Driving Songs: An Almanac Roadtrip*

I hit my 40s; mid-life crisis some might call it but, for me, it was mid-life clarity. Now just a few years shy of the age when my father’s heart gave out on him, my inner dialogue of ‘one day…’ or ‘when you’re older you can get/do/be that’ turned into ‘Carpe diem, if it’s not now, it’s never.’

Call me a chip off the old block but I channelled my father when facing my mortality. Dad liked fast cars, real estate, dancing and good wine. I owned my home due to an inheritance from my father and had the drinking of wine pretty much down-pat; all I needed was to take up swing dancing (that’s a story for another time – cue Damian Callinan) and buy a decent car.

I already had a car. It was my unfailing companion – it never gave me trouble beyond a flat tyre or battery – but, let’s face it, this car was the redheaded stepchild of the motoring world: a 2001 Suzuki Ignis… in yellow. People were either laughing at or abusing Suzi Suzuki after drunkenly mistaking her for a cab on a Saturday night.

Dad had possessed a rollcall of V8s, station wagons, Alfas, Beemers… you name it. I needed to step up and make my father proud so I purchased a used 2008 Mini Cooper S Convertible Sidewalk (‘S’ being the operative word, as it stands for ‘supercharged’). ‘Why on Earth buy a convertible?’ people scoffed. Some of the other rebuffs from Negative Nancys included: ‘Convertibles leak’, ‘Convertibles are for wankers’ and ‘You’ll never use it in Melbourne’. My rebuttals: ‘Haven’t you heard of modern technology?’, ‘You’re just jealous’ and ‘I give you one word: roadtrip’.

I’ve always loved a good roadtrip, right back to the time when my bare legs would solder to the hot vinyl benchseats of our Falcon after a day winding around the Great Ocean Road. While the start/stop traffic of Melbourne is anything but idyllic, my routine regularly incorporates a trip up and down the Princes Highway to Geelong, the town of my birth. And, when this happens, there’s only one way to do it: with the top down and the stereo up.

Any number of songs could qualify as driving songs but, when I hit the highway, I have criteria to follow. These songs must have a rolling – driving, if you will – momentum that accelerates/exhilarates you, rather than pulls on the brakes. They need to be upbeat in a ‘punch the air’ kind of manner because roadtrips are about fun and freedom. They also need to have a sing-a-long quality. And, they need to be ‘showoffable’ because, if you’re gonna be a wanker, commit to it.

When you’re a girl and you drive a convertible, people of all persuasions chat to you at the traffic lights like they know you, men size you up or try dragging you off at the lights, and you’re an infinitely happier person, albeit one with messier hair. Never, never, let anyone tell you convertibles are a waste of money; the joy I’ve experienced driving a convertible – particularly during joyless times – has been beyond explanation. It’s just you, your velocity, your music and the moment. No one can catch you. You’re riding like the wind…

So, here’s my driving playlist. Songs are in no particular order and by no means limited to just these. Hit me with your suggestions and let’s build the definitive soundtrack, long enough for a roadtrip to the Moon and back.

Driver’s Seat
Sniff ‘n’ and the Tears
I always thought this song was by the Steve Miller Band, and I have no idea who Sniff ‘n’ the Tears are, but it’s a solid track and it’s got driving mentioned in the title.


Jet Airliner
Steve Miller Band
This one is actually by the Steve Miller Band. It’s about planes rather than cars but, depending on your car and the speed limit, it will have you flying.


Duran Duran
From the opening bar, Rio takes off like a rocket. Be careful to watch the accelerator because you’re likely to floor it before the second verse. And don’t listen to the lyrics – you’ll drive off the road trying to decipher them.


The B-52s
The moment Kate Pierson belts out ‘Boy, mercury shooting through every degree… Oh girl, dancing down those dirty and dusty trails’, you know you’re in for fun. Roam if you want to, roam around the world… Shout it out loud.


