14 Musicians Share Under-the-Radar Songs to Add to Your Road Trip Playlist

Update your iTunes before you hit the open road.

If you are planning a road trip — say, for Labor Day weekend! — the right music can make the journey. For advice on what tunes to pack into your ride, we turned to the experts on the subject: professional musicians, who spend much of their time on the road. If these tunes —some mainstream, but many likely new to you — keep these road warriors going, you might want to get to downloading too!

1.  Meat Loaf

"When I’m on the road playing shows or road trippin’ with my family, 'Life in the Fast Lane' by The Eagles is my go-to jam. It’s also the song I listened to before every single show for over 10 years. I’m a big fan of Joe Walsh, especially in this song."

2.  Gang of Four's Andy Gill

"'She Moves Me' from The Best of Muddy Waters. Muddy Waters is great for driving in the summer — or thinking about it in the winter. Great for staring into empty space and connecting with all the stuff that always feels out of reach. I found an old worn-out vinyl LP of The Best of Muddy Waters in Leeds. In the hot summer of '78, I remember sitting with the window wide open in the heat listening to Muddy Waters again and again."

3.  Jazz musician Sean Sonderegger

"I'm finishing my PhD at Wesleyan University, and my house and my family is in Brooklyn — driving 200 miles a week, I definitely have plenty of time to listen to music. One of my favorite albums to listen to when I'm driving back home is D'Angelo's Black Messiah. I love the emotional range and when I put on '1,000 Deaths,' it always gets me pumped to start my journey. It's a two-hour drive so I usually follow that with Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. I love 'Wesley's Theory' on that album, hearing my friend Stephen (Thundercat)'s tune with George Clinton on it always makes me smile, and Clinton's line, "look both ways before you cross my mind" is one of his greatest ever (up there with anything from his Parliament days). I also sometimes listen to Weezer's Blue Album or Nevermind, but I always skip 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and 'My Name is Jonas.'"

4.  Karmin

"Listening to music when you're traveling turns your trip into a real-life movie montage, especially if you're visiting somewhere for the first time. For our trip that we're on right now, it's been Alabama Shakes Sound and Color — what a great album! And it gets even better when you can see new parts of the world while having it blast in your headphones."

5.  Spin Doctors' Chris Barron

"Look," says Barron, "The Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street is the quintessential road trip album. Ranging, rough and varied, it has a song for every velocity and altitude. A perfect skein for weaving memories, don't leave home without it." 

6.  Musician/songwriter Tom Brislin

“'The Boys of Summer' by Don Henley. It might seem like a too-obvious choice," says Brislin, who has toured with Yes, Meat Loaf, Debbie Harry, Renaissance, and produced solo album Hurry Up and Smell the Roses, "but I feel like there’s a certain melancholy in this song that mirrors the feelings of summer coming to a close. Plus, it’s got a driving flow that makes for a good road-trip soundtrack." 

7.  Lava Records C.E.O. and founder Jason Flom

“Drake, always Drake. Because, you know… Drake. In addition to Drake on this Labor Day, I’ll be listening to two new Lava artists who I’m super stoked about, Stanaj and Maty Noyes.”

8.  Singer/songwriter Sylvia Tosun

"Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back is my road trip album of choice. No drums, no guitars — just Gabriel's incredible voice with a backdrop of a lush and rhythmic orchestral sounds, sawing away, unmercifully, taking the listener on a deep wild journey of epic gorgeousness," says Tosun.

9.  Musician Kasim Sulton

"There are two musts, one fairly mainstream, the other more obscure," says Kasim Sulton, who in addition to his work with Meat Loaf and Ringo Starr, was also a key player for Hall & Oates, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, Patty Smith, Patty Smyth, and Blue Oyster Cult among many others. "One is Nik Kershaw's The Works, given to me by Mickey Curry years ago. The musicianship is off the charts. Makes me feel like there is so much more to learn." 

The other, says, Sulton is Rufus Wainwright's Want One. "When Elton John calls you the most significant songwriter of the 20th Century, you know you're worthy. Rufus has a melodic sense like no other and his quirky lyrics follow no set rules. As a songwriter, when I say to myself, 'I wish I had written that!' I"m forever in love with that artist."

10.  Tamela Mann

"Recently, I road tested my One Way album. I love to listen to so many different artists and songs, so I wouldn't normally listen to my own album. But, this one is different. The diversity of the tracks made it a perfect playlist for the open road. The songs I turned up and put on repeat were 'Say Oh' and 'That's What He Did' because they're up-tempo and kicked the drive into high gear."

11.  Grace McLean

Grace McLean just closed out Lincoln Center's historic American Songbook Series with a sold-out show in which The New York Times' tough critic, Stephen Holden, called her "phenomenal." As for her favorite road trip music, McClean says: "Paul Simon's Graceland is my essential road trip album, but only when I'm in the front seat! There's something about seeing the road be devoured that satisfies the desire to leave something behind and hurtle forward to something new, but not to be there just yet. Also, this month is the 30th anniversary of its release!"

12.  Oh Land

"Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence from 1966: Particularly when touring North America, it fits. When you are driving through the redwoods of California or the snowy mountains of Vermont. theres something very outdoorsy about that album and there's a sense of time standing still in the music which is the feeling I often have when Im on the road. As if the whole world stops and you just live in the moment."

13.  Gary Lucas

Called “a modern guitar miracle” by Rolling Stone, Lucas goes for international flair on his road trips. "I always take something by the great Italian songwriter Paolo Conte with me when I go on the road. He is my all-time favorite artist and I had the pleasure of meeting him and hanging with him backstage at Royal Albert Hall in London recently. My favorite songs of his include 'Elisir,' 'Via Con Me,' and 'Sparring Partner.' He is the best!"

14.  Sasha Dobson of Puss N' Boots with Norah Jones and Kat Popper


"Scott Walker's Scott 3 will take you places you've never been before. Amazing for opening up the mind and mending the heart. Truly magical musicianship and story telling," says Dobson. "Milt Jackson's Very Tall, for driving when you are tired. Great feel and listen for a true swing feel. Deep and joyful, and Notorious BIG's Ready To Die is great for getting through the day. Remembering what matters, dancing, being strong. I like the way this album reminds me what's important. His writing is always a sobering experience."

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