Amidst so many scattered thoughts and so much shattered glass, the song’s jagged guitars and yelped lyrics hit with particular force because they remember to be as much about the understanding as the car crash, singer Geoff Rickly reaching the eye of the storm and queasily concluding, “I don’t want to feel this way forever.”
Overdrive: Not that the song really needed to spell out its title, but there’s still something incredibly satisfying and cathartic about the backing vocals rising at song’s climax to shout it out loud: “UNDERSTANDING! IN A CAR CRASH!” — A.U.
91. ELLIOTT MURPHY, “DRIVE ALL NIGHT”
Make and Model: A rapid-fire cascade of drums (credited to Phil Collins), a joyous Farfisa-style organ and a pledge of “true highway affection” crack open this overlooked gem from rocker Elliott Murphy’s 1977 album Just A Story From America, the fourth release from the singer/songwriter who deserved the complimentary comparisons to his pal Bruce Springsteen.
Fuel Economy: The song’s racing pace never lets up, as Murphy’s backing vocals and lyrics evoke the great pop car classics of Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys.
Overdrive: “Now wait a minute!” shouts Murphy as the instruments drop back for a bridge, and the singer tells of a hot-wired escapade: “If your Daddy knew he’d kill/ `cause we just stole the keys to his brand new Coupe de Ville.” — THOM DUFFY
90. LUCINDA WILLIAMS, “CAR WHEELS ON A GRAVEL ROAD”
Make and Model: The 1998 title track from Williams’s fifth album takes listeners for a drive where Hank Williams plays on the radio, adults whisper in the front seats, and cotton fields stretch as far as the eye can see.
Fuel Economy: While the guitars and drums steadily chug and the chorus simply repeats the song’s title, the bright sound of the mando-guitar — half mandolin, half guitar — and the scenery Williams describes bust up the monotony of the ride.
Overdrive: Williams revealing that there’s a child in the backseat, unsure of the intention of the drive, adds an emotional depth to the upbeat track: “Child in the backseat about 4 or 5 years/ Lookin’ out the window/ Little bit of dirt mixed with tears/ Car wheels on a gravel road.” — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
89. THE OFFSPRING, “BAD HABIT”
Make and Model: A violent, frenetic revenge fantasy, this deep cut off The Offspring’s 1994 pop-punk blockbuster Smash was the foul-mouthed favorite of every teenager still years several away from being eligible to experience the road rage described within.
Fuel Economy: “Bad Habit” certainly drives it like it talks it, switching from its foreboding, drumless intro into its breakneck-speed verses with enough whiplashing force to live up to its early threats: “When I’m in my car, don’t gimme no crap/ ‘Coz the slightest thing and I just might snap!“
Overdrive: The escalatingly profane scream-along bridge no doubt remains an absolute scourge to surviving ’90s parents nationwide: “You stupid, dumb s–t, GODD–N MOTHERF–KER!!!!” — A.U.
88. RUSH, “RED BARCHETTA”
Make and Model: This six-minute epic, inspired by a 1973 short story in Road & Track and recorded for Rush’s 1981 Moving Pictures album, sketches an entire story set in a dystopian, speedphobic future, in which the singer takes a train to his uncle’s country house to joyride illegally in “A brilliant red Barchetta/ From a better, vanished time.” The Barchetta — which means “small boat” in Italian, but here refers to a high-performance, open-top car — may not be economical, but the song’s lyrics are.
Fuel Economy: This isn’t about going for a ride, it’s about driving: adrenaline, “hot metal and oil,” and then – suddenly – a car chase.
Overdrive: The song speeds up as the Barchetta does – and both seem perilously close to spinning out of control. Then, in one final twist, the narrator ditches his pursuers, and calls it a day (“Race back to the farm/ To dream with my uncle at the fireside”). — ROB LEVINE
87. THREE 6 MAFIA FEAT. LIL FLIP, “RIDIN’ SPINNERS”
Make and Model: Coming off the dirty south assembly line in 2003 — one year after Lil’ Flip’s breakout “The Way We Ball” and three years before Three 6 Mafia became Oscar winners — “Ridin’ Spinners” is an earnest ode to spinner rims everywhere, from “the club parking lot [to] the expressway.”
Fuel Economy: Writing teachers often tell you to get as specific as possible to paint the most vivid picture, which is exactly what the Memphis mafia do on this slow-rolling banger that touches on the flex and the freedom of speeding along in a top-tier ride.
Overdrive: Either DJ Paul boasting “My rims so shiny they clear like flat-screen plasma” or Flip declaring, “We like our music slow, but our cars go faster.” — JOE LYNCH
86. QUEEN, “I’M IN LOVE WITH MY CAR”
Make and Model: Many rock songs in history have used cars as romantic stand-ins, but few have ever been as explicit about a very literal love between man and machine as this deep cut from Queen’s 1975 classic A Night at the Opera, written and sung by drummer Roger Taylor.
Fuel Economy: Though the song would eventually serve as a punchline in the band’s Bohemian Rhapsody biopic, it remains one of their most enjoyably revved-up productions, with winkingly over-the-top lyrics that could probably have been recycled by Spinal Tap a decade later.
Overdrive: Few questionable rhymes ever forced into a love song have landed as deliciously as “Told my girl I’ll have to forget her/ Rather buy me a new carburetor!” — A.U.
85. CAKE, “THE DISTANCE”
Make and Model: Arguably Cake’s most enduring hit, 1996 breakout single “The Distance” rides a distorted guitar riff that pulses throughout the track, providing the perfect platform for lyrics that use the metaphor of a frantic car race.
Fuel Economy: “The Distance” is a perfect marriage of lyrics and music, each taking energy from the other as the track careens towards its climax. It’s unclear whether the main character ever quite reaches his destination — but he’s going for speed, driving and striving as fast as he can nonetheless.
Overdrive: Midway through the song, the beat drops out, leaving just that driving guitar revving things back up for one final lap through the hook, breathlessly “racing and pacing and plotting the course.” — DAN RYS
84. JOHNNY PAYCHECK, “DRINKIN’ AND DRIVIN'”
Make and Model: This 1980 ditty comes from outlaw country singer and Grand Ole Opry member Johnny Paycheck, whose hard-charging life included a prison stint in the 1990s. The song’s message has not aged particularly well, considering how many people die each year in DUI-related accidents — but in Paycheck’s version, the only pain is the singer’s heartbreak, as he sits behind the wheel with one hand on the wheel and the other on a bottle of cheap wine.
Fuel Economy: Paycheck’s easygoing tenor and whiplash steel guitar deliver a non-stop bevy of automotive wordplay with a breezy cadence and easy-to-remember chorus — which always returns to “I’m gonna be drinkin’ and drivin’ that woman right off of my mind.”
Overdrive: Paycheck details how bad it’s gotten at the end of the song, with a little CB radio slang: “Breaker, Breaker, this is Heartache, now hear me loud and clear/ I got a memory on my tailgate, Lord, and old smokey’s on my rear.” (Smokey, a reference to the Smokey Bear campaign, is CB radio slang for a police car.) — DAVE BROOKS
83. METALLICA, “FUEL”
Make and Model: By the late ’90s, Metallica weren’t often making the same kind of road-ripping rave-ups they did in their thrashy early days — but they turned back the clock and cranked up the MPH for the blazing “Fuel.”
Fuel Economy: Such an obvious pedal-to-the-heavy-metal anthem that the music video pretty much had to be set amidst an old-school stock-car auto race, you really believe the stuff is frontman James Hetfield’s lifeblood when he begs, “Quench my thirrrrrst with GASOLIIIIIIIINE!”
Overdrive: No need for a starters’ pistol on this one, you’re off and running with Hetfield’s classic a cappella opening: “GIMME FUEL, GIMME FIRE, GIMME THAT WHICH I DESIRE!” — A.U.
82. INCUBUS, “DRIVE”
Make and Model: Serving as the California rock band’s lone top 10 hit on the Hot 100, Incubus’ “Drive” reached No. 9 in summer 2001. On the acoustic-driven track, frontman Brandon Boyd isn’t so much taking control of the wheel literally as he it is wrestling it away from his fear, and ultimately finding open road ahead after doing so.
Fuel Economy: It’s no secret that the best songs to listen to in the car are the ones when everyone can belt out the chorus together. “Drive” provides that in droves — and while we endorse keeping open eyes, we’d suggest transitioning those open arms to grasp the steering wheel.
Overdrive: Before launching into the pre-chorus for a second time, Boyd asks “Will I choose water over wine/ And hold my own and drive?” before letting out a soaring, wordless “ohhh-ohh-ohhhh.” — JOSH GLICKSMAN
81. THE CLASH, “BRAND NEW CADILLAC”
Make and Model: This 1979 punk belter is The Clash’s take on a 1959 rock’n’roll b-side from Vince Taylor and his Playboys. Joe Strummer’s angst is palpable as his lady pulls up in a fancy new ride just to tell him to piss off.
Fuel Economy: The song quickly shifts gears from the singer’s excitement that his love is pulling up in a beautiful new Cadillac, to him screaming after her as she leaves him in the dust.
Overdrive: Strummer can barely contain his emotions as he shouts to his baby, “Jesus Christ, where’d you get that Cadillac?” — TAYLOR MIMS
80. SAMMY HAGAR, “I CAN’T DRIVE 55”
Make and Model: Supposedly inspired by an upstate speeding ticket and a rejoinder offered by the Red Rocker to the officer who pulled him over, Sammy Hagar’s signature solo hit remains a classic anthem for irresponsible rubber-burners.