Ride Like the Wind
Christopher Cross
I love it when Christopher Cross gets bad-assed, because he’s the most un-bad-assed guy in pop music. He’s so white; he’s Tip Top bread. But Ride Like the Wind is one of those failsafe classics that will have you hitting the repeat button again and again. Just don’t program Arthur’s Theme by mistake.


Sympathy for the Devil
The Rolling Stones
What can I say? Ultimate driving song. I challenge anyone to dispute me.


Alone with You
There’s a jangling surf guitar sound to this Sunnyboys’ song that makes it perfect for open-road driving, especially when there’s a surfboard strapped to the roofrack or hanging out the window.


Give It to Me Baby
Rick James
This song has serious ‘pimp my ride’ value, plus it’s hilarious with lots of ‘showoffability’. Make sure everyone within a one-kilometre radius can hear you. It’s Rick James, bitch!


Our Lips are Sealed
The Go-Gos
This one’s for the gals or for really cool, self-assured guys. It’s feelgood pop that feels even better when sung at the top of your lungs. ‘Our lips are sealed!’ (or ‘Alex the seal!’)


Come Around
Mental As Anything
Give me Martin Plaza over Greedy Smith any day.

* Dedicated to Andrew Fithall, and that look of disgust on his face when he realises there’s not one song listed from the last 20 years.



Emma is a writer, reader and horror movie aficionado. When not having the bejesus scared out of her, she wrangles content creation for her company, Bakewood.


  1. Listening to Duran Duran should be banned in a bunker 300 metres underground, let alone in a convertible. BUT, I take your point.

    Sunny Boys – superb
    Stones – magnificent.

    Try The Cure’s “Primary” – it was built for a road trip.
    And Matt Taylor’s “From Brisbane to Beechworth” – doesn’t get much better.

  2. What ?!? No Roadhouse Blues !? The definitive Doors driving song.

    Alos the Slim Dusty classic, lights on the hill, to remind you to concentrate on the road whilst you’re tapping your fingers on the steering wheel.


  3. some great stuff here. love Driver’s Seat

  4. Emma try allman brothers Jessica with the beat build riff for driving ever imho. Also ramblin man. Met butch trucks in a bar in Tallahassee . He was most circumspect about never touring oz

  5. I knew this was gonna be by you even before I saw the byline, Emma. I didn’t actually know your car was a chop-top – I need proof. I’m sure I can dig out a foxy little Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief type headscarf.
    My go to song is Pump It Up, especially as you hit the freeway, although it’s guaranteed to lose you a few demerit points; US Forces – good for steering wheel thumping; and (trust me), Love Runs Out by OneRepublic, which not only allows you to sing loudly but also shows you’re up with the young people. Oh, also It’s Raining Men. I mean, that’s appropriate any time.

    PS: Duran Duran is the dawg, Dips!

  6. Georgie – the dawg? Is that good or bad? Or should I ask my teenage children?

  7. Making a playlist on the phone at this very moment. Ripper list Emma.

    A few I’d add from my own driving playlists over the years:

    Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs (the ideal starter as you pull out at the beginning of a long drive)
    The Way (Roads Paved with Gold) by Fastball
    Love Shack by the B-52s

    Itching to hop in the car!

  8. ned_wilson says

    Great topic. Have had a flashback to my early driving years in the 90’s. The Offspring’s Bad Habit got a fair run… Not really my go these days.

  9. Andrew Weiss says

    One of my favourites is ‘Here I go again’ by Whitesnake. Starts of slowly before it reaches its crescendo. On to play with the volume on ten singing your heart out whilst on the open road.

  10. Fantastic Emma. Who doesn’t love a roadtrip? Some ripping songs here.

    Driver’s Seat still goes nicely. As it was on a compilation cassette I received in about 1979 I know it pretty well, and when living out on our state’s West Coast won a radio contest because of this. It was one of those guess the song based on a half second snippet competitions that was on every morning. The announcer said to me off air that he was sure it would take about a month for someone to correctly guess, so he was a bit miffed that I got it after its first airing. My prize wasn’t a Caribbean cruise but a $20 voucher at Port Augusta’s discount store. I struggled to spend the $20.

