The open road has always held a lure of romance and adventure, so it's no surprise that long-haul trucking has inspired many memorable songs. Here are the ones that topped a chart - either Country or Hot 100.
"Keep on Truckin'" by Eddie Kendricks
I'm the red ball express of lovin'
Diesel-powered straight to you, I'm truckin'
Charts: #1 Hot 100, #1 R&B, #18 UK
Kendricks isn't worried about delivering his load (get your mind out of the gutter!) - he's truckin' to see his lady. A #1 hit in 1973, it's by far the highest charting song with the word "Truckin'" in the title.
"Keep on Truckin'" was the first major hit from Kendricks after his bitter split with The Temptations, a band he helped create. The line, "In old Temptation's rain, I'm duckin,'" is a dig on The Tempts, which he left in 1971.
"On the Road Again" by Willie Nelson
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world be turnin' our way
Charts: #1 Country, #20 Hot 100
Willie Nelson wrote this song on an airplane barf bag. He had just signed the contract to star in the film Honeysuckle Rose and was approached by the movie's executive producer while they were in the air. The producer asked Nelson to write a theme song for the movie. Nelson scribbled it down right there on the only paper he had available.
"Me and Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained
It rode us all the way to New Orleans
Charts: #1 Hot 100
"Me and Bobby McGee" was written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, but was first released by Roger Miller in 1969 and then subsequently covered by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Gordon Lightfoot, and the Statler Brothers. It was the 1971 version by Janis Joplin (with Bobby now a guy), that became the standard.
Joplin recorded the song for the album Pearl only days before her death. When it went to #1, she became just the second artist to reach the top spot posthumously, the first being Otis Redding with "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."
"I've Been Everywhere" by Hank Snow
He asked me if I'd seen a road
With so much dust and sand
And I said, 'Listen, Bud I've traveled
Every road in this here land
Charts: #1 Country, #68 Hot 100
You probably know the Johnny Cash version of this song, thanks to those Comfort Inn commercials. But "I've Been Everywhere" was first recorded by an Australian singer named Leslie Morrison, who went by Lucky Starr. And the rambling list of destinations were all Down Under, which aren't that easy to sing:
I've been to Wollongong, Geelong, Kurrajong, Mullumbimby
Mittagong, Molong, Grong Grong, Goondiwindi...
The song's writer, an Aussie named Geoff Mack, got out a map of America and wrote a new set of lyrics covering this territory:
Boston, Charleston, Dayton, Louisiana,
Washington, Houston, Kingston, Texarkana...
Still not easy to sing, but Dayton is no Mullumbimby.
This version became a #1 Country hit for Hank Snow (a Canadian) in 1962. Johnny Cash resurrected the song in 1996 on his album Unchained. The song has been redone by many artists, often with the locations altered to fit the geography.
"Convoy" by C.W. McCall
I says, 'Pig Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck
We just ain't a-gonna pay no toll'
So we crashed the gate doing 98
I says, 'Let them truckers roll, 10-4'
Charts: #1 Hot 100, #1 Country, #19 Adult Contemporary, #2 UK
In the '70s, trucking spawned a subculture: CB Radio. It was how they communicated, using a fascinating argot to keep company and avoid the pitfalls of the job, like the smokies (highway patrol officers) that were always on their tails. In this song, the truckers organize into a huge convoy that shares intel on the roadblocks the smokies have set up to stop them. They end up crashing a toll and driving into the night.
It's a colorful story with all the right lingo:
We tore up all of our swindle sheets
And left 'em settin' on the scales
This means they ripped up their logs and left them at the weigh stations. Paperwork be damned!
The song rode the CB craze to #1, becoming one of the last novelty songs to top the chart. In 1978, a movie based on the song (also called Convoy) was released in theaters. It starred Kris Kristofferson, who wrote one of the other songs on this list: "Me and Bobby McGee."
"Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses" by Kathy Mattea
Charlie's got a gold watch, don't seem like a whole lot
After 30 years of drivin' up and down the interstate
But Charlie's had a good life and Charlie's got a good wife
And after tonight she'll no longer be countin' the days
Charts: #1 Country
In contrast to the law-breaking, freedom-finding, convoy-forming truckers from the previous entry, "Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses" tells the story of a driver making his last run after 30 years on the road. There's no heartbreak or adventure, just sweet anticipation as he looks forward to closing out his carrer and spending his golden years with his beloved wife.
Some other trucking favorites that didn't top the charts:
"East Bound And Down" by Jerry Reed
"Truckin'" by Grateful Dead
"Six Days On The Road" by Taj Mahal
"Teddy Bear" by Red Sovine
"Roll On Down the Highway" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive
May 4, 2017