I read once that we, as a nation, are fascinated with the names of places, as used in songs, more than any other people in the world. True or not, it started me thinking about songs of this type…..and there are different types.
Early ballads provide a musical history of the longing for home, and songs of the Civil War period also sang of home and of a lost way of life.
Our modern day “On the Road” type of songs could have their roots in the old Route 66 highway that crossed 2448 miles of the nation, reaching from Chicago to LA. Migrants traveled this route during the dustbowl days, their ordeals immortalized in john Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Although travel was exceedingly tedious in the days following the opening of Route 66, in 1926, other daring travelers began to undertake the trip.
Route 66 saw every kind of traveler: The more affluent, traveling to see the sights, and worn-out vehicles and trucks such as this museum item,piled high with household goods, their owners hoping to find a better life.
Perhaps it was Bobby Troup’s lyrics to Get Your Kicks on Route 66, that first captured the spirit of traveling through the cities and states along this legendary highway. Written soon after WWll, it quickly became a hit, and as Route 66 became improved and other highways were built, cross country travel became more common.
There is a bit of loneliness as well as excitement in the multitude of trucking songs such as Six Days on the Road and 500 Hundred Miles Away From Home. Then there is Kansas City, a rollicking piece that quickly filled many dance floors with it’s first notes.
Songs about Alabama, California, Oklahoma, and Texas appear to be in the majority, and cities such as San Antonia, Tulsa, New York, and San Francisco head a long list of many more. The names seem to hold a special mystic … one of the excitement of the wild west, or being on a mountain top, looking down on a misty valley, smelling the scent of the pines the ocean on a damp breeze.
In retrospect, it seems that it has been our highway system that has spawned so many songs about being on the road.