The Great Canadian Road Trip Playlist: 10 Essential Road Trip Songs
Hopping in the car for a cross-country trek? Be sure to add these quintessential Canadian road trip songs to your playlist before pulling out of the driveway.
The Best Road Trip Songs For a Journey Across Canada
Nothing promises adventure quite like a road trip. Sometimes there’s a clear destination in mind, but other times, the thrill of the unknown is the guide. The trek could be made alone, or with a vehicle full of passengers. Amidst all of those variables, however, one thing is certain: the trip must include a selection of road-worthy tunes.
Music is crucial, as it lays down the soundtrack of the journey, providing a powerful backdrop whether you’re on, beside, or off the road. And when that journey takes you on a road trip across Canada, it’s not just any music that you need, but music that came from the artists who called these majestic mountains, rolling plains, and craggy shores home.
So here they are, the top 10 essential road trip songs for any cross-Canada trek.
“Ahead by a Century,” The Tragically Hip, Trouble at the Henhouse (1997)
Simultaneously soothing and ethereal, “Ahead by a Century” evokes the end of the first day on the road. The driver slips the car into park, leans back in her seat and reflects on the day with a sense of nostalgia and wonder. As she stares out into the night sky, The Tragically Hip invite her into their world: Calm, peaceful and mentally prepared to face the next leg of the journey in the morning.
“Marching Through Your Head,” Zeus, Say Us (2010)
Never heard of Zeus? Make it a point to get acquainted with the Canadian indie rock band’s 2010 anthem, “Marching Through Your Head.” Basically the audio equivalent of caffeine, the up-tempo romper is the perfect track for setting out in the morning. The song’s strong rhythm and powerful vocals have helped earned the band an ever-expanding fan base, and are ideally suited for the highway’s on-ramp. The perfect tune for warming up a cold engine.
“Hard Road,” Sam Roberts, We Were Born in a Flame (2003)
An early selection from the Sam Roberts discography, “Hard Road” is one of the master lyricist’s most well-rounded tracks, