If you’re taking a cross-country family road trip, it is no secret that the driving playlist in the car is an integral component of a successful adventure. Rockin’ down the highway across the country in your Corvette is a hundred times better with some great songs to sing along to.
Musicians have been writing and singing about the open road for centuries. There really is no better way to make long days on the road pass by like the breeze than by putting on the best 70s driving songs and blasting them loud in the car speakers.
The Best 70s Driving Songs of All Time
The 1970s were a decade to remember — marginalized groups were fighting for equal rights, the anti-war in Vietnam sentiment reached an all-time high, the Watergate scandal and Nixon went down, NYC was nearing debt and destruction, hippies were in full force, and classic rock and disco music were playing on 8-tracks everywhere.
This decade arguably produced some of the best songs of all time. From Fleetwood Mac to Bruce Springsteen to Jackson Browne to Janis Joplin, the 1970s paved the way for American classic rock.
20. “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen
The title track off of his third studio album, “Born to Run” is ranked in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and is the tune that first helped Springsteen reach his worldwide popularity.
19. “Take it Easy” by the Eagles
Released on the Eagles album in 1972, “Take it Easy” took the world by storm. You can even visit the Standin’ On The Corner Park off of Interstate 40 in Winslow, Arizona, and take your picture with the statue and sign.
18. “Radar Love” by Golden Earring
A love song about the open road and chasing your crush, this 70s classic rock song was released by Golden Earring in 1973 on their album “Moontan.”
17. “Listen to the Music” by The Doobie Brothers
Issued on The Doobie Brothers’ “Toulouse Street” album in 1972, “Listen to the Music” is one of the greatest rock songs of the decade, if not all time. The lead vocalist, Tom Johnston, who wrote the song said about it, “Just basically that music would make everything better. And of course, I’ve since kind of realized it doesn’t work that way.”
16. “Midnight Rider” by Allman Brothers Band
Debuting on the Allman Brothers Band’s Idlewild South album in 1970, “Mightnight Rider” was Gregg Allman’s trademark song, inspired by how he continued living in the face of challenges.
15. “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan
A classic protest song by Bob Dylan, “Hurricane” was written about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer who spent 19 years in jail for a murder Dylan says he did not commit.
14. “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
Inspired by a fire started by a flare gun at a Frank Zappa concert at a casino in Montreux, Switzerland on December 4, 1971. Deep Purple wrote the song, which begins with one of the most recognizable guitar riffs, after watching the blaze from a nearby restaurant.
13. “Truckin'” by the Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead is the American rock band that started the “jam band” craze in the hippie scene, and “Truckin'” was one of the band’s most popular hits from their 1970 “American Beauty” album. Bob Weir, the guitarist/vocalist, says the song is all about the romance of hitting the road.
12. “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson
Texas’s Willie Nelson, The king of country, wrote this classic as a spur-of-the-moment tune for a movie and he ended up winning a Grammy for it in 1980.
11. “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne
Recorded onstage, backstage, and in hotel rooms on tour, “Running on Empty” was Jackson Browne’s ode to life on the road. He told Rolling Stone, “I was always driving around with no gas in the car, I just never bothered to fill up the tank because – how far was it anyway? Just a few blocks.”
10. “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones
Released on The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” album in 1971, this song seems like a good-feeling rock song. However, the song was written about African slaves sold in New Orleans and the hellish life they faced.
9. “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers
8. “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin
Issued on Joplin’s “Pearl” iconic album in 1971, this love song was written by Kris Kristofferson and was the tune that brought his career (and Janis’) to the next level.
7. “You Make Loving Fun” by Fleetwood Mac
One of the four tracks written by Christine McVie for Fleetwood Mac’s”Rumours” album in 1977, “You Make Loving Fun” was actually about McVie’s post-divorce relationship with the band’s lighting technician Curry Grant.
6. “Peace Frog” by The Doors
Debuted on The Doors’ “Morrison Hotel” album in 1970, “Peace Frog” was based on two of Morrison’s poems, one called Abortion Stories, which is where the bloody references came from.
5. “Let it Be” by The Beatles
One of the most moving songs of all time, “Let It Be” was released by The Beatles in 1970 on their album of the same name. Paul McCartney wrote the song about his mother Mary, who passed when he was 14.
4. “Baba O’Riley” by The Who
Also known as “Teenage Wasteland,” this memorable song by The Who was on their 1971 album called “Who’s Next.” The title actually stems from Meher Baba, who was Pete Townshend’s spiritual guru and the second part from Terry Riley, an experimental, minimalist composer that Townshend was a fan of.
3. “Slow Ride” by Foghat
This classic rock staple by rock outfit Foghat features a rare feat of fusing an R&B theme with uptempo guitar riffs. There is no question why “Slow Ride” is on our list of 70s driving songs.
2. “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC
This rock anthem from AC/DC’s 1979 album of the same name is a quintessential road trip song. The highway this song references is the “Canning Highway” in Australia that goes from Fremantle and ends at a favorite bar called The Raffles, frequented by rock and rollers in the 70s.
1. “American Girl” by Tom Petty
This track from the first Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album ended up becoming one of the band’s greatest hits. When asked about it, Petty said “I wrote that in a little apartment I had in Encino. It was right next to the freeway and the cars sometimes sounded like waves from the ocean, which is why there’s the line about the waves crashing on the beach. The words just came tumbling out very quickly – and it was the start of writing about people who are longing for something else in life, something better than they have.”
1970s Road Trip Playlist
There you have it! The all-time list of the best driving songs from the seventies. A rare decade of civil unrest, mind-expanding pop culture, and class rock hits that are a part of American history now. Listen to our Spotify playlist on your next trip on the open road.
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