When it comes to songs about travel, there’s plenty looming giants that drown out the subtler stars. Now, I love “Route 66” and “On the Road Again” as much as the next red-blooded American. And I’ve got a well-bred affection for “Graceland,” “Booby McGee” and “I’ve Been Everywhere.” But when it comes to the songs that really get my feet itching and fingers a’packing, it’s all about the lesser-known jams.
Call it the forever-to-the-contrary, anti-mainstream, cranky old punk in me, but I think these songs kill the more widely embraced classics (though, baby I was born to run too). I’ve listed them vaguely in order of ranking, but more in terms of a flow fit best for you’re listening pleasure.
In the spirit of old mix tape, my early Christmas present to you:
1. Hard Travelin’, Woody Guthrie
Whenever a bus is delayed or flight canceled, I wanna bust out a harmonica (that I don’t own and can’t play) and break into a freestyle rendition of “Hard Travelin'”. I may have been born three generations too late to live the train-hopping, vagabonding hobo dream, but Woody’s keeping it alive for me.
Best Line: “That mean old judge done said to me / It’s 90 days for vagrancy / And I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’, Lord”
2. Ramblin’ Man, Hank Williams III and Melvins
Not the Allman Brothers. With the heart, soul and twang of the original in his DNA, Hank Williams III buddied up with, that’s right, Melvins, and well, they killed it.
Best line: “I can settle down and be doin’ just fine / Till I hear those freights rollin’ down the line / Then I hurry straight home and pack / And if I didn’t go, I believe I’d blow stack” Amen.
3. Ready for More, Murder City Devils
AKA, the best show you went to in 2001 (really, no one lights their drums on fire anymore). The boys that made the trucker hat cool wrote this one about the exhaustion of hard-partying touring/traveling that only copious amounts of cocaine can fuel you through. I may have missed the boat (or tour bus) on that one, but I can get down with the angsty howlings of Spencer Moody any day.
Best line: “And I’m subtle, subtle like a T-Rex / And I haven’t even started yet / One week on the road / One week, and I’m already wrecked”
4. I’m Moving Along, Patsy Cline
With the guts and growl that can only belong to one woman, “I’m Moving Along” is an anthem for anyone that’s split town to heal a heartbreak. The way Patsy belts out that last line always make me wanna grab a suitcase and slam the door on whatever’s bumming me out at home.
Best line: “I’m moving along, I gotta be free”
5. Gone Till November, Wyclef Jean
He may be pretentious at times, but god damn, it’s a pretty song. If you’ve ever had to reconcile the traveling lifestyle with leaving loved ones at home, this is the jam for you.
Best line: “See you must understand, I can’t work a 9-5”
6. Sloop John B, Beach Boys
Not every trip is awesome. And even in the best of em, there comes that moment when, say, you’ve had diarrhea for two weeks and are really over the whole squat toilet thing. For moments like these, “Sloop John B” ‘s refraining “I wanna go home, Let me go home” hits the swollen and tender spot.
Best Line: “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on” (though, with Charles Manson running around the sandbox, we can’t be totally sure what kind of trip they mean…)
7. Board of Tourism, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb
The touring-est band I’ve ever known wrote this cheeky tribute to the “attractions” their hometown Pensacola, Florida. It perfectly captures the two-bit claims-to-fame that small cities grasp at. And it’s adorable.
Best Line: Tie between the refrain, “We got a drive-thru funeral home” and “You know they even filmed a movie there one time / They had James Brown and gave away hot dogs”
8. Rock Island Line, Leadbelly
This song is the definition of bad-ass, by the guy that created the word cool. Nuff said.
Best Line: “If you wants to ride, you got to ride it like you find it”
9. Unknown Passage, Dead Moon
By another band that spent half their lives on the road, the hypnotic riffs of “Unknown Passage” hauntingly capture those road-tripping 3ams full of dark highways and strange landscapes. (And if you wanna know how to build a house, raise a family, travel the country six months a year, and rock and roll like it’s going out of style on less than $20,000 a year, check out the Dead Moon documentary by the same name.) Just don’t put this on if you’re trying to stay awake while driving.
Best Line: “There’s a red light on the hill / And a bridge out going down / There’s a city limits marker / Of an unfamiliar town”
10. So International, B-Legit Featuring Too $hort
Nothing like a little local love to round it out. Hometown boy Too $hort teams up with B-Legit and flows about, well, mostly having sex around the globe and flying first class. Can’t relate, but the hook is catchy as shit.
Best Line: “Yea, we fly first class, touch down like pimps / What’s the next event, tell me what town it’s in”