    The B52’s go well too. In 1989 some school mates and I drove to and from Brisbane, and the hire car didn’t have a CD player but a cassette deck. One of the only tapes we had was the B52’s Cosmic Thing, and great as it is, after a fortnight of hearing it at least three times a day, I had no option but to hide the cassette at the bottom of my bag. My four travelling mates knew it was me, and retrieved the tape when I was at the pool one afternoon. Arrgggh.

    My favourite roadtrip moment was driving from Anaheim to Santa Monica which is about 70 kilometres each way. I know it’s within a city so probably doesn’t technically count, but hearing LA Woman in this context was pretty cool.

    The Sunnyboys track is fantastic too. Thanks Emma.

  11. Thanks Emma. Very enjoyable.
    Great Ocean Road, Aireys Inlet to Anglesea: Wedding Cake Island. then Anglesea to Melbourne with the rest of the surf-mix-tape a mate of mine made a few years back.

  12. Keiran Croker says

    Wide Open Road by Triffids or WPA.
    Great suggestion re Allman Bros there Nank. I love that Brothers & Sisters record.
    Could also add the whole Black Keys cd Camino which rocks from start to finish.

  13. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Plenty of good ones added above.

    I’ve got a few go to compilations of 70s Glam Rock and 80s Indie that often get a run on Highway 8. Paul Kelly always gets a guernsey, maybe because of our destination.

    But nothing beats the ode to Route 128 in Massachusetts, Roadrunner by the Modern Lovers.

    Surely you can’t be in your forties though Emma.

  14. Born to Run, Leaps and Bounds, Left of the Dial (The Replacements) and Wide Open Road by Mr Cash … Great set of songs Ms Emma.

  15. Listening to Warren Zevon, WPA, Spiderbait and Slim Dusty on the drive to Ardlethan. Highly recommended.


  16. Peter Flynn says

    I find the construction of such lists impossible because of the omissions.

    Largely a terrific list here Old Mate.

    I love Come Around so heaps of nodding at that choice.

    Mickey, you’ve reminded me that myself and the late Allan Way used to list songs titles involving American cities. When you thinks about it, there’s heaps and there’s some rippers. And the odd shocker.


  17. This is not the way home. Superb. Mime the vomit!

    we have many different playlists for the girls:

    * a late 70’s ish mix I made for Poker nights (blondie, L Lovich, PIL, The Jam, Devo, Kate Bush, Squeeze etc
    * a Nancy/Lee and Johnny/June mix, pivoting off the Jacksons
    * a girl power one, including the Go-Gos and Bangles and others

    Best driving solo used to be best of Creedence. Sweet Hitchiker going across timber bridges on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. Yeah yeah yeah!

    Oh, and the River. That’s pretty good.

  18. Scott McIntyre says

    Love Kate Peirson’s full-throated work on Roam.

    Martin Plaza’s voice should be on some sort of register of Australian national monuments, if we have one.

    I nominate 2-4-6-8 Motorway by Tom Robinson.

    1. It is about driving a lorry

    2. It chugs on down the road like a lorry

    3. It has one of the great singalong/shoutalong choruses of all time

  19. Thanks. I’m on the road this week.

    May I suggest…

    Roadtrain by the Pigram Brothers

    The Empty Seat Beside Me by Chris Wall that contains the great road lyric… “Crazy idea about the windscreen and mirror / Meaning’s clear one’s the future one’s the past…”

    And yeah, Ramblin Man

  20. A brilliant list, Emma. I’m liking it a lot.

    May I suggest Redgum’s “100 Years On”, brilliant road trip track.
    “Wide open road” is also a must (as suggested by K Croker).

    And, yes, it’s true – Andrew F will not be happy.