Fuel Economy: With synths and guitars firing in the background, Hagar offers his impassioned defense like an arena-rock Jean Valjean, making a semi-legitimate case that to deny his need for speed would be a much truer crime than any on-road infractions.
Overdrive: Those pained pauses in the song’s fist-pumping refrain: “I… CAN’T… DRIVE….. FIFTY-FIVE!!!” — A.U.
79. SNIFF ‘N’ THE TEARS, “DRIVER’S SEAT”
Make and Model: The lone hit for Sniff ‘n’ the Tears assured the British rock outfit a permanent place in late-’70s pop culture thanks to its pensive keyboards, growling guitars and alternately dreamy and anxious vocals.
Fuel Economy: With tensely shifting drums and somewhat narratively ambiguous lyrics, “Driver’s Seat” carries the mysterious, anxious allure of a late-night drive where you’re not totally sure what awaits you at your destination — you can almost feel the nervous, exciting tapping on the steering wheel.
Overdrive: The song really reaches fourth gear when everything drops out but those insistent drums and harmonized backing vocals, intoning over and over: “Driver’s seat…. AH-WOO….” — A.U.
78. IGGY POP, “THE PASSENGER”
Make and Model: A garage rock rumination with an irresistibly shambolic riff and sing-song chorus, “The Passenger” was Iggy Pop’s diary of his many hours spent riding shotgun with David Bowie, who produced the parent album, 1977’s Lust for Life.
Fuel Economy: Existing between the reckless abandon of the Stooges and the weary alienation of his solo debut The Idiot, “The Passenger” taps into the romantic solitude of two people driving for seemingly endless miles, gradually dissociating from the world as they lock into a tandem groove.
Overdrive: Just before motoring off into the sunset, Pop drops this beautiful couplet about watching the world from the highway: “All of it is yours and mine / So let’s ride and ride and ride and ride.” — J.L.
77. E-40 FEAT. KEAK DA SNEAK, “TELL ME WHEN TO GO”
Make and Model: E-40 was already a rap legend by the time he made his Warner Bros. Records debut with 2006’s My Ghetto Report Card, but this lead single — which later got an all-star remix from Kanye West, Ice Cube and The Game — marked a moment in the sun for the Bay Area’s hyphy scene.
Fuel economy: A crunk crossover produced by Lil Jon, “Tell Me When to Go” was much leaner than the ATL superproducer’s juggernaut anthems of the early 2000s — but that incessant kick drum still hits with all the heft of a slammed car door. Regardless, the enduring stars here are Keak da Sneak’s cartoonish rasp and the ingeniously simple hook that’s anything but dumb, dumb, dumb.
Overdrive: The call-and-response breakdown that taught the world how to ghost ride the whip. — NOLAN FEENEY
76. JOHN TRAVOLTA, “GREASED LIGHTNIN'”
Make and Model: Part of the soundtrack to the classic 1978 film musical Grease and performed by starring actor John Travolta, “Greased Lightnin’” hit No. 47 on the Hot 100 that same year.
Fuel Economy: Few tracks scream “song about cars” like this one, which references everything from four-barrel quads to a palomino dashboard, and was written for a moment in the film about fixing up a vehicle for an upcoming drag race — and to, of course, woo women.
Overdrive: “Greased Lightnin’” opens at its peak, when Travolta declares: “Well, this car is automatic, it’s systematic, it’s hyyyyydromatic,” with horn flares in between each statement, before announcing with overflowing excitement, “Why it’s Greased Lightning!” — LYNDSEY HAVENS
75. SHERYL CROW, “EVERYDAY IS A WINDING ROAD”
Make and Model: Sheryl Crow’s 1997 pop-rock hit is equal parts existential journey and laid-back joyride – kind of like life.
Fuel Economy: This follows the car-song road map to a T, thanks to a chorus that’s meant to be yelled out of a top-down convertible and an upbeat production that makes you want to drive a little too fast. It wasn’t just destined to be in a car commercial; it is a car commercial.
Overdrive: As she cruises down the winding road of life, Crow wonders if “all the things I’ve seen were ever real, were ever really happening?” Who knows? Just keep driving. — KATIE ATKINSON
74. ROBERT JOHNSON, “TERRAPLANE BLUES”
Make and Model: In 1936, when Johnson first recorded this blues song that takes its title from a car made by the Hudson Motor Company, automotive double entendres were still relatively new – but, then again, so was driving itself. Here, though, Johnson is stalled: “You know, the coils ain’t even buzzin’,” he laments. “The little generator won’t get the spark.”
Fuel Economy: As the song goes along, Johnson reveals that someone’s been driving his Terraplane “since I been gone.” The lyrics resonate with raw emotion — he’s going to weep and moan. He does have insurance, though, in the form of “a woman that I’m lovin’, way down in Arkansas.”
Overdrive: Most great driving songs are about the freedom of the road, but this one, like a few of Johnson’s songs, is about the poison of jealousy. “Please,” he sings, “don’t block the road.” — R.L.
73. DAVE DUDLEY, “SIX DAYS ON THE ROAD”
Make and Model: One of the classic old-school trucker anthems, “Six Days on the Road” — made famous by country singer Dave Dudley in 1963 — commemorated the grind of load-hauling across the country, dodging cops and downing “little white pills” and doing whatever it takes to make it home ASAP.
Fuel Economy: Among the least-glamorous driving songs of all time, “Six Days” doesn’t celebrate the road so much as present it as an obstacle course, full of pratfalls to be avoided and short cuts to be taken if you know the lay of the land well enough — a wearying life, but one well-observed enough to have its own sort of worn-in, hard-earned dignity.
Overdrive: A song this deep in the drudgery doesn’t have a lot of major highs, but you gotta smile for Dudley a little when he finally reaches his destination in the final verse: “My hometown’s a-comin’ in sight/ If you think I’m happy, you’re right.” — A.U.
72. KISS, “DETROIT ROCK CITY”
Make and Model: Kiss’ car-crash rager became a fan favorite and eventual FM rock standard following its 1976 release, though it only ever charted on the Hot 100 once it was re-released as the B-side to the band’s atypical ballad “Beth,” a surprise top 10 hit that December.
Fuel Economy: Few songs about road fatality have ever been as unapologetically feel-good as “Detroit Rock City,” a song whose excitement over blasting the radio while driving to a concert can’t even be slowed down by oncoming truck headlights — with singer Paul Stanley simply smirking, “I gotta laugh ‘coz I know I’m gonna die.”
Overdrive: The double-tracked guitar interlude, gaining intensity over Peter Criss’ galloping drums, as (appropriately) thrilling and foreboding an instrumental break as you’ll hear in classic rock. — A.U.
71. ACE HOOD FEAT. FUTURE, “BUGATTI”
Make and Model: Florida rapper Ace Hood merged into mainstream consciousness — and onto the Hot 100 — with his menacing 2013 trap anthem about the material perks of success, from watches to women to the song’s titular luxury ride.
Fuel Economy: From Mike WiLL Made It’s hyper-layered production to Future’s sing-song pre-chorus, a larger-than-life feature from Rick Ross and Hood’s own rapid-fire verses, this song takes on different speeds with the fluidity of an expertly handled manual transmission.
Overdrive: While waking up in one’s car isn’t necessarily a write-home-about accomplishment, the song’s explosive shout-along chorus — “I woke up in the new Bugatti!!” — is used more metaphorically to express the thrill of coming up so hard (and so overnight) that you can suddenly afford a car whose base model retails for $1.7 million. — KATIE BAIN
70. OMC, “HOW BIZARRE”
Make and Model: New Zealand’s Otara Millionaires Club had their lone international hit in 1997 with “How Bizarre,” a surreal road odyssey in which the group gets pulled over by the cops, stops for gas, runs into a traveling circus and then speeds away from all the fracas — with only the titular two-word summary to tie it all together.
Fuel Economy: The lyrics might not make a ton of sense on paper, but they add up to the kind of road trip adventure that bonds a group of friends together because it could never make sense to anyone who wasn’t there — and that title and accompanying guitar cascade is all the explanation anyone else really needs, anyway.
Overdrive: After having related enough of his travels with Brother Pele and Sister Zina, frontman Pauly Fuemana declares it’ll cost extra for you to find out their journey’s end: “Wanna know the rest? Hey — buy the rights!” — A.U.
69. PEARL JAM, “REARVIEWMIRROR”
Make and Model: Such a fan favorite of an album cut that it became the title of Pearl Jam’s greatest hits album two decades later, “RVM” takes a traveling guitar riff from frontman Eddie Vedder and follows it along through its highway metaphor to an angsty — this was early-1990s grunge, after all — and grand conclusion.
Fuel Economy: From its opening lyric (“I took a drive today/ Time to emancipate”) to the wide-eyed visual of its hook (“Saw things so much clearer/ Once you were in my rear view mirror”), Vedder combines both the tensions of trying to overcome obstacles in life with the freedom of finally achieving it and speeding away into the distance.
