The Road Trip, like rock and roll, is a uniquely American invention, also born of postwar optimism, a booming economy, and lots of leisure time. The automobile itself represented the American dream -- freedom on wheels, the invention that allowed people to reinvent themselves. Millions took to the road, buoyed by that sense of possibility, and rock and roll music served as the soundtrack. Here's a selection of the best road trip oldies from the Fifties, Sixties, and pre-embargo Seventies.
Was there ever a more perfect symbol of the road trip dream than Chuck Berry? His songs are not only the main blueprint of rock, they're a propulsive myth about the road and the cars that ruled it. "Maybellene" might just be a cute song about catching someone on the highway if the countryfied, amped-up version of jump blues it rested upon weren't so kinetic. In other words, this music moves, in form and function, and similar miracles are performed all over this 2-CD greatest hits collection.
"Travelin' Band" aside, Creedence didn't really write songs about the road -- their entire m.o. was rustic Americana, and most of the characters in their classic oeuvre are therefore usually either walking or riding boats of some sort. But CCR had the world's most solid backbeat, and that, coupled with their amazing cornucopia of uniquely native sounds, make their songs a perfect backdrop for your own epic adventure. Just try and ignore the panorama suggested by "Proud Mary" and other classics.
You can't have oldies music without songs about cars -- it's a historical fact. Rhino, still the king of American compilers, pays tribute to this tail-finned subset of postwar culture with a four-CD powerhouse that gives you a taste of everything without wasting a moment. Rock and roll, rockabilly, country, bluegrass, classic rock, early-Seventies retro, hot rod, novelty hits, and a few uncategorizable cuts like Dinah Shore singing "See The U.S.A. In Your Chevrolet" and a James Dean interview.
Truckers are the working man's symbol of the road trip as liberation, although they have a work schedule grueling enough to cripple the most hardened blue-collar vet. It's a lifestyle, not just a job, and this one Audium Entertainment disc covers all the bases, beginning with the Western Swing of the first trucking hit, Cliff Bruner's "Truck Driving Blues," and moving straight through to Red Simpson's "Roll, Truck, Roll." For serious trucking music enthusiaists only, or those who want to be.
These Canadians may be pop-culture footnotes to some, but they had GROOVE, a light and speedy boogie that somehow managed to distill the anguish of the blues into goodtime FM fodder. They sang about the road, usually from a traveling musicians' perspective, but the steady beat and laid-back bonhomie of the 31 tracks here make them perfect for any traveler. If all you know is their handful of big hits, you'll be glad to know they were always that consistent, even when no one was listening.
The Beach Boys went through their own "hot rod" phase as an adjunct to their early surf career, and hardcore enthusiasts will always insist that this isn't REAL hot rod music. But as celebrations of the classic car lifestyle, these pop confections are as fun fun fun as they come. The Beach Boys actually have an official "best-of" for their car songs, but these two original LPs (sold as one CD) cover the same bases, and then some; one for cars, one for summer fun in general.
This, on the other hand, IS real hardcore hot-rod music: 14 instrumentals that define the sound of the genre (part of The Right Stuff's series of releases under the authenticated banner of Hot Rod Magazine). Not everything here is by a hot rod artist (songs by Booker T. and the MGs, Willie Mitchell, and the Bill Black Combo), but their spirit means they fit right in with real ho-dads like the Super Stocks, the Deuce Coupes, and the Darts, not to mention the surf bands here doing double duty.
Sun was, first and foremost, a signature sound, as evidenced by what happened to its biggest artists after they left. If you love that vintage, spare, wildcat rockabilly feel on the road, this'll give you plenty of lead for your foot: Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison are here, of course, but you also get classics from those who should have been famous, like Billy Lee Riley and Little Junior. Not just a road trip CD, this serves as a tribute to a certain kind of MAN.
More boogie, this time from the one bunch of hippies who really could lay claim to the classic sound inherited from artists like John Lee Hooker. Even John Lee didn't stick to the script as often as these guys did, however, and with their scholar's sense of rock history, authentic chops, and a psychedelic feel that made boogie feel like road hypnosis, this band delivered with a loose-yet-tight sound that can always make you feel as if you're going somewhere important, even if you're not, really.
Not a lot of folks think about breaking the speed limit with bluegrass, but why not? It is, after all, the fastest of folk musics, and even the sad ballads can tie you into that purple mountains' majesty with the sheer authenticity of their delivery. You may know "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," even if the title has escaped you before; this greatest hits CD has several instrumentals of that caliber, bluegrass' rock and roll equivalent of Bill Monroe's country blueprint. Great for evading cops.