Twenty years ago, unemployed and looking for a gig, I was hired by a company that offered seminars for kids getting ready to take their ACTs, one of the two major college-entrance exams, a seasonal job I did for most of the next four years. Then I took a few years off, and did it again for three years in the early aughts. And now I’m doing it again. It’s the most agreeable job I’ve ever had, but the best part is the travel. I have always enjoyed car time with music on, and this job offers plenty of that. When I’m not teaching, I can go exploring: on some of my trips in the 90s, I’d visit Civil War sites; now my trips involve looking for breweries and beer bars. I can look up old friends (which I did this week), do other work during my hotel hangouts, or just vegetate with the laptop. The trip I’m wrapping up today spanned Friday to Friday, seven nights, which is about as long as trips get anymore—and about as long as I want to be gone. The other morning, as I walked down the hall to the hotel breakfast, I was briefly unable to remember what town I was in, which is usually a sign that it’s getting time to go home.
I travel with a database of the Billboard charts from 1954 to 2004. (But doesn’t everybody?) The other morning I started poking through it looking for “road” songs, and here’s some of what I found.
The most successful “road” song of all time is probably “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men, which did 13 weeks at #1 in 1992. “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles was also #1 in 1970, and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John went to #2 in 1973. (“Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver belongs on here too, although I searched for “road” and not “roads,” otherwise this post would have run 1,000 words.) “The Valley Road” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range was a Top-10 hit in 1988; John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down the Road” hit the Top 10 in 1985, and “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson did the same trick in 1980. Charting further down, there was “Middle of the Road” by the Pretenders as 1983 turned to 1984, Barry Manilow’s “Somewhere Down the Road” in 1982, and the Eagles’ final single, “Seven Bridges Road,” which spanned 1980 and 1981.
The last “road” song of the 70s was “Bright Side of the Road” by Van Morrison, which bubbled under the Hot 100 late in 1979. Then it’s back to “Ease on Down the Road” by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson (from The Wiz) in 1978, which had charted three years before by a group calling itself Consumer Rapport. The Stampeders’ weird cover of “Hit the Road Jack,” featuring a cameo by Wolfman Jack, charted in 1976. A group called the Road Apples scored a modest Top-40 hit in the fall of 1975 with “Let’s Live Together.” Similarly honorable mention goes to the group Gunhill Road (“Back When My Hair Was Short”) and to Al Wilson and Climax, who released their 70s hits, including “Show and Tell” and “Precious and Few,'” on the Rocky Road label.
In 1973, a group called Uncle Dog briefly charted with “River Road,” goodtime English blooze with a male/female duet lead. In ’72, the Hollies did “Long Dark Road,” soul singer Solomon Burke scored with the burnin’ “Love’s Street and Fool’s Road,” and the husband-and-wife duo of Terry Black and Laurel Ward scraped into the Hot 100 with “Goin’ Down (On the Road to L.A.).” Freda Payne looks to have done two weeks at #100 with “The Road We Didn’t Take” in January.
The Beach Boys closed 1971 with ‘”Long Promised Road,” a few months after Brewer and Shipley’s “Tarkio Road” and Mark Lindsay’s “Been Too Long on the Road,” which was #98 for a single week. James Taylor hit in ’71 with “Country Road,” but Merry Clayton bubbled under with it first, and did it better, on her album Gimme Shelter. The year 1970 saw a lot of road songs: “The Long and Winding Road,” “Farther on Down the Road” by Joe Simon, “”Long Lonesome Road” by the Shocking Blue, and “End of Our Road” by Marvin Gaye, the first song ever played on American Top 40. And Jamul, a band we met during our series on one-hit wonders to peak in the 90s, hit with “Tobacco Road.”
To keep this post from going on any longer than it already has, I’m not going to dig into the 60s or the 50s. But because a blog is a content monster demanding to be fed, I probably will someday. After I get home.