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Traveling Music: The best songs about planes, trains & automobiles (and boats, too)

In case you missed it, on Monday, my transportation reporter colleague Mary Wiz asked if I’d help come up with some lists of “the best songs ever” about the various modes of transit that she covers. It was both an easy task to fulfill — and an impossible one. But because everybody loves a list, I’ll post it again here.

Rattling off great tunes about trains, planes, boats and cars? No problem! Trying not to forget some immortal classic or to limit those lists to just a couple of entries each? Major headache!

Anyway, at this particular time on this particular summer morning, as I’m yearning to head out on vacation myself (but having to wait ’til after summer concert season to do it), here are some of my in-transit picks.

Songs about cars and driving

Let’s face it, even with the price of gas creeping toward $5 a gallon, cars are still America’s favorite way to get from here to there, so I’ve given you 10 of these (and could easily have done 1,000).

1. Chuck Berry, Maybelline

Because nothing conveys the feel of driving fast better than Chuck’s guitar, because he name-checks a bunch of the coolest cars ever and because of the unforgettable pun in the line, “As I was motor-vatin’ over the hill.”

2. The Beach Boys, Fun, Fun, Fun

Because we can all identify with the girl whose daddy took the T-bird away.

3. Kraftwerk, Autobahn

On the Autobahn, there is no speed limit, and these German synth rockers drive fast and furious while giving us a space-age version of “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

4. The Beatles, Drive My Car

5. Ministry, Jesus Built My Hotrod

6. Gary Numan, Cars

7. War, Low Rider

8. Golden Earring, Radar Love

9. The Clash, Brand New Cadillac

10. Prince, Little Red Corvette

Not technically about driving. But that’s never been all that cars are good for; they’re a great metaphor, too.

Songs about planes and flying

1. The Byrds, Eight Miles High

Inspired by Roger McGuinn’s first flight, as well as other kinds of tripping.

2. The Beatles, Flying

3. Neil Young, Flying on the Ground (Is Wrong)

4. Tom Petty, Learning to Fly

5. The Kinks, Wish I Could Fly Like Superman

Songs about boats and sailing

1. The Beach Boys, Sloop John B

OK, so the narrator may be a little seasick (“This is the worst trip/I’ve ever been on”). It’s still an immortal tale of the high seas.

2. Frankie Ford, Sea Cruise

3. Crosby, Stills & Nash, Wooden Ships

4. Lyle Lovett, If I Had a Boat

5. Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

A haunting tale; just remember your boating safety so you don’t wind up on the bottom of “the big lake they call Gitche Gumee.”

Songs about trains

1. Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues

As Chuck Berry’s rhythm is the groove of the road, Johnny’s is the sound of the rails; he’s happiest when he’s ridin’ ’em, and miserable while otherwise occupied. “I hear the train a comin’/It’s rollin’ ’round the bend/And I ain’t seen the sunshine since/I don’t know when.”

2. Robyn Hitchcock, I Often Dream of Trains

3. The Grateful Dead, Casey Jones

4. R.E.M., Driver 8

5. Kraftwerk, Trans Europe Express