Fourth Gear: With the song picking up intensity and the drums getting louder and more frantic, Vedder leans into a final bridge with one last release and an epic scream, “REAR VIEW MIRRORRRRR” that, when performed live, never fails to bring the house down. — DAN RYS
68. RICKIE LEE JONES, “THE LAST CHANCE TEXACO”
Make and Model: The Grammy-nominated 1979 ballad uses a lonely filling station on the outskirts of town as an allegory for settling for what’s available to you, whether it’s a relationship or a conveniently located gas pump.
Fuel Economy: The strummy number is packed with so many automotive metaphors (“her plug’s disconnected, she gets scared and she stalls,” “her timing’s all wrong,” “she can’t idle this long,” “turn her over and go,” etc.) that Rickie should consider a retirement job as a Car and Driver writer.
Overdrive: But of all the song’s metaphors, none gets more mileage than the supercharged verse that incorporates no less than four gas station company names: “Well, he tried to be Standard and he tried to be Mobil/ He tried living in a World and in a Shell.” — K.A.
67. M83, “MIDNIGHT CITY”
Make and Model: The 2011 smash hit doesn’t offer an abundance of lyrics, but the few key lines detail (and were inspired by) a sort of backseat wonder at a sprawling metropolis viewed through car windows — though its ethereal synth pop feel and roaring saxophone to close implores listeners to refrain from “waiting” for anything, regardless of what M83’s Anthony Gonzalez says.
Fuel Economy: Save the track’s closing minute for the time on your drive when the city’s lights shine the brightest. The very moment that saxophone kicks in, a wave of euphoria will wash over you – it’s a feeling that few songs from the past decade have been able to so prominently capture. Make sure to crank the stereo.
Overdrive: Have we mentioned the song’s outro yet? — J.G.
66. SELENA, “LA CARCACHA”
Make and Model: Selena Quintanilla dropped “La Carcacha” in 1992, and it would become one of the most emblematic songs of her career. Co-produced by her brother A.B. Quintanilla III and Bebu Silvetti, the track showcased just exactly how Selena y Los Dinos were revolutionizing the Tejano music industry in the ‘90s, fusing traditional cumbia, tejano, alternative rock melodies, and even incorporating car honks in the track.
Fuel Economy: If the “beep beep” throughout the track is any indication, this is the ultimate Latin pop car song. But above that, it’s the humble lyrics that make it 100 percent relatable for fans: Selena sings about getting made fun of because she’s dating a guy with a broken-down car. She comes to his defense saying that despite his old car with tailpipe smoke, tricycle-like wheels, and backward engine, her boyfriend is faithful and treats her like a queen.
Overdrive: For the most part, this track keeps everyone on their feet from beginning to end — but it’s the song’s first 30 seconds that really became a fan-favorite — especially during the TikTok era, with the countdown (“uno, dos, tres, cuatro”) and upbeat production getting users of all ages to imitate Selena’s arm-swaying and hip-shaking dance moves. — JESSICA ROIZ
65. TIM MCGRAW, “RED RAGTOP”
Make and Model: McGraw poignantly delivers the rare country song to address abortion (though the word is never mentioned) from 2002’s Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors.
Fuel Economy: The full-circle details of McGraw’s relationship are devastating: He was 20, she was 18 when they first made love in his “red ragtop” — which he later explains is the same car he drove to take her for her abortion, and the same car where he reveals “she stopped loving me.”
Overdrive: Though he never specifies the make of his car, years later, the protagonist stops at a red light and beside him is a young woman with the same green eyes as his teenage sweetheart in a Cabriolet, as he realizes there’s no going back: “Well, you do what you do and you pay for your sins/ And there’s no such thing as what might have been.” — M. Newman
64. MISSY ELLIOTT, “THE RAIN (SUPA DUPA FLY)”
Make and Model: Missy’s Ann Peebles-reinventing 1997 breakthrough hit introduced the world to one of pop music’s new larger-than-life figures, the rapper-singer cruising into the mainstream with writer/producer buddy Timbaland in the passenger seat.
Fuel Economy: “The Rain” features verses of Missy observing the titular weather nastiness through her home window while smoking weed, and sitting on a hill undeterred as it starts falling on her umbrella — but in between, she takes a memorable drive to the beach, maintaining her way through what looks like an oncoming downpour.
Overdrive: “Beep beep, who got that keys to my jeep?/ VRRRRRRRRRMMM” — simply one of the most memorable (and oft-quoted) car lyrics in hip-hop history. — A.U.
63. JAN & DEAN, “DEAD MAN’S CURVE”
Make and Model: This song about a street race that ended in tragedy became the duo’s fourth top 10 hit on the Hot 100 in May 1964 — score one for the Americans amid the British Invasion. The duo’s Jan Berry co-wrote the song and produced and arranged the single under Lou Adler’s supervision.
Fuel Economy: The song mentions the names of actual streets you’ll encounter cruising down Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, adding extra real-life gravity to the California cautionary tale.
Overdrive: The spoken word interlude in which singer Dean Torrence, post-crash, tells a doctor, “Well, the last thing I remember doc, I started to swerve …” Eerily, in April 1966, Berry was involved in near-fatal collision near the spot depicted in the song. – PAUL GREIN
62. DOOBIE BROTHERS, “ROCKIN’ DOWN THE HIGHWAY”
Make and Model: Few things go as well together as rock’n’roll and the open highway, and this album cut off the sophomore release from the original Doobie Brothers takes that simple formula and distills it into its purest form with this song’s hook: “Woahh, rockin’ down the highway!” Chef’s kiss.
Fuel Economy: The song is an ode to speed, with lyrics that propel each verse directly towards where it needs to be: the unbridled release of the hook. There’s nothing overly complicated or even particularly inventive or witty about the song, but that’s not the point — the point is to go faster, outrun the cops, and just keep it moving.
Overdrive: Besides the obvious, the song’s best part is the pre-chorus, which underlines the manic energy that the song exudes: “Can’t stop, and I can’t stop/ Got to keep on movin’ or I’ll lose my mind!” — D.R.
61. TRAE THE TRUTH FEAT. FAT PAT & BIG HAWK, “SWANG”
Make and Model: Released in 2005 when he was still known just as “Trae,” the booming “Swang” never charted nationally, but became an enduring local anthem in the rapper’s Houston hometown.
Fuel Economy: Most great car songs make your foot heavier on the gas pedal, but “Swang” turns the open road into a school zone with its slow-and-low groove, making anyone going over 25 look like Mario Andretti.
Overdrive: The trunk-popping legacy of “Swang” was borrowed in large part from its late featured guest Fat Pat, whose verse on DJ DMD’s “25 Lighters” offered the song its classic screwed-and-chopped chorus, and who guest rapper Big Hawk shouts out on his own verse: “I’m Fat Pat’s clone, his legacy carries on/ His heartbeat pumps through my flesh and bone.” — A.U.
60. EDDIE RABBIT, “DRIVIN’ MY LIFE AWAY”
Make and Model: Country singer Eddie Rabbitt found crossover success with this jaunty rockabilly jam featured in the 1980 movie Roadie, which starred Meat Loaf and included the tagline, “The bands make it rock, but the roadies make it roll.”
Fuel Economy: Whether you’re a trucker, a roadie or just someone logging hours behind the wheel, “Drivin’” turns your slog of a drive into a bouncy quest for a sunny day.
Overdrive: Rabbitt reaching that rare moment of car-and-tune synchronicity: “Those windshield wipers slapping out a tempo/Keeping perfect rhythm with the song on the radio.” — C.W.
59. RADIOHEAD, “AIRBAG”
Make and Model: Kicking off their 1997 post-Britpop masterpiece OK Computer, Radiohead’s “Airbag” finds lead singer Thom Yorke in a mess of pre-millennial anxieties, with his recurring fear of cars reappearing at the song’s core.
Fuel Economy: A jarring sonic melange of twinkling sleigh bells, sawing cello riffs and guitars that are equally majestic and nauseous-sounding, the non-fatal lyrical crash of “Airbag” resonates because the music sounds as simultaneously rattled and relieved as Yorke himself.
Overdrive: “In a fast German car/ I’m amazed that I survived/ An airbag saved my life,” the frontman proclaims — an obviously life-affirming moment that still quickly gives way to an uneasy sensation of “Now what?” — A.U.
58. MAREN MORRIS, “’80S MERCEDES”
Make and Model: This fun-loving track, which Morris co-wrote with the late busbee, arrived as the second single off her 2016 full-length debut album, Hero.
Fuel Economy: Morris manages to make a song about a car from a time before she was born feel entirely her own, with lines like “She ain’t made for practicality/ Yeah, I guess she’s just like me.” Plus, with details peppered throughout like the hula girl on the dash, fans could easily imagine an accompanying visual without ever seeing the music video.
Overdrive: The song’s early chorus — “Feel like a hard-to-get starlet when I’m driving” — evokes such a visceral liberation and perfectly sets up the Instagram-caption-ready climax that repeats: “I’m a ’90s baby/ In my ’80s Mercedes.” — L.H.
57. DEPECHE MODE, “BEHIND THE WHEEL”
Make and Model: The third single off the synth-rock band’s platinum-selling 1987 release Music For the Masses, the dark tune sees frontman Dave Gahan ceding control for ultimate pleasure.
Fuel Economy: The Anton Corbijn-directed video may offer a throwback to the same BMW Isetta that was featured in “Never Let Me Down Again,” but the vehicle this song conjures is sleeker and dirtier — and we mean that in the best way — as Gahan’s low voice revs with desire for his “little girl” to “do what you want.”
