Road trips are a pretty American thing. I once took a college course about road trips and travel. The first book we read that semester was If You Want Me to Stay, a narrative where travel and music intersect. It was a fantastic read; one I highly recommend. It got me thinking about how cars, road trips, and travel feature prominently in music and music video narratives.
Here are some of my favorites:
“Drive” by Halsey
A beautiful song with a rich atmosphere full of various car sounds from the dinging sound at the beginning to keys in the ignition to tires screeching. It’s a wonderful of a narrative of romance and travel.
“Car Radio” by twenty one pilots
One of the few songs that I know of that’s related to cars, but includes no romance. Instead, the focus is on mental health in the wake of a car radio stolen. It carries an important message borne from Tyler Joseph’s experience of having his car radio stolen.
“Stickshifts and Safetybelts” by Cake
The eternally quirky Cake offers up a cute, jaunty tune about a romance and how the interior landscape of some cars impede physical intimacy while traveling.
“My Volvo” by Grynch
The same professor who taught the road trip was the one who introduced me to this gem. It’s an ode to a shitty car, one that will have you singing “V-O-L-V-O” for days after listening to it. More interestingly, for a rap song, it’s not bragging about a fancy whip, but celebrating the experiences and relationships with a very run down vehicle.
“Mabu” by PUP
In a similar vein to “My Volvo,” PUP memorializes the lead singer’s cherish car, “Mabu” as it goes out in style. I’m not much of a car person, but this music video had me tearing up. Interestingly, this band is Candanian, so maybe cars and road trips aren’t solely an American love.
“Beautiful Soul” by Jesse McCartney
I couldn’t resist digging up this treasure of a video. Not only is this song a big part of my middle school years, but it music video has hung around my head. While it could be summarized as a boy meets girl during a road trip narrative, the details have always caused me to respond with “WTF?” The love interest is this boho princess who loves flea market trinkets (an interesting flavor of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, IMO). But what really weirded me out was when the hop a fence to swim in their underwear in some filthy swimming pool. I’m not the biggest fan of swimming pools to begin with, but that one is nasty. Maybe this video just doesn’t appeal my romantic sensibilities.
“Ever Enough” by A Rocket to the Moon
Starring Debby Ryan as the lead singer’s significant other, this road trip narrative is much more in line with what I imagine when romance and travel intersect. There’s a bit of a The Fault in Our Stars vibe to it with Ryan’s character seeming to have some terminal or chronic illness. It’s a bittersweet story that pairs well with the song.
“Sloppy Seconds” by Watsky
“Fuck you if you love a car for its paint job / love you if you love a car for its road trips” are the opening lyrics to yet another music video featuring Watsky’s “fruity little Subaru” (he recently gave it away to a fan in a contest). While this video includes romance, lyrically it paints a much starker picture. To me, that makes this road trip all the more realistic–relationships and travel are not all cute moments and beautiful scenery. There are fights, ghosts of experiences past, flat tires, car accidents, and so many other curveballs. “I’m fucked up like you are / and you’re fucked up just like me” might as well be this song’s thesis statement, acknowledging and accepting that we’re more akin to Watsy’s well worn Subaru than any shiny new car sitting in front of a dealership.
“Kids In Love” by Mayday Parade
Content warning: nudity, sex
This music video made quite the stir when it was originally released. People were lambasting it left and right for being “porn.” To me, I thought it was a great treatment for a song that speaks to the rawness of youth and romance. It’s love at both its highest and lowest points as two young couples travel the states.
Road trips, cars, and travel are great vehicles (see what I did there?) for approaching heavier topics like life, death, and love as we often face those while behind the wheel. Being alive is going 70 mph down the interstate with your moonroof open and your music cranked. Death or the precipice of it is your headlights catching a deer by the side of the road, either on the verge of darting across or ripped and gory from having already tried. Love is a car full of friends chatting and singing along–the way you’ll stop talking to all scream a favorite line in a song (“Don’t Trust Me” by 3OH!3 is great for that, in my experience).
As I continue to experience and write, I have to ask how else can road trips, cars, and travel figure into narratives. There’s plenty of books out there that speak to both physical trips and trips of the mind. In America, especially, driving and the freedom is allows is a huge part of the coming of age story. Still, I think there’s more stories than just those surrounding youth and romance.
What’s your favorite song related to cars?