Toward the end of “I’ve Been Everywhere,” off his 1996 album Unchained, Johnny Cash lets out a breathless laugh that nearly drives the song into a ditch. He’s been rattling off places like Crater Lake, Jellico and Hackensack at a rapid-fire click, and the song almost gets away from him. It’s Cash at his loosest and liveliest, yet the song rings true: No doubt he had played every single place in the song during his half-century career.
Likewise, “I’ve Been Everywhere” has been everywhere. It was originally a big hit in the early 1960s for an Australian singer named Lucky Starr, who had been to places like Toowoomba, Yeerongpilly and Grong Grong. Since then, it’s been rewritten for nearly every continent save Antarctica. In America, it was a hit for Hank Snow and covered by Lynn Anderson, the Statler Brothers and Asleep at the Wheel. Most recently, it was sampled by Rihanna on her song “Where Have You Been.”
“I’ve Been Everywhere” has been a staple of road trip playlists for years now, helping to evoke the romance of the open road as well as providing a musical map to weary drivers. Here are 10 more essential Americana tunes for any long drive, whether it’s cross-country or just crosstown.
(Please note: We’ve purposefully excluded Willie’s Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” which is a classic song but way, way too obvious.)
“Bible on the Dash,” Corb Lund and Hayes Carll
This rowdy road tune recounts that old horror of the highway — getting pulled over by the local fuzz. When you’re staring in the mirrored sunglasses of a cop with a deep suspicion of long-hairs and out-of-towners, the Good Book on prominent display is even better than a radar detector.
“Carry Me Ohio,” Sun Kil Moon
An ideal road trip song should keep you moving even when you’d rather pull over and stretch your legs. This tune from 2002’s Ghost of Great Highway manages to do just that. As Mark Kozelek soberly ponders the demise of a relationship, the guitars become as hypnotic as dotted lines on the highway.
“Crescent City,” Lucinda Williams
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road may be the go-to road trip album, but this bittersweet ode to les bon temps will remind you of all the memorable times and beloved people waiting for you at your destination, as well as the memories you’ll have for the trip home. Best heard on the long bridge crossing the Pontchartrain.
“Hello L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham,” John Randolph Marr
Mac Davis and Nancy Sinatra both had bigger hits with this westward picaresque, but Marr’s version is arguably the funkiest. Included on last year’s excellent compilation Country Funk 1969-1975, it’ll make you drive to Birmingham just so you can say bye bye.
“Monroe Suede,” Ashley Monroe
Hippie Annie imagines herself a small-time fugitive by stealing trucks, breaking hearts and barely making her getaway in Tulsa, Okla. A raucous standout on Like a Rose, it’s a fine driving song whether you’re on vacation or on the run from the law.
“Railroads,” Holly Williams
Williams’ story song about a preacher’s kid riding the rails may feature a different mode of transportation, but the idea is the same. That sleight-of-hand chorus and those tricky guitars convey the constant spinning of wheels and the world in the rearview, as though the best part of travel is leaving your trouble behind and getting a little lost in America.
“State Trooper,” Steve Earle
If “Bible on the Dash” gets you putting the pedal to the metal, the sudden appearance of a smokey will have you pumping the brakes and singing along with Earle as he sings along to the Boss: “Mr. State Trooper, please don’t stop me.”
“The Road Goes On Forever,” Robert Earl Keen
The Texan’s tale of outlaw lovers trying to score big is its own book on tape, except Keen sets his story against his excellent band’s rowdy, rambunctiously-paced country rock. But make sure you get the live version from 1996’s No. 2 Dinner Live, and don’t forget to include the five-minute intro.
“West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown,” Todd Snider
Do you pick up hitchhikers? Probably not, especially since homicidal maniacs are generally exempt from the gas-grass-or-ass rule of the road. But this cover of Jimmy Buffett’s road-worn tale is bittersweet and lackadaisical (two moods Snider does perfectly), describing a short run of road shared by a driver and a pretty hippie ride-thumber who bails when she gets too close to Nashville.
“Windfall,” Son Volt
Let’s start with perhaps the defining Americana road trip song of the last 20 years — and certainly a highlight of Jay Farrar’s career. The opener on Son Volt’s 1995 debut Trace illustrates the powerful combination of music and travel. And the chorus is a hearty godspeed to any traveler, whatever their destination: “May the wind take your troubles away.”