John King

A road movie is a film where the characters drive incredibly long distances in cars, having adventures and encounters along the way.

Characters get in cars and go places to …

  • go somewhere and meet someone or prove something
  • run away from something or someone
  • to undergo a journey of initiation or self discovery
  • embark upon a quest

For a successful movie in this genre, there are a few of “basic ingredients.”

the car – a beaten-up, but well-loved 1950’s Chevrolet convertible, preferably a Bel Air or an Impala (though personally I’d opt for the mid-seventies Caprice Classic)

setting and landscapes – as bleak and as dusty as possible. Interminable stretches of flat tarmac leading off into the middle of nowhere with buttes and mesas bordering the highway

Cheap motels – The long road to nowhere is punctuated by lonely, “cheap motels” where hero or heroine will at best, get drunk, stoned, laid or robbed and at worst, be brutally murdered in the shower. The aforementioned hero or heroine might stop at one of these places for the night or for a lifetime. (If I did the cheap motel thing, I’d be far more worried about the cleanliness of the bedding rather than the possibility of getting murdered in the shower?)

the title – Well, John Kerouac nabbed the best title “on the road.” Some duality is always a good idea – “Thelma and Louise” or “Sailor and Lula”. There are of course those road movies that are more journey than highway, such as the Joseph Conrad classic “The Heart of Darkness.” I suppose that even the 1939 classic MGM musical “The Wizard of Oz” is a “yellow brick” road movie.

The Characters

A few examples

  • Those people who just want to get away somewhere because they have never been anywhere.
  • Falsely-accused murderer on the run in quest to prove his innocence.
  • Young girl whisked away by hurricanes and plonked down in imaginary lands.
  • Elves, dwarves, wizards, hobbits and similar mythical characters, in search of treasure or on a perilous and impossible journey to save their world.
  • Bored housewives, looking for fun.

There is no, single typical road movie character – as long as someone is going somewhere or nowhere for a reason – you have a road movie.


You need to start with a big song as you drive out across the plains, Something to kickstart the journey as begin your trail blazing. The Bruce Springsteen classic “Born to Run” is a definite contender as a road movie opener. In sheer kickstart terms though, a blast of “Born to be wild,” by Steppenwolf is just the ticket

“Get your motor runnin’

Head out on the highway

Looking for adventure

In whatever comes our way.”

After an exhilarating opener, you need something to take you down to cruising speed – and the best cruising song ever has to be the “Drift Away” – the John Henry Jurtz original isn’t bad, but I prefer the Dobie Gray cover version – more soulful and less West coast.

So far all the songs are American, designed for cruising across endless dusty plains in a huge 50’s or 60’s convertible. They are all about escaping. Not quite the soundtrack that I intended for my road movie. We are off to the French Riviera soon.  Sure there will be a few American classics on my soundtrack but it needs more of “la Douce France” than Route 66.

I’m going to start the soundtrack  to our French roadtripping with a Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s song entitled “Roadtrippin” – This isn’t one of the “kickstart” songs it just eases you nicely into the journey, moreover, I will be roadtrippin’ with “my two favourite allies,” (wife and daughter)

Road trippin’ with my two favorite allies

Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies

It’s time to leave this town

It’s time to steal away

Let’s go get lost …

I also chose this song for the one line…

“These smiling eyes are just a mirror for …” –  quite simply for the day my daughter was born and the first time she looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes. She had started that great road trip of life.

My daughter’s eyes are the reason for the second song – the Guns and Roses classic “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Just read the lyrics.

She’s got eyes of the bluest skies

As if they thought of rain

I hate to look into those eyes

And see an ounce of pain.

I like the idea of getting away, leaving our drab towns and drab lives for a week or two. For the oppressive nature of summer in the city, the playlist has to include the Lovin’ Spoonful song of the same name.

Hot town, summer in the city

Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty

Been down, isn’t it a pity

Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

What a brilliant lyric. You can just feel the sweat pouring off you in the stifling heat as you listen.

There are plenty of “getaway” songs. My two favourites: “Last Dance with Mary Jane” by Tom Petty – he says “Tired of screwing up, tired of going down, tired of myself, tired of this town.” It seethes with the boredom, depression and lassitude of summer, stuck in a small town. The same is true of the Oasis classic “Half a World Away.” Not really a summer song, but when Noel Gallagher sings;

I would like to leave this city

This old town don’t smell too pretty and

I can feel the warning signs running around my mind

The you know, in true road movie tradition, it is time to leave town and head out across the plains in search of ….