  21. Great topic Emma.
    “Walking on Sunshine” – Katrina and the Waves – best ever song for drumming on the steering wheel.
    “Hungry Heart” – The Boss. “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore Jack; I went out for a ride and I never went back; Like a River that don’t know where it’s flowin’; I took a wrong turn and I just kept goin’.” Best ever song for yelling the lyrics. No need to be able to sing. How many times did I head off for work with those lyrics in my head and just want to keep driving all day?
    “Truckin” by the Grateful Dead. Great boppy melodic driving song, with my fave lyrical refrain at the end.
    “Sometimes the light’s all shining on me; Other times I can barely see; Lately it occurs to me; What a long strange trip it’s been”.

  22. Glen Potter says

    Great list, Emma.
    Driver’s Seat and Roam are apt choices. Jet Airliner is a ripper – great bass riff, too. Just as Alex the Seal, sorry, Our Lips are Sealed, has as well.
    Sympathy For the Devil is a classic. The lead break still provides a chill down my spine.
    Any road trip across Australia I’ve made it mandatory to play Midnight Oil songs. I’ve found them a kind of ‘songs from land’, band. I suppose we have a few bands like that in Australia. I mean, why not play John Williamson, for the same reason? But it’s the Oils that do it for me.
    Wangaratta Wahine always gets a run on the Hume Hwy. No explanation required.
    Glen Potter

  23. Dips – I think “dawg” is good, at least that’s how I meant it. But could you please check with your kids?

    I note several Springsteen songs have been nominated, all worthy. “No Surrender” has got to be up there.

  24. Emma Westwood says

    Thank you, EVERYONE. The playlist is growing. I’ll give it until next week then make it all come together on Spotify, which I’ll then share here on the Almanac. It’s driving season!

    Georgie, I can’t believe I haven’t taken the top down for you??

  25. Hi Emma

    We are holidaying on Philip Island and playing driving music. Currently it’s The Memphis Record by Elvis. While strictly not a record the songs come from arguably his best recording sessions. There’s a treasure trove of driving songs here but I’ll nominate Inherit the Wind and Kentucky Rain. The former contains elements you ascribe to a great driving song but can i add another element? That is, that one wonky line in the chorus we forgive because we love the gist of the song. Inherit the Wind has one but i belt it out as we’re driving along.


  26. Paul Campbell says

    Hi Emma,

    Thanks for an enjoyable topic and read. My thoughts…

    John Lee Hooker – ‘Boom Boom’.

    Canned Heat – (1) ‘Going Up The Country’.
    (2) ‘Dust My Broom (Live)’ (cover of Elmore James).

    Chuck Berry – (1) ‘Maybellene’.
    (2) ‘You Can’t Catch Me’.
    (3) ‘Roll Over Beethoven’.
    (4) ‘You Came A Long Way From St. Louis’.

    Taj Mahal – (1) ‘Leaving Trunk’.
    (2) ‘Six Days On The Road’

    Stevie Ray Vaughan – (1) ‘Pride and Joy’.
    (2) ‘Guitar Hurricane’.

    The Shouting Matches – ‘Mother, When?’

    ZZ Top – ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’.

    The Beach Boys – ‘Surfin’ USA’.

    John Mellencamp – ‘Small Town’.

    Tom Petty – (1) ‘Saving Grace’.
    (2) ‘Turn This Car Around’.
    (3) ‘I Should Have Known It’.

    Powderfinger – (1) ‘Waiting For The Sun’.
    (2) ‘Baby, I’ve Got You On My Mind’.

    Soundgarden – ‘Been Away Too Long’.

    Foo Fighters – ‘Everlong’.

    I’d better pull up.

  27. Thanks Emma. Gave “Get yer ya-yas out” a run yesterday. Reckon Midnight Rambler’s the Stones’ one.
    also, must agree with Glen re Doors’ Roadhouse Blues.
    Always used to like the vibe of a Cars track when rolling down the highway.
    Not a Springsteen fan at all but would happily plump for Glory Days

  28. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff Emma,
    Love the Sunnyboys and Sniff ‘n the Tears. B52’s Rock Lobster would just shade Roam for me. Still a cool song to drive to. Five of my driving faves in no particular order:
    1. Bad to the Bone – George Thorogood
    2. Far Side of Crazy – Wall of Voodoo
    3. Boys of Summer – Don Henley
    4. Atomic – Blondie
    5. Take it Easy – The Eagles

  29. Peter Flynn says

    Bloody hell Emma.