Overdrive: Is there such a thing as *under*drive? Because Gahan’s yearning for submission is palpable from the outset: “My little girl, drive anywhere/ Do what you want, I don’t care/ Tonight, I’m in the hands of fate/ I hand myself over on a plate now.” — ANNA CHAN
56. JERRY REED, “EAST BOUND AND DOWN”
Make and Model: Few songs can summarize an entire film in just a few verses like “East Bound and Down,” the fast-paced, banjo heavy hit for the bootlegging blockbuster Smokey and the Bandit — with Reed in a starring role aside Burt Reynolds and Sally Field.
Fuel Economy: You don’t have to know CB radio lingo to understand this rollicking track, which is filled with trucker references like “Ole Smokeys got them ears on” — meaning then police are listening for chatter on the airwaves — while “East Bound and Down” is a popular sign for drivers meaning they’re no longer transmitting, but likely still listening as they pull over for a brief rest.
Overdrive: The song’s stakes are set from the opening stanza: “The boys are thirsty in Atlanta / And there’s beer in Texarkana / And we’ll bring it back no matter what it takes.” — D.B.
55. BEYONCÉ, “PARTITION”
Make and Model: Acting as the back-half of “Yonce” from Beyonce’s 2013 self-titled album, “Partition” does not pump the brakes while detailing the Queen’s fantasies of having sex with her husband Jay-Z in the back of a limousine on the way to the club — one the occupied couple doesn’t really plan on making it into.
Fuel Economy: With the sound of a car window rolling up to signal the transition from “Yonce” to “Partition,” the subsequent synth arrangements sound like the limo zooming through the city while capturing the thrill of Bey and Jay’s own wild ride in the back seat.
Overdrive: The Queen’s alter-ego ordering her limo driver not to watch any of the action: “Driver, roll up the partition, please/ I don’t need you seeing ‘Yonce on her knees.” — HERAN MAMO
54. THE SMITHS, “THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT”
Make and Model: A classic moper from Moz and company off their iconic 1986 album The Queen is Dead, in which the eternally glum singer pines to go out and see people and live the life of a care-free joy rider.
Fuel Economy: The acoustic reverie with dramatic strings not only muses about being in a car to nowhere, but it doubles down on its auto-erotic fantasy when Morrissey dreams about him and his lover being wiped out on the road together.
Overdrive: If you think there’s anything on Earth more romantic than the line, “And if a 10-ton truck/ Kills the both of us/ To die by your side/ Well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine,” we don’t know what to tell you. — GIL KAUFMAN
53. RONNY AND THE DAYTONAS, “G.T.O.”
Make and Model: Written and performed by John Wilkin, this surf rock number pays homage to America’s favorite muscle car, the Pontiac GTO, which could “turn it on, wind it up (and) blow it out” with an engine growl that could be heard from blocks away.
Fuel Economy: The 1964 track, released just one year after the GM vehicle debuted on U.S. streets, was written by a teenage Wilkin and recorded with Nashville producer Bill Justis and session players — but still captured enough on-road giddiness with its verse ravings and wordless “wah-wah” chorus to hit No. 4 on the Hot 100 that September.
Overdrive: Wilkin shows off his car knowledge in the opening lyrics, hailing the cars “three deuces and a four-speed / and a three-eighty-nine.” The three deuces were a reference to the GTO’s unique three double-barreled carburetors, four speed described the car’s transmission while three-eighty-nine was a nod to the V8 engine’s large size, measuring 389 cubic-inches. — D.B.
52. KANYE WEST FEAT. PAUL WALL & GLC, “DRIVE SLOW”
Make and Model: Released as a late single from Kanye West’s second studio album, Late Registration, “Drive Slow” featuring Paul Wall and GLC is a warning tale to anyone who might think it’s cool to live life in the fast lane.
Fuel Economy: “Drive Slow” is the perfect song for a late-night car ride, with its slow groove and deep nostalgic narrative that delivers a word to the wise about resisting temptation — on the road and elsewhere.
Overdrive: Kanye dominates the proceedings with one line of advice that defines the song, “Don’t rush to get grown, drive slow homie.” — D.A.
51. ARETHA FRANKLIN, “FREEWAY OF LOVE”
Make and Model: This smash reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 in August 1985, becoming Franklin’s highest-charting hit in more than a decade. The Queen was 43 when the song was released, not too old to put the top down and go cruising – in more ways than one. “How’d you get your pants so tight?” is a come-on line for the ages.
Fuel Economy: The song, produced by Narada Michael Walden, has that mid-’80s top 40 radio sound, and Clarence Clemons’ sax solo adds fire — but there’s not one moment where Franklin is not firmly in the driver’s seat.
Overdrive: On the line “City traffic moving way too slow/Drop your pedal and go,” Franklin gets more mileage out of the word “drop” than any other singer could have. Another nice touch: The license plate on Franklin’s pink Cadillac in the video reads: “RESPECT.” – P.G.
50. THE BEACH BOYS, “FUN, FUN, FUN”
Make and Model: With its “Johnny B. Goode“-inspired electric guitar intro and lyrics about blowing off the library to go cruising, The Beach Boys’ 1964 hit is sonically and lyrically synonymous with the easygoing West Coast aesthetic.
Fuel Economy: In Southern California, the lure of ditching school for the beach and burgers is a constant temptation for licensed teens. “Fun, Fun, Fun” zeroes in on that unique balance between work and fun that so many Golden State high schoolers try and fail to achieve.
Overdrive: There’s only one way to listen to this song, and it’s by driving down Pacific Coast Highway with the radio blasting, sunroof open, and a bag of In-N-Out strapped to your front seat — with the song’s “Well she got her daddy’s car/ And she cruised through the hamburger stand now” opening lines ringing in your ears for the full effect. — MIA NAZARENO
49. NIO GARCIA x BRRAY x JUANKA x ANUEL AA x MYKE TOWERS, “LA JEEPETA” (REMIX)
Make and Model: In early 2020, Puerto Rican artist Nio Garcia teamed up with Brray and Juanka to unleash the catchy mid-tempo reggaetón single “La Jeepeta.” But it was the remix, aided by Anuel AA and Myke Towers, that ignited its success on the charts; while the original failed to secure a spot on Hot Latin Songs, the remix peaked at No. 3 in August.
Fuel Economy: Built around slang for an SUV truck or Jeep, with raunchy lyrics and a bounce perfect for large-vehicle travel, the song was met with skepticism from Garcia’s team — but he insisted it was destined for big things. “From the day the intro and the chorus were created, I knew this song was going to be a hit,” Garcia told Billboard last July.
Overdrive: The chorus lyrics are particularly graphic: “Getting high in the jeep/ Next to me I have a blonde [girl] with big boobs/ She wants me to put it in.” But that seems to be part of its appeal: Most of the 1.6 million Jeepeta dances on YouTube, for example, have both men and women making the universal gestures to describe big boobs or having intercourse. — J.R.
48. DEEP PURPLE, “HIGHWAY STAR”
Make and Model: Opener to classic rock virtuosos Deep Purple’s 1972 signature set Machine Head, “Highway Star” rides a mix of adrenaline and ego as singer Ian Gillian sounds equally in love with his car, his girl and himself over his band’s intoxicating open-road motoring.
Fuel Economy: “Highway Star” quite simply goes for it, with a full-band commitment to playing harder, faster and longer than their peers, and ending up with a blazing track quite worthy of the “killer machine” the song celebrates.
Overdrive: The song’s instrumental intro builds to such a memorable fever pitch, with Gillian’s falsetto wail coming in over the top of the band’s heavy chugging, that it was used as the opening music for the Rock Band video game. — A.U.
47. CALVIN HARRIS FEAT. FUTURE & KHALID, “ROLLIN”
Make and Model: “Rollin” helped roll out Harris’ 2017 album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 as its third single, with Khalid and Future’s featured vocals about leaving a soon-to-be-ex in their rearview riding the cruise-controlled wave of the song’s looped synth-funk beat.
Fuel Economy: Khalid and Future’s anecdotes about their past relationships certify going for a drive as the prime antidote for having too much on one’s mind, making the track a perfect road trip playlist addition.
Overdrive: Khalid’s chorus setting the tone for the need for speed: “I’ve been rollin’ on the freeway/ I’ve been riding 85/ I’ve been thinking way too much/ And I’m way too gone to drive.” — H.M.
46. 2PAC, “PICTURE ME ROLLIN'”
Make and Model: On this fan favorite from the 1996 All Eyez on Me double album, a fresh-out-of-jail 2Pac wants everyone to forget about all his problems and just picture him rollin’ in his Mercedes.
Fuel Economy: This is the ultimate carefree car song, from a man who had plenty to care about. But with haters and critics everywhere, he wanted all his enemies to see just how blessed (not stressed) he was, over laid-back drums and guitar pops that certainly aided his demonstration.
Overdrive: In the song’s unforgettably DGAF outro, Pac has one message for all his haters, including the prison he was just bailed out of, “all you punk police” and the DA who charged him: “Any time y’all wanna see me again, rewind this track right here, close your eyes, and picture me rollin’.” — K.A.