The finest song in this vein however had to be “That’s Entertainment” by the Jam. Excellent lyrics by Paul Weller, and that bass playing from Bruce Foxton – I’d just die to be able to play the bass like that. Judge for yourself by following the Youtube link.

Plenty of getaway stuff, now we need something about heading for the beach.

“Rockaway Beach” or even “California sun” by the Ramones. I’d also add “Echo Beach” by the early 80’s Canadian, new wave/pop band Martha and the Muffins. This was (I think) their one big international hit. Good driving music. The intro is great for pulling onto the motorway and picking up speed until you hit the saxophone solo (follow the You tube link below see what you think.)

Having been born and brought up in south east London, a trip to the seaside meant a day at Brighton and in terms of late twentieth century popular culture, Brighton was synonymous for battles between Mods and Rockers. I’ve got to have a few “mod tracks” on my summer driving comp, Picking a Who classic is difficult, but here are some that I will be forced to choose from afer my self-imposed rule of only one song per group.

The classic Who list

  • My Generation
  • The Kids are alright
  • 5:15 (out of my brain on the train)
  • Pinball Wizard

The last two songs with references to Brighton.

We’ve had Mods (and also plenty f Rockers so far), but there is one great all time Rock track that I have to add – the Thin Lizzy classic “The Boys are Back in Town.” Brilliant Lyrics.

Friday night they’ll be dressed to kill

Down at Dino’s bar and grill

The drink will flow and blood will spill

And if the boys want to fight, you’d better let them

That jukebox in the corner blasting out my favorite song

The nights are getting warmer, it won’t be long

Won’t be long till summer comes

Now that the boys are here again

Now we come to the section that I call “On the Beach and Out To Lunch” – meaning basically that you’re crashed out on the sand and frying in the sun. You don’t want anything too “jumpy” but neither do you want something so spaced out that you’ll fall asleep.

My favourite beach tracks are

  • “Gimme Shelter” by Mick and the boys.
  • “The Rover” by Led Zep from their 1975 album Physical Grafitti.
  • “In the Summer Time” by Mungo Jerry (this is a good beach toe tapper)
  • “By the Sea” by 90’s popsters Suede

You can’t be on the beach and out to lunch without some Pink Floyd, so “Comfortably Numb” has to be on there.

Though there are many other fine “spaced out” choices for beach listening, I’ll close this part of the list with a two final choices;

“The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac (which might also make it on to the driving list)

And the last choice is “What I am” by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. A kind of “hippy” sound on this one, makes me think of San Francisco (even if I have never been there). I’ve chosen this one though for the guitar sounds and the “philosophical” lyrics. Try the Youtube link.

So far, I’ve had plenty of “old” stuff, but I need something new, something borrowed and something blue.

Well nothing better than “The Sumer Time Blues” for something blue. In the category of “borrowed” I’ve already had the Dobie Gray cover of “Drift Away.”As for something new, I’ll go for either “Flick of the Finger” or “Face the Crowd” from the latest Beady Eye album (Liam Gallagher after Oasis), though I would also add a track from the first Beady Eye album – “Millionaire” all about dring along the coast to Cadaques in Spain.

Okay, a few “silly” songs

  • “Girls on Film” – Duran Duran
  • “Last Friday Night” – Katy Perry
  • “Dancing Queen” – Abba
  • “Ballroom Blitz – The Sweet

Of course, in all this, I have forgotten a few classics such as “Hotel California” by the Eagles and something by the Beach Boys – Surfin’ USA” or “Good Vibrations.”

Now for something French

These best French summer song has to be “Nationale 7” by the legendary Charles Trenet. Bfore the advent of motorways, the National 7 was the road that took Parisians from their stuffy summer city to the shores of the Med.

Heading for St Tropez this year, so the 1962 French classic “Twist à St Tropez” by the Chats Sauvages and “Do you Do you St Tropez” from the 1964 French comedy “Le Gendarme de St Tropez” (follow the link)

And because St Tropez woldn’t be St Tropez without Brigitte Bardot, I’ll leave you with “Harley Davdison” written by the late, great Serge Gainsbourg

Happy Hols

John King 1