    I’ve gone through my Spotify.

    A sample of 5 in no order and hundreds of omissions.

    Once Bitten Twice Shy – Ian Hunter

    I’m a Man – The Yardbirds

    A Town Called Malice – The Jam

    The Battle of New Orleans – Johnny Horton

    Long Tall Glasses – Leo Sayer

    This will change tomorrow.

  30. Georgie – checked at home with the kids. “Dawg” is only cool if the right people use it. Without going into too much detail, a white Anglo Saxon, over 38, Australian female shouldn’t use the word.

  31. Some of our best roof down 6th gear sing like no one can hear moments have been had to Roam Emma. Well played.

    You know I’ll have to add:

    (Spotify users: check out)

    1. Mighty Mighty – Baby Huey & the Babysitters
    2. This Time – INXS
    3. Move On Up – Curtis Mayfield
    4. Speed of Life – David Bowie
    5. You’re Not the Only One (Who Feels This Way) – Ammonia
    6. I Want to Take You Higher – Sly and the Family Stone

  32. Emma Westwood says

    I feel compelled to let everyone know you MUST watch that clip of The Rolling Stones performing ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. It’s worth it for David Frost’s intro alone.

    Also, the clip for Rick James’ ‘Give It to Me Baby’ – can you get funkier than those dancers? I don’t think so.

    PJ Flynn has gone with a Leo Sayer track. Classic.

  33. How can we not include Evie, Parts, 1, 2 & 3? It seemed to last most of the journey, and it is Stevie Wright at his best.


  34. Great Songs
    I would include
    1. California Dreaming – The Mamas and the Papas
    2. Solid Rock – Goanna
    3. As one – The Dropkick Murphys
    4. Tangled up in Blue – Bob Dylan
    5. Tomorrow Calling – Bryan Ferry
    6. Say a little Prayer -Aretha Franklin
    7. Throw your arms around me – Hunters and Collectors
    8. When we were young – The Killers
    9. One Country – Midnight Oil
    10. Lover’s eyes – Mumford and Sons

  35. kath presdee says

    How could any driving songs list post Wayne’s World not have Bohemian Rhapsody?

    I’m also becoming partial to Knights of Cydonia by Muse and, if you’re near the coast, the sun is shining and you’re in no great rush, John Butler Trio.

  36. Emma Westwood says

    So far, our roadtrip soundtrack is over 4 hours long. That’s a nice little trip from Melbourne up northeast into Alpine country. Keep on truckin’…

  37. Wide Open Road – The triffids – THE road song.
    Just drive she said.
    Roadhouse blues
    I had taken to playing old Ramones albums on longer drives…

  38. Jesus – I almost forgot Ministry and the hot rod song!

  39. Opening bars of Everybody Needs Somebody (To Love) makes you thrust that three-on-the-tree into first and hit the gas.

  40. All the way to sweet home Chicago.

  41. Six Days on the Road by Dave Dudley
    Mountain of Love by Johnny Rivers
    Rockville by REM
    Truckin Lady by The Junes

  42. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Emma.

    Some of my favourites for the 2 hour trip to Melbourne-

    Locked Out – Crowded House
    Making Our Way- Skipping Girl Vinegar
    Light In the Dark- Catherine Traicos
    The Right Time- Hoodoo Gurus
    Things Don’t Seem- Australian Crawl
    Take Me Out- Franz Ferdinand

    But I’m an album man when driving. ‘The Jaws of Life’ and ‘Human Frailty’ by Hunters & Collectors are superb driving albums. And anything by AC/DC is perfect for the highway. Or any road.

  43. Ronnie Van Zant’s famous “Turn it up” instruction is the perfect opening to a cracking driving song – Sweet Home Alabama

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