45. CARRIE UNDERWOOD, “BEFORE HE CHEATS”
Make and Model: Underwood was fresh off her 2005 American Idol win when she released her debut album Some Hearts, whose third single “Before He Cheats” became a massive crossover hit — hitting No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, No. 8 on the Hot 100, winning Grammys for best female country vocal performance and best country song and entering the canon of all-time karaoke classics.
Fuel Economy: This pop/country anthem runs on sweet revenge. The fantasy of taking a baseball bat to your cheating lover’s precious ride is popular among those of us who’ve ever been romantically scorned, but what’s just as delicious here is the seething, sarcastic contempt Underwood expresses for both him and the “bleached-blond tramp” he’s got in the passenger’s seat.
Overdrive: Underwood doesn’t stop with just taking “a Louisville Slugger to both headlights,” instead further demonstrating that hell hath no fury by keying his “pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive,” carving her name into his leather seats and, to really bring her point home — and to make sure he doesn’t get back to his — slashing all four tires. — K.B.
44. A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, “I LEFT MY WALLET IN EL SEGUNDO”
Make and Model: “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” is a storytelling saga of an inconvenient mishap in the midst of an impromptu vacation, taken from NY rap greats A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
Fuel Economy: Q-Tip flexes his anecdotal skills throughout the breezy, playful track, which depicts a cross-country road trip with Ali, Jarobi and Phife Dawg from Brooklyn, New York to El Segundo, California in a ‘74 Dodge Dart.
Overdrive: With a story that’s completely mapped out from beginning to end, listeners can’t miss any of the detours that take place on this musical adventure from the Tribe. — D.A.
43. JOHNNY CASH, “I’VE BEEN EVERYWHERE”
Make and Model: This well-traveled travelogue was written in 1958 by Australian country singer Geoff Mack and popularized in 1962 by another Aussie performer Lucky Starr (Leslie William Morrison). Many covers have followed, but Cash’s version, recorded with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for the Man in Black’s 1996 Unchained album, is the one that’s ingrained in 21st century pop culture — thanks to its use in episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy, a Choice Hotels commercial and at least two films.
Fuel Economy: While the only vehicle mentioned is “a semi with a high and canvas-covered load,” the song racks up mileage faster than a Ferrari. In a little over three minutes, Cash cites 90 states, cities, towns and countries while backed by Petty and Co.’s Bakersfield country-rock vibe. A website that maps all of the destinations calculates a total distance traveled of almost 108,425 miles.
Overdrive: The first verse finds the singer hitchhiking in Winnemucca, Nevada, a town that, in 2020, had a population of less than 7,800 people. When he jumps in the semi cab, the driver asks him, “if I’d seen a road with so much dust and sand.” Cash’s assured response is “Listen, I’ve traveled every road in this here land!” –F.D.
42. MIKE JONES FEAT. SLIM THUG & PAUL WALL, “STILL TIPPIN'”
Make and Model: A mid-’00s single that helped put Houston hip-hop on the national map and make stars out of its three performers, “Still Tippin” had kids across the country bragging about “tippin’ on fo’ fos, wrapped in fo’ Vogues” even if they had no clue about the rims and tires those chorus lyrics actually referred to.
Fuel Economy: The song’s narcotic crawl lets you know just how differently they do it in H-Town, but the song’s dark beauty and bottomless supply of cool makes it an exhilarating ride even when it’s coasting in neutral.
Overdrive: Paul Wall’s claim to having “the Internet going nuts” has proven the song’s most enduring lyric, but its finest car couplet remains Mike Jones’ boast “Catch me lane switchin’ with the paint drippin’/ Turn your neck and your dame missin’.” — A.U.
41. TOM PETTY, “RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM”
Make and Model: Tom Petty’s solo debut sans Heartbreakers, 1989’s Full Moon Fever, was mostly memorable for its lush acoustic rock and breezy Jeff Lynne production — but he still plugged in and riffed out for the piston-churning “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” a guitar mini-epic custom designed for classic rock radio.
Fuel Economy: For as action-packed as the song sounds, not much actually happens in its lyrics: Tom sings along to “Runaway” on the radio, puts on cruise control for a while, then speeds back up again. But it still feels Homeric, since the real narrative is all happening in Petty’s head — as is the case with anyone on the road working on their own mystery, and following wherever it leads.
Overdrive: That climactic solo, man. Shout out to Mike Campbell. — A.U.
40. BILLY OCEAN, “GET OUTTA MY DREAMS, GET INTO MY CAR”
Make and Model: The British/Trinidadian singer scored his third U.S. No. 1 Billboard 200 hit with this 1988 song in which he begs a woman to… well, the title says it all.
Fuel Economy: The super-’80s pop tune tries to make an unprompted backseat invitation sound like a winning lottery ticket, and comes shockingly close to succeeding. Featured in the legendary Corey and Corey (Haim and Feldman) film License to Drive, the song was also accompanied by a then-ground-breaking video that mixed footage of Ocean driving a variety of slick rides through a car wash, with animation of fish and boom box-wielding ducks.
Overdrive: The lascivious lyrics would probably not pass muster today, but you kind of have to chuckle at the iconic pick-up line: “Lady driver let me take your wheel/ Smooth operator/ Touch my bumper/ Hey, let’s make a deal/ Make it real.” — G.K.
39. LUDACRIS FEAT. MYSTIKAL & I-20, “MOVE B—H”
Make and Model: Luda power steered into the top 10 of the Hot 100 for the first time with “Move B—h,” the fourth single from his 2001 LP, Word of Mouf.
Fuel Economy: An almost cartoonishly ominous singalong classic for anyone who came of age in the early 2000s, “”Move B—h” is equal parts road rage and precision driving. Luda — along with guest stars Mystikal and I-20 — careens past “all the groupies and gold diggers” and other sundry haters, threatening that these bystanders “about to get ran the f–k over” while he maneuvers towards a stage where the spotlight is as glaring as his brights.
Overdrive: Ludacris compares the power, velocity and general unstoppability of his career to doing a hundred on the highway, emphasizing his intent to take no prisoners by adding that, “if you do the speed limit, get the f–k outta my way!” — K.B.
38. TAYLOR SWIFT, “GETAWAY CAR”
Make and Model: While memories of Taylor Swift’s Reputation era are often eclipsed by the rebrand into her edgier, more dangerous alter ego, the pop star’s songwriting about a dramatic love triangle on 2017’s “Getaway Car” (which she co-wrote Jack Antonoff) remains a standout track — one that we regularly revisit four years after its debut.
Fuel Economy: You haven’t lived until you’ve looked your partner in crime in the eye and said, “Let’s run away together.” “Getaway Car” captures that fantasy of escaping — even if you are taking a shortcut through a doomed relationship. Lyrically and visually, Swift’s singing of “When he was running after us, I was screaming ‘Go, go, go!'” invites us into her backseat as she makes a run for it.
Overdrive: Taylor reveals it all in the bridge when she sings in hushed tones, “I’m in a getaway car/ I left you in the motel bar/ Put the money in the bag and stole the keys/ That was the last time you ever saw me” before she revs the engine to the chorus back up. The plot twist of leaving both lovers in the end is the song’s power move, and one that’ll help keep Reputation relevant during future Taylor Swift eras to come. — M. Nazareno
37. THE WALLFLOWERS, “ONE HEADLIGHT”
Make and Model: The 1997 hit may not have charted on the Hot 100 due to eligibility rules at the time, but the song frontman Jakob Dylan says is about “perseverance” nevertheless drove its way to the top of the Greatest of All Time Adult Alternative Songs Chart 25 years later.
Fuel Economy: The lyrics merge with a sound that combines classic rock and a catchy ’90s radio feel to paint picture after picture of frustration transformed into opportunity. It’s the stuff of daydreams (and scream-sing material — with the windows rolled down, of course) while on a peaceful expanse of road … or while stuck in infuriating gridlock traffic.
Overdrive: After the darkness in the verses, the chorus feels like the rising sun coming up over the horizon to spread hope on an empty road: “Come on try a little/ Nothing is forever/ There’s gotta be something better than in the middle … We can drive it home/ With one headlight.” — A.C.
36. TOM COCHRANE, “LIFE IS A HIGHWAY”
Make and Model: Cochrane was a household name in Canada as the singer of band Red Rider long before 1991 — but that’s when he committed full-stop to one very lengthy metaphor and turned it into this propulsive global hit, which ultimately peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100. (Just one indication of its enduring auto appeal: Rascal Flatts’ cover, for Pixar’s….yes, Cars… which brought the song back to the top 10 in 2006).
Fuel Economy: It’s scientifically impossible not to belt “Life is a highway/I wanna ride it all night long” while driving on a highway at, really, any time of day. But it’s not just the road-friendly lyrics that make this Road Trip Radio Canon — Cochrane’s percussive guitar and harmonica lines seem to always perfectly soundtrack scenery at the speed it flies by, plus they’re easy to tap out on steering-wheel percussion.
Overdrive: At precisely the 3 minute mark, the a cappella chorus reprise: a moment so perfect for boogie-ing in your seat that the Canadian youths in the music video pop out of theirs and just start to dance next to their convertible by the side of the road. — R.M.
35. GRACE JONES, “PULL UP TO THE BUMPER”
Make and Model: Hailing from Grace Jones’ 1981 classic Nightclubbing, “Pull Up to the Bumper” finds the pop provocateur melding disco, dub and electro; it took her to No. 2 on Dance Club Songs and No. 5 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Fuel Economy: Artists have been milking the driving-as-sex innuendo since at least the mid-1930s, but few have gotten as much mileage out of it as Jones on this fabulously filthy invitation to a lover.
