A great retro playlist can enhance the mood of a road trip, create a sense of adventure, and bring togetherness to a carload of people.
The ’70s and ’80s were the golden era of road trips, when travelers would hit the open road, roll down the windows, and crank up the tunes. Remember being nine and making faces at other drivers from the back of the family station wagon? Or having a fresh driver’s license and heading to a concert a few hours away with your friends? We never left home without a fantastic mix tape—songs that now take us right back to those glorious, cassette-era road trip days.
Whether you’re driving from Sulphur Springs to Austin, El Paso to Waco, or Victoria to Amarillo, the journey is far superior with a cultivated playlist of classic tunes to bring everyone together.
What makes a great driving mix tape?
A classic road trip mix tape is all about nostalgic tunes and giving everyone a reason to sing along. Timeless rock and pop hits like “Hotel California” by The Eagles, “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey are always favorites.
You want to include a majority of upbeat songs to keep you energized and awake. Think Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and “Take On Me” by A-ha. That said, a mix of mid-tempo and fast songs will keep things interesting. Some somewhat slower options include “Summer Nights” from the Grease soundtrack and the yacht rock staple, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass.
Unforgettable sing-along tracks will have the whole car belting out lines from “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.
I asked a few musicians with Texas roots to share three no-brainer tunes for their road trip mix tape.
Ray Benson: Co-founder of Grammy-winning Asleep at the Wheel, actor, and long-time Austin resident
“On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson moves along like a ’57 Chevy pickup truck and what’s better than Willie?
“Boogie Back to Texas” by Asleep at the Wheel is a road map to follow back to Texas.
And Robert Earl Keen’s “The Road Goes on Forever”—a story that keeps you wondering what’s around the corner.
John Ford Coley: Dallas born-and-raised singer, musician, actor, author, and half of the Grammy nominated duo England Dan & John Ford Coley
I drive a lot and have so many songs that I listen to, so picking three is difficult, but here are three of my favorite driving songs.
“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by The Hollies
I used to play with Terry Sylvester from The Hollies, just the two of us, waiting every night for this song and I got to play the intro. It’s still such a rush to play that!
“Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top
Before Dusty Hill was in ZZ Top, he was in Lady Wild & The Warlocks in Dallas. When I was younger, we used to play with them in Dallas. This is a terrific song for fast driving, especially when you’re trying to keep truckers from jumping into your lane by beating them to the punch.
“Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley
This is such an easy song to get lost in. The guitar solo is one of the most memorable I’ve heard, and I’ve never tired of it. Love the lyrics and it still holds up today.
Alejandro (Alex) Vallejo: Drummer for Vallejo, VP of Vallejo Music Group, operations director for School of Rock (SW Austin/Round Rock), and member of the EQ Austin advisory board.
A few artists and songs on Alex’s go-to list include:
Steely Dan’s “FM” or “Hey Nineteen” Great cruising tunes and the band’s smooth sound is always relaxing.
I’m having a major Christopher Cross rediscovery. “Ride Like the Wind” and “All Right” make me feel like everything is gonna work out. Especially when Chris sings “I think we’re gonna make it!”
Another ’80s fascination from high school is anything by Depeche Mode. One of my favorite all-time bands. “Enjoy The Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again” top my list.
Create the soundtrack for your next adventure
As you gear up to venture into this magnificent state or beyond, grab a blank cassette or start a fresh digital playlist to curate your very own ultimate road trip mixtape. Let those nostalgic tunes be the backdrop of your travels, bringing back not only cherished childhood memories but also fresh ones from your latest expedition. Buckle up, hit play, and hit the road!
Cover Photo Tobias Tullius, Unsplash
The owner of TLC Book Design, Tamara Dever is a 22-year resident of Austin. She’s the author of the Ultimate Mix Tape Music Quiz Book series, collects all things ’80s, enjoys seeing “the old bands” play live, and plays keyboard at the SW Austin School of Rock. Follow her online for your publishing needs or a retro fix.