Rock musicians seem to have disproportionately populated the genre of “songs about being on the road.” Perhaps this owes to The Beatles, who helped pioneer the notion that popular musicians can and should write their own material.
Swing era musicians played one-nighters and traveled, too — quite uncomfortably on lousy roads in buses and private cars, but for the most part they played songs written by professional songwriters who might last months without leaving their big city neighborhoods.
Here are two lists.
While there may be other notable omissions, two stand out for me, with a caveat: I understand completely that white men wrote these two numbers — which are quite obviously sexist — as well as most (and maybe all) of the songs on the linked lists. If you have examples of better diversity in this genre of songwriting, let me know. I’m eager to learn more.
Lynyrd Skynrd’s 1977 album Street Survivors was released three days before a plane crash claimed the lives of band leader, singer and primary songwriter Ronnie Van Zant, and Steve Gaines, a singer-guitarist of considerable potential who might have become McCartney to Van Zant’s Lennon.
In retrospect, the entire album can be heard as a rumination on the life of a traveling band, but the opening track “What’s Your Name” stands out. If you’re not aware of what Lynyrd Skynyrd meant in the 1970s, be educated: had that plane not crashed, this album would have been viewed as the advent of international superstars. They were THAT good.
At the top of the page is a video of the ideal “road” song, appropriately titled “Back on the Road Again,” as performed by REO Speedwagon. What’s more, it’s written by bass player Bruce Hall, who also sings it — and who doesn’t love it when the lesser known members of a band get their evening’s share of the spotlight?
Hall obviously relishes his solo turn, and I’ve always been a huge fan of the late Gary Richrath, guitarist extraordinaire, who shreds in this video.