Overdrive: If you don’t know what’s going on by the time she’s telling someone to take their “long black limousine” and “drive it in between” her bumper, well, maybe “drivers license” is more your speed. — J.L.
34. GRATEFUL DEAD, “TRUCKIN'”
Make and Model: This super-laid-back 1970 ramble from the Dead’s beloved American Beauty album gave the grandaddy jam band the biggest Hot 100 hit of their first 20 years — as well as perhaps their all-time most singular mantra.
Fuel Economy: For a group that inspired so many Deadheads to hit the road and follow them on the tour that never ends, this travelogue highlights some of the group’s wilder early adventures on four wheels. From the “neon and flashing marquees on Main Street” to their terrible highway diet (“Livin’ on reds, vitamin C and cocaine”) and cooling their heels in a hotel room waiting for cops to bust down the door, this one depicts the wild life of a traveling musician with a wicked, knowing grin.
Overdrive: The chorus, of course: “Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me/ Other times I can barely see/ Lately, it occurs to me/ What a long, strange trip it’s been.” — G.K.
33. FRANK OCEAN, “SWIM GOOD”
Make and Model: Frank Ocean’s debut mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA grabbed the attention of the industry upon its 2011 release, with the lyrically dark “Swim Good” exploring themes of trying to deal with overwhelming heartbreak while behind the wheel, and emerging as one of the project’s biggest highlights.
Fuel Economy: The brooding nature of “Swim Good” can quickly wind its way around your head and your heart. It’s easy to get lost while listening, but in a way that ultimately feels freeing – just remember that if your GPS is the one suggesting you drive into a body of water, it’s a safe bet to assume there’s no road there.
Overdrive: In his second run through the pre-chorus, Frank Ocean dials it up as the real estate in front of him rapidly dwindles: “One more ‘til the road runs out, out!” — J.G.
32. DON HENLEY, “THE BOYS OF SUMMER”
Make and Model: When Tom Petty was underwhelmed by the original demo for this eventual No. 5 Billboard Hot 100 hit, Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell played the song for Don Henley, who was looking for material for 1984 sophomore solo set Building The Perfect Beast. Campbell told the podcast The Moment that the following day, Henley called him to say, “I just wrote the best song of my life to your music” — and a 1986 Grammy for best male rock vocal performance supports that claim.
Fuel Economy: The specific car references are subtle (“You got the top pulled down and the radio on, baby”), but “Boys of Summer” unquestionably plays like a slow, melancholy drive through an empty beach town as summer turns to fall. Backed by Campbell’s languid guitar and the Linn drum’s relentless delayed rimshots – which, to quote another Henley song, sound like “time, time ticking, ticking away” — the song becomes a metaphor for growing older and clinging to past ideals that don’t (or can’t) exist in the present.
Overdrive: In the third verse, Henley sings: “Out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. A little voice inside my head said, “Don’t look back, you can never look back.” Inspired by a real-life experience on the San Diego Freeway, Henley has said that the jarring and oft-quoted car imagery essentially reference the hippies of the ‘60s selling out to become the yuppies of the ‘80s. –F.D.
31. CYNDI LAUPER, “I DROVE ALL NIGHT”
Make and Model: A widescreen power ballad originally intended for Roy Orbison (who recorded it but never released it in his lifetime), “I Drove All Night” became a No. 6 Hot 100 hit and Grammy-nominated vocal showcase for Cyndi Lauper off her 1989 album A Night to Remember; in 2003, Celine Dion revved it up for another Hot 100 run.
Fuel Economy: Over urgent strings and a pounding ’80s rock drum, Lauper spins a feverish, lusty tale of escaping the “sticky and cruel” city to hit the highway, with her lover’s cool caresses serving as the rose-red fingers of dawn at the end of a long, dark highway odyssey.
Overdrive: Lauper takes it off cruise control pretty early on, but when she switches up an octave mid-syllable at the 2:57 money note, it’s obvious her tank is running on premium. — J.L.
30. JACKSON BROWNE, “RUNNING ON EMPTY”
Make and Model: Music fans were stricken with a bad case of Saturday Night Fever in the spring of 1978, but there was still room on top 40 radio for this propulsive pop/rock track, which reached No. 11 that April. The song is autobiographical, reflective and exhilarating — a rare combination.
Fuel Economy: The song opens with an immediate backbeat, allowing it to immediately jump from 0 to 60. The song’s brisk tempo replicates what Browne recalls doing when he was 17 — running up California’s Highway 101.
Overdrive:.The song conveys some profound truths that give it unexpected depth. Who can’t relate to lines like “I don’t know when that road turned onto the road I’m on” and “You know, I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find”? — P.G.
29. ICE CUBE, “IT WAS A GOOD DAY”
Make and Model: Ice Cube paints a musical picture of what makes an ideal day in his native L.A.: cruising the streets, watching the Lakers beat the Supersonics, eating a Fatburger and not using your AK. With the laid-back 1993 song peaking at No. 15, Cube f–ked around and got his highest-charting single ever on the Hot 100.
Fuel Economy: Following in the tire tracks of War’s 1975 classic, Cube is specifically driving a lowrider in this song, boasting that he can both “make the ass drop” and “hit the three-wheel motion” over the course of his ride.
Overdrive: As he’s driving home after hooking up with his high school crush, instead of seeing an omnipresent “helicopter looking for a murder,” Ice Cube spots the welcome sight of the Goodyear Blimp — reading, of course, “Ice Cube‘s a Pimp.” A good day, indeed. — K.A.
28. VAN HALEN, “PANAMA”
Make and Model: Penned in stubborn response to criticism that the band only wrote about sex, drugs and fast cars — which made frontman David Lee Roth realize he’d never actually tried his hand at a proper driving song before — “Panama” was a stunningly sleek machine for a first-time effort.
Fuel Economy: As to be expected, even Roth’s car songs sound downright lascivious, with the showman singer bragging “Don’t you know she’s coming home with me/ You’ll lose her in that turn,” as sideman Eddie Van Halen audibly sets fire to his six-string on the scorching pre-chorus riff.
Overdrive: Nothing quite like that spoken-word bridge, when in between engine roars, Roth purrs the narration, “You reach down between my legs, and… eeeeeeeaaaaaaaase the seat back.” — A.U.
27. WILSON PICKETT, “MUSTANG SALLY”
Make and Model: A funky, slow-grooving R&B hit for Wilson Pickett in 1966, “Mustang Sally” is an anguished rebuke to a woman who’s gifted a brand-new car and promptly speeds off, leaving her would-be sugar daddy in the dust.
Fuel Economy: With crisp percussion, a solid bass groove and hot licks spitting out from the electric organ, “Mustang Sally” oozes ’60s R&B cool. This isn’t about driving from Point A to Point B — it’s the soundtrack to a boastful, luxurious ride around town in your toy.
Overdrive: Pickett sells his exasperation nicely, but when those backup vocals chime in on the lady’s side with “ride, Sally, ride,” it’s clear we’re all gunning to ride shotty with Sally. — J.L.
26. RIHANNA, “SHUT UP AND DRIVE”
Make and Model: On the follow-up to an early career-defining chart-topper in “Umbrella,” Rihanna switched gears and fired up the engines for this smoother-than-a-limousine electro-rocking single, proving her output of pop smashes would never merely come off the assembly line.
Fuel Economy: Running lean and mean, “Shut Up and Drive” was undeniably muscular for late ’00s radio — perhaps a little too much so, as the song was the lone Good Girl Gone Bad single to miss the Hot 100’s top 10 — but it was still an efficient if sharp turn for RiRi, one ultimately used on a variety of movie soundtracks and even a 2010s Mazda commercial.
Overdrive: Hard to argue with the break squeal that punctuates the middle of Rih’s insistence of “Baby you got the keys… now, shut up and drive.” — A.U.
25. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, “RACING IN THE STREET”
Make and Model: From 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, the favorite album among the most hardcore Springsteen fans, comes one of the saddest songs in The Boss’s canon full of small-town losers still looking to score — even though their fantasies are fading like an old paint job.
Fuel Economy: The majestic piano dirge details a car the narrator built “straight out of scratch,” which provides a sense of false bravado and separates him from guys he says “just give up living/ And start dying little by little, piece by piece.” But the third verse breaks through the facade as he sings about his girlfriend, her dreams shattered, who “stares off alone into the night/ With the eyes of one who hates for just being born.”
Overdrive: Even with a striking real-heads-only opening line like “I got a ’69 Chevy with a 396, fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor,” you don’t have to know a thing about cars to recognize the broken-down characters. — M. Newman
24. DR. DRE, “LET ME RIDE”
Make and Model: No, this ain’t Aerosmith blasting from your radio on your ride to L.A.’s south side — it’s the motherf–kin’ D-R-E, in the midst of creating the G-Funk sound that would soon become the driving soundtrack for the entire mid-’90s.
Fuel Economy: While Dre is on his lonesome cruising from Greenleaf to Slauson in his “four with sixteen switches,” “Let Me Ride” is such a vivid and joyous four-wheel journey that by the end of the song, the rapper/producer’s got everybody singing along to the Parliament-swiped hook: “Swing down, sweet chariot, stop, and… let… me ride!“
Overdrive: In the third verse, the MC unforgettably echoes the wide public anticipation that his audible presence “just up the street” caused back in 1992: “Is it Dre? Is it Dre?” — A.U.
