The Road To Hell (Part Two)

Album: The Road To Hell (1989)
Charted: 10

Songfacts®:

  • Rea wrote this song while stuck in traffic on the M4 motorway in England, which connects London to the southwest coast. At a standstill for over an hour, he got the idea for this song and wrote the lyrics in the vehicle at the intersection of the M25.
  • Rea shares an epiphany in this song, as he realizes that bad choices have left him stuck in traffic. He struggled financially for years before going solidly in the black thanks to million-selling albums On the Beach (1986) and Dancing with Strangers (1987). When he came into money, he did the sensible thing: bought a house on the English shore and commuted into London. But for Rea, the sensible thing is madness. With a passion for adventure, a lifestyle alternating between isolation and herd is hell indeed. He realized at that moment that he needed to get off that road.
  • Part One of this song opens the album. A droning track, it finds Rea imagining his mother visiting him as he's stalled in traffic, warning that he is on the road to hell. Part Two, which is where the full instrumentation kicks in, is the section released as a single and the most commonly heard part of the song.
  • Rea had an American hit with his first single, "Fool (If You Think It's Over)," but he had only a minor impact in that country henceforth. In the UK, he built a steady following that peaked with this track, earning him his highest chart position at #10. The album put him in the fast lane: it was his first #1 in the UK. His follow-up, Auberge, also topped the chart.
  • This song forms the concept for the album: a typical day in the life of a typical person in the South of England.
  • In 2010, Rea donated the piece of paper on which he scribbled the lyrics at the M4-M25 intersection, in order to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Also jotted on the note are details of an Indian takeaway, and a reminder to "phone Brenda."
  • Rea doesn't enjoy sitting in traffic, but it does provide him with inspiration for his songs. His 2017 album, Road Songs For Lovers, is built on songs he wrote observing other drivers.
  • The driving disconnect got a lot worse in Europe as technology advanced and traffic got far worse. In a 2017 interview with Chris Rea, he told Songfacts: "There are two types of driving now. There's driving for pleasure, where you feel the car, you love the car and you think about your driving. But for everybody else, which is the majority now, you're actually, psychologically, not driving. You're in your kitchen. That's what seems to have happened with telephones in the car and TV systems in cars. I've started to notice lately that people aren't driving, they're just in their kitchen and they get there."

Comments: 8

  • Billy from Warwick R I UsaI think "The Road To Hell" although maybe conceived while in a traffic jam w/frustration is a reflection on being a very successful musical artist of quality intelligent song lyrics with music and having the legitimate wealth and luxury, that rightfully is the reward, is reflected on when considering the demand of record labels, touring etc... I have been with a few very successful American groups, agent and promoters from the early folk movement to the early 1980s, some English bands also, and understand and can look "under the lyrics and between the lines". I also believe the face in the reflection is a vision of Chris' mom affirming his thoughts.
  • Billy from Warwick R I UsaChris Rea is the most overlooked writer of intelligent song and ranks with people like Bob Dylan. When are you coming to the U S A paisono?
  • Jim from Pleasant Hill, CaI've always noticed a contradiction between this song and "Steel River." In "Road to Hell," he laments polluted water that "...boils with every poison you can think of," but in "Steel River" he sings "...I know one salmon ain't no good to them," as if it's a bummer that a former industrial waterway could support salmon after being cleaned up.
  • Jon from Scotland, United KingdomIn 2008, Chris re-recorded the tracks "The Road To Hell (Parts 1 & 2) for his latest "best of" offering "Fool If You Think It's Over - The Definitive Greatest Hits". This version slightly shortens Part 1 and extends Part 2 (both are one continuous track) but in all other aspects, it's the same as the 1989 version.
  • Jon from Scotland, United Kingdom"The Road To Hell" (Part One) was nothing more than an elongated intro featuring a quasi-spoken dialogue before building up into the main part of the song (Part Two). Chris Rea wanted the record company to release the song with both parts segued into one, but the record company refused citing "Part One" sounded too boring. Early versions of the album had the song listed only as "The Road To Hell", but after the single version was released, it began being titled "The Road To Hell (Parts One and Two)". Even if Rea got the inspiration for the song from sitting in a traffic jam on the notorious M25, it's not actually about a 'traffic jam'. The meaning behind the lyrics focuses on the end of the free-spending days of the 80s and huge salaries of white collar employees in the city (London) and the financial strife that ensued. The album marked a return to the spotlight for Rea, not to mention one of his lesser known 80s hits ("Working On It") was used on an episode of the US TV show, "Baywatch". Following up "The Road To Hell", Rea released "God's Great Banana Skin" the following year. Still, even if "The Road To Hell" was Rea's most successful (commercial) release to date, it's far from being his best.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesChris Rea's only hit in the US was 1978 debut "Fool (If You Think Its Over)", which was also the first of his 13 UK Top 40 hits to date, of which "The Road To Hell (Part 2)" was the biggest
  • John from Akron, OhOne of my favorite "thinking" songs...
  • Patrick from Wevelgem, BelgiumThe single was a top 10 hit in England. The album of the same title got to number one.
    Both single and album failed to chart in the U.S.
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