Road trip across America with the perfect soundtrack — Photo courtesy of E+/wundervisuals
In our series of road trip playlists so far, we've covered topics like cars, roads and driving. They're all fair topics that are only logical, but it's time we start focusing on the reason for the trip.
You're exploring, you're going somewhere, you're seeing new things and there's a destination you're trying to reach. And more than likely, you're road tripping across the United States.
With that in mind (and with a dash of patriotism because 'tis the season), we've compiled for you a list of songs about America.
"America" - Simon & Garfunkel
"Kathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh / Michigan seems like a dream to me now / It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw / I've gone to look for America"
In 1964, Paul Simon was called back to the U.S. from London to finalize work on an album. He did return, but he traveled across America with his girlfriend, Kathy Chitty, for five days instead of going back to the studio. The songwriting triumph that is "America" is the result of that excursion. All these years later, it continues to fuel our wanderlust for exploring the country in any way we can.
"We're an American Band" - Grand Funk Railroad
The semi-autobiographical "We're an American Band" provides a glimpse into life on the road for a hard rock band during the 1970s. The days blur together as they tour the country, encountering all sorts of people, from music royalty to enthusiastic groupies. But at the end of the day, the goal and the message stay the same: "We're comin' to your town / We'll help you party it down / We're an American band."
"R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." - John Mellencamp
An ode to 1960s rock and roll, you can't help but start moving when you hear this bouncy, upbeat Mellencamp tune. Giving credit where credit is due, "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." recalls how American musicians like Frankie Lymon, Martha Reeves, and The Young Rascals struggled and sacrificed to forever influence the music world.
"Kids in America" - The Muffs
"New York to east California / There's a new wave coming, I warn ya"
Kim Wilde's smash hit debut single has been re-recorded and covered so many times that there was quite a debate about which version to showcase here. "...but it's on the Clueless soundtrack!" is a surprisingly quick way to end most arguments, so it follows that we have indeed sided with The Muffs' punk-spiked cover.
Listening yet again to this song about youth and the dawn of a new age, we'll try to ignore the fact that this cover is more than twenty years old and that we're an awfully long way from being kids ourselves.
"America" - The Vapors
We'll always seize upon any opportunity to remind readers that there's more to The Vapors than "Turning Japanese." Today, we're aiming the spotlight towards "America," one of many highlights from the band's spectacular debut album.
Its lyrics weave a conflicted story about someone who can't stomach the thought of staying in a tumultuous relationship but can't quite tear himself away either. Where better to start anew than in America? And there's nothing in the rulebook saying that the two of them can't eke out a fresh start together.
"Surfin' U.S.A." - The Beach Boys
The United States is among just a handful of countries to border multiple oceans, offering two coasts' worth of beaches just ripe for surfing. (More, even, since surfing the Arctic Ocean from Alaska is a thing.)
As many thousands upon thousands of miles of shoreline as there are, most of the nation is still quite a drive from being able to hit the waves. On their second album, The Beach Boys wondered what it'd be like if the U.S. were one endless beach. Spoiler: everybody's gone surfin'.
"Back in the U.S.A." - Chuck Berry
They say there's no place like home. And it's that exact sentiment Chuck Berry shared as he penned "Back in the U.S.A.," a mere 10 days after returning from a tour in Australia.
He sings "Oh well, oh well, I feel so good today / We touched ground on an international runway / Jet propelled back home, from over the seas to the U.S.A.," and you can't help but feel the joy in his revelatory return in both the lyrics and high-spirited music.
"(You Can Still) Rock in America" - Night Ranger
It's been 35 years, so we put our team of fact checkers to work, ensuring that the lead track to Night Ranger's Midnight Madness is properly up to date. As it turns out, they stand in agreement with songwriters Jack Blades and Brad Gillis: you can, in fact, still rock in America. But it's probably not easy as it was back then to sneak out to late night rock shows, like the siblings chronicled in this song did.
"America" - Prince and The Revolution
Don't worry! This is the album version of "America," as heard on Prince and The Revolution's Around in the World in a Day. (The twenty minute-plus jam from the 12" would be a bit much for this particular playlist.) Rooted in Cold War-era fears about Communism and looming nuclear war, "America" was once described by Prince as being "straightforwardly patriotic."
His definition of "straightforward" may vary from yours, but if you don't feel up to interpreting the song's lyrics right now, just escape into the infectious groove and shout along with Prince as he sings "America, America / God shed his grace on thee."
"America the Beautiful" - Ray Charles
This America-themed playlist wouldn't be complete without Ray Charles' superb soulful version of "America the Beautiful." The song conjures images of breathtaking landscapes, American icons like apple pie and baseball, and our country's diverse population uniting for the good; everything that truly makes America beautiful. And it's the message we'd like to leave with you as this playlist comes to a bittersweet end.