23. CHARLI XCX, “VROOM VROOM”
Make and Model: Charli’s 2015 EP of the same name was no mere stopgap — it marked a turning point for the singer’s career, which always straddled the cusp of the mainstream and pop’s more daring fringes. With “Vroom Vroom” as her GPS and the PC Music crew as her co-navigators, she floored it for the latter — and never looked back.
Fuel Economy: “Vroom Vroom” sounds like a pop song not just about cars, but made by one: The late SOPHIE’s visionary production may as well have sampled the results of a crash-test site with all its scrape and bang sound effects. But just as SOPHIE often reveled in the tension between hard and soft sounds, Charli’s breezy, Y2K-era melodies on the pre-chorus are as plush as the seats of her lavender Lamborghini.
Overdrive: The track goes from zero to 100 as soon as that demon-gurgle bass line kicks in — easily the most lit moment of a Charli XCX show. — N.F.
22. THE MODERN LOVERS, “ROADRUNNER”
Make and Model: The Modern Lovers proto-punk classic was released in 1972, as an ode to blaring the radio on the open roads in Massachusetts, where frontman Jonathan Richman hails from.
Fuel Economy: The song captures the romanticism of being alone on the highway (or just the side streets) with nothing but the power of the AM radio to keep you company, and also succeeds in its sincere and openly biased loved for Richman’s home state.
Overdrive: When Richman boyishly sings “I’m in love with Massachusetts/ And the neon when it’s cold outside” in the song’s opening verse. — T.M.
21. MEAT LOAF, “PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHT”
Make and Model: Name one thing more American than this Jim Steinman-penned ode to trying to score in the backseat from Loaf’s mega-platinum 1977 masterpiece Bat Out of Hell. The operatic nearly nine-minute ode to faking it until she lets you make it famously includes an absurd interlude by former New York Yankees shortstop/announcer Phil Rizzuto, narrating a paper-thinly veiled baseball-as-sex rev-up.
Fuel Economy: Steinman said his goal was to write the “ultimate car/sex song in which everything goes horribly wrong in the end.” His overheated ode to teenage backseat fumbling hits all the automotive sex switches: parking by the lake, the drone of the radio, and a young man who will do anything for love, including that.
Overdrive: The mix of flop sweat, desperation and out-of-control hormones reaches a peak with the chorus wails, “Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night/ I can see paradise by the dashboard light.” — G.K.
20. KRAFTWERK, “AUTOBAHN”
Make and Model: It only sounds like “fun, fun, fun.” The lyrics to Kraftwerk’s first song with words — which became a surprise top 40 hit, reaching No. 25 on the Hot 100 in 1975 — are “fahr’n, fahr’n, fahr’n,” or driving, driving, driving. The music matches, steady as she goes: Can may have pioneered krautrock’s 4/4 motorik drumbeat, but Kraftwerk brought it to U.S. radio.
Fuel Economy: “Autobahn” isn’t about going anywhere but forward on a road that stretches out as a “graues Band” — a gray ribbon — through a sunlit valley. It’s an ode to sheer driving pleasure that thrums with synths as soothingly open and repetitive as the highway itself. Machinery never sounded so warm and inviting.
Overdrive: Toward the end of the song, “now we turn the radio on” — it sounds better in German — and the song that comes out of the speaker is “Wir fahr’n fahr’n far’n auf der Autobahn.” Essentially, “Autobahn” is a song about driving down the highway and listening to the radio play a song about driving down the highway and listening to the radio play a song about driving down the highway, and so on, until the road fades into the horizon. — R.L.
19. L’TRIMM, “CARS THAT GO BOOM”
Make and Model: Lady Tigra and Bunny D.’s song about guys with subwoofers hit the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988, but the playful hip-hop track found new life in 2020 when it went viral thanks to a TikTok push.
Fuel Economy: While plenty of songs focus on the drive itself, the Miami-based teens zeroed in on the sound system and the thrill of a booming bass, with equally exhilarating results.
Overdrive: Tigra and Bunny trading lines intended to shame you for your car’s lack of boom: “So if your speaker’s weak/Then please turn it off/’Cause we like the cars/That sound so tough.” — C.W.
18. WAR, “LOW RIDER”
Make and Model: A clanking cowbell and spitting drum roll set the stage for the titular driver (or just the automobile itself?) — either way, a star in its own right, as singer Charles Miller claims: “All my friends know the low rider.”
Fuel Economy: Not even Sanford and/or Son had theme music this funky in the 1970s, as the Low Rider gets higher and drives slower to the sweet sounds of loping bass and chirping alto sax.
Overdrive: After cruising with the rest of the band for the first two and a half minutes, at the end of the song, the sax peels out with its own soaring solo, as the Low Rider no doubt disappears into the sunset. — A.U.
17. THE KING COLE TRIO, “(GET YOUR KICKS ON) ROUTE 66”
Make and Model: This souped-up 1946 hit was initially credited to The King Cole Trio, the jazz trio that featured the legendary Nat “King” Cole.
Fuel Economy: “Route 66” is pure Americana. It was released in the year following the end of World War II, when Americans were hungry to return to normalcy, and celebrates the highway that facilitated interstate travel. It’s a song that has likely inspired more road trips over the ensuing decades than any other.
Overdrive: The song names 10 stops on the route from Chicago to L.A., including Joplin, Missouri, and Flagstaff, Arizona — and don’t forget Winona, of course. It all could have come off as corny, but instead it adds to the song’s retro charm. — P.G.
16. CHAMILLIONAIRE FEAT. KRAYZIE BONE, “RIDIN”
Make and Model: The on-the-go, Play-N-Skillz-produced 2005 single about racial profiling from Chamillionaire’s debut studio album, The Sound of Revenge, led the Hot 100 for two weeks in 2006, won a Grammy and spawned a fellow top-10 charting parody song from Weird “Al” Yankovic.
Fuel Economy: Chamillionaire’s Southern hip-hop stylings on “Ridin’” just don’t hit the same way unless they’re bumping out of vibrating car speakers. Passenger Krayzie Bone provides the perfect gear shift with his rapid-fire lyricism halfway through, which serves as a nice change of pace from the “swang it slow” feel that permeates elsewhere in the song.
Overdrive: The only acceptable answer here is: “They see me rollin’, they hatin’/ Patrollin’ and tryna catch me riiiidin’ dirrrrtyyyy….”– J.G.
15. GARY NUMAN, “CARS”
Make and Model: Gary Numan‘s early synth-pop classic off 1979 debut album The Pleasure Principle remains relevant to this day for its take on technology — whether behind the wheel or a digital screen.
Fuel Economy: Numan‘s timeless hit encapsulates the false sense of security, loneliness, and dependency that modern technology — in this case, cars — can leave with users, and it accomplishes this feat in just four chilling-yet-catchy verses and essentially a one-word chorus.
Overdrive: Numan‘s isolation and need comes through the moment he turns the ignition: “Here in my car/ I feel safest of all/ I can lock all my doors/ It’s the only way to live/ In cars.” — A.C.
14. JANIS JOPLIN, “MERCEDES BENZ”
Make and Model: “Mercedes Benz” is rock icon Janis Joplin’s short, comical a cappella jab at car consumerism, recorded just days before her death in 1970.
Fuel Economy: The song humorously asks the Lord to buy her a Mercedes Benz — because all her friends drive Porches and she deserves at least a Benz — delivered straight-faced in Joplin’s stunning, singular wail.
Overdrive: Her plea to the Lord for her Mercedes hits home when she claims her new luxury vehicle will “make amends” for working hard all her lifetime, “no help from her friends.” — T.M.
13. WARREN G FEAT. NATE DOGG, “REGULATE”
Make and Model: A stone G-Funk classic from 1994, “Regulate” finds Nate Dogg and Mr. Warren G hitting the East Side of the LBC and finding more action than they bargained for — though still taking some “skirts” back to the motel for their troubles.
Fuel Economy: Riding a Michael McDonald groove and a Bob James whistle hook, Warren G’s three-act odyssey perfectly captures the danger and allure of a late-night cruise that finds more twists and turns than expected — with Nate Dogg navigating brilliantly in the passenger seat.
Overdrive: Nate Dogg quoting his Death Row label head via a pickup’s coy request: “She said, ‘My car’s broke down and you sing real nice, would ya…. let… me ride?’” — A.U.
12. EAGLES, “TAKE IT EASY”
Make and Model: “Take It Easy” absolutely soars with the joy of the open road. From those instantly recognizable, layered, opening guitar chords to the Eagles’ soaring harmonies throughout, this first single from the band’s 1972 debut album reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, and set the stage for the group’s decades of massive success to come.
Fuel Economy: Written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, “Take It Easy” contains one of pop music’s greatest philosophical statements wrapped in automotive imagery: “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.”
Overdrive: In one concise, partly yelped rhyme, the song offers a hitchhiker’s fantasy: “It’s a girl, my Lord in flatbed Ford/ slowing down to take a look at me.” And with that, the Eagles put Winslow, Arizona on the pop music map. — T.D.
11. OLIVIA RODRIGO, “DRIVERS LICENSE”
Make and Model: In case you’ve recently emerged from a cave, “Drivers License” is the hearts-and-records-breaking suburban ballad from Olivia Rodrigo that sped onto the scene at the top of the year and previewed the singer-songwriter’s rapturously received debut album, Sour.
Fuel Economy: Never before has there been such a sincere and emotive ode to a plastic ID card, as Rodrigo equates the freedom of being a teen able to drive with the less exciting flip side of being a teen able to have your world shattered by a breakup for the first time.
Overdrive: The song’s near-one-minute bridge, which begins with Rodrigo crooning, “Red lights, stop signs,” takes the song into near-warp speed, swelling with emotion before she admits one last time to herself in a whisper: “Now I drive alone past your street.” — L.H.
10. THE BEATLES, “DRIVE MY CAR”
Make and Model: The rare car song from the chauffeur’s perspective, this 1965 Fab Four gem sees narrator Paul McCartney enlisted for transport by a would-be starlet — though as she admits in the song’s third-verse twist, she doesn’t exactly have the wheels for him just yet. The driver’s a start, anyway.
Fuel Economy: Kicking off the original U.K. tracklist to The Beatles’ classic 1965 LP Rubber Soul, “Drive My Car” opens in third gear and keeps humming from there, a funny, breezy, rollicking good time for all, even as the actual driving never escapes the theoretical.
Overdrive: Sing it with us now, falsetto if you can: “BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP, YEAH!!” — A.U.
9. CHUCK BERRY, “NO PARTICULAR PLACE TO GO”
Make and Model: Chuck Berry’s 1964 rock’n’roll romp hits like a warm breeze while riding down the highway — at least until that modern machine foils his date by way of a pesky, unfastenable seatbelt.
Fuel Economy: “No Particular Place to Go” is a snapshot of car culture in the 1960s, when autos were the ultimate social capital, played a part in the destination and — at least in this case — occasionally held the riders captive.
Overdrive: Berry truly pulls the listener in when he swoons, “Cuddlin’ more and drivin’ slow/ With no particular place to go.” — T.M.
8. NELLY FEAT. CITY SPUD, “RIDE WIT ME”
Make and Model: Though not officially released as a single in February 2001, this top-down anthem was a summertime hit for any driver who bought Nelly’s debut album, Country Grammar, when it dropped in June 2000.
Fuel Economy: A looped guitar part rides shotgun, keeping things light and lively, and with the song clocking in at nearly five minutes, “Ride Wit Me” provides just enough runway for you to shout “Must be the money!” exactly 17 times.
Overdrive: Nelly tipping his St. Louis Blues hat to one of the hottest cars at the time, the Range Rover HSE: “Watch me as I gas that 4 dot 6 Range/Watch the candy paint change every time I switch lanes.” — C.W.
7. JACKIE BRENSTON AND HIS DELTA CATS, “ROCKET 88”
Make and Model: Released in 1951 with rollicking piano, honking saxophone, fuzz-tone guitar, bluesy vocals and a driving beat, “Rocket 88” has widely been described as the first rock’n’roll song — and how fitting that a car song should have that honor! Credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, the track was actually the creation of Ike Turner and his band the Kings of Rhythm, for whom Brenston sang lead and played sax.
Fuel Economy: Brenston is said to have suggested the idea of the song to Turner, inspired by the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 full-sized sedan, which roared off a Detroit assembly line for the first time two years earlier.
Overdrive: Brentson’s voice glides gloriously over the word “jalopies” in Turner’s opening lyric as he laments “the noise they make” and proudly shows off “my new Rocket 88.” When he sings the second verse — ”V-8 motor and this modern design/ black convertible top and the gals don’t mind” — no showroom salesman could do better. — T.D.
6. GOLDEN EARRING, “RADAR LOVE”
Make and Model: A bleary-eyed and fevered ’70s road rave-up from Dutch rockers Golden Earring, “Radar Love” is the greatest musical approximation of the last leg of a seemingly endless highway journey home — when the only thing even keeping you conscious is singing along to “some forgotten song” on the radio.
Fuel Economy: With a murmuring bass line and cymbal-heavy drum rhythm as hypnotic as the road passing under your wheels, the song almost dares you to stay focused as the blacktop in front of you stretches on into nothingness and your hands get wetter and wetter on the steering wheel — though at least that instantly iconic guitar lick snaps you back to attention a couple times a verse.
Overdrive: Hard to pick just one signature moment from a song filled to the brim with unforgettable lyrics and musical figures — and let’s not forget about that unexpectedly action-packed midsong breakdown either — but a relatable highlight comes after that instrumental section, when Barry Hay insists, “No more speed, I’m almost there,” and you can’t tell whether it’s actually the truth or just road delirium speaking. — A.U.
5. PRINCE, “LITTLE RED CORVETTE”
Make and Model: In April 1983, this sexy song became Prince’s first top 10 hit on the Hot 100, peaking at No. 6 the following month. By current, “WAP”-era standards, this song is PG, but at the time, it was considered racy for a major, multi-format hit.
Fuel Economy: It’s a car song, a sex song and a Saturday night song (“It was Saturday night/I get that makes it all right”). How could it miss?
Overdrive: Prince had built a reputation as someone who was sexually adventurous, so it was fun to see him meet his match and have to confess “I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures of the jockeys that were there before me.” — P.G.
4. EAZY-E, “BOYZ-N-THE-HOOD”
Make and Model: The gangsta rap classic originally released as Eazy-E’s 1987 debut single before — being remodeled as a track on N.W.A’s self-titled EP, “Boyz-n-the-Hood” — finds Eazy taking listeners out on a day in the life, detailing every stop in his 1964 Chevy Impala, which doesn’t even make it to the end of the song.
Fuel Economy: Eazy casually cruises through a beautiful day in the neighborhood with the ease of Mr. Rogers, despite all the dangerous turns the song takes — from Kilo G’s grand theft auto conquest of an El Camino (which later lands him in the slammer) to Eazy’s recollection of shooting his old pal JD for trying to steal his car radio. Even the song’s origins are rooted in cars: Dr. Dre produced the song for Eazy as a favor after the latter bailed Dre out of jail for owing thousands of dollars in unpaid parking tickets for his Mazda RX7.
Overdrive: The rapper’s way of tracking his ordinary journey in his 6-4, from cruising down the streets in it to pulling up to the spot “where my homeboys chill,” takes an unexpected turn as he wraps it around a telephone pole before the night’s end. Ultimately, he proves how disposable his prized possession was all along, as he sing-songs, ”I looked at my car and I said, ‘Oh brother’/ I throw it in the gutter, and go buy another.” — H.M.
3. THE BEACH BOYS, “I GET AROUND”
Make and Model: A classic cool-kids anthem from the summer of 1964, the Beach Boys proved that the Cali kids could still do youth culture bangers as well as those moptops from Liverpool, as the song topped the Hot 100 for two weeks at the very height of Beatlemania.
Fuel Economy: The Beach Boys had more explicit car odes than this adrenaline-pumped ode to West Coast cruising, but none that captured the timeless feeling of driving the strip on a Saturday night with your buddies and your best girl, feeling absolutely invincible because your car still hasn’t been beaten even once.
Overdrive: Just nothing like that gorgeously harmonized (but still entirely no-nonsense) “Get-around-round-round, I get around” refrain, making you want to pop the collar on your letterman jacket every single time. — A.U.
2. TRACY CHAPMAN, “FAST CAR”
Make and Model: In this unlikely 1988 Hot 100 top 10 hit, Tracy Chapman tells the heart-rending folk-pop story of a woman escaping her bleak life in a fast car — only to drive right into yet another dreary reality.
Fuel Economy: The title vehicle serves as an escape plan, a bubble for the seemingly endless possibilities of romance and, finally, as a getaway car once more — but this time for her now-ex, as a fed-up Chapman delivers the devastating dismissal, “Take your fast car and keep on driving.”
Overdrive: Three storytelling verses backed by acoustic guitar all lead up to the moment when the chorus (and the drumbeat) finally kicks in: “So remember when we were driving/ Driving in your car….” — K.A.
1. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, “BORN TO RUN”
Make and Model: 46 years after its release “Born To Run” — the larger-than-life highway epic title track from Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album — remains as classic as any Ford truck, Chevy muscle car or other quintessential American model.
Fuel Economy: While the lyrics may not explicitly say so, make no mistake, this song is about a race: between the “death trap, suicide rap” small town that will pound your dreams into workaday submission and the “chrome wheeled, fuel injected” car that might deliver you from this fate — if you’re brave enough to get behind the wheel and just drive away. In this way then, “Born To Run” is about the dichotomy of fate and destiny: between acquiescing to the life into which you were born, or instead choosing to believe that you were actually born to run, to take a chance, to break free, to get in the car, ride out of Freehold, New Jersey on Highway 9. And in doing so, to embody the fundamentally American ideal of taking hold of your freedom and future via the talismanic vehicle that might deliver you and Wendy somewhere better — even if that somewhere better is for now just a undetermined location miles down the highway.
Overdrive: The famous wall-of-sound structure to “Born” is especially pronounced in the climax, where Bruce preaches that he wants to die with Wendy “in an everlasting kiss” — before the E Street Band launches into a crescendo of drums, keys and guitars, which crashes and gives way to a resurgent Boss, protesting that while the “highway is jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive,” his own quest will not be deterred by such gridlock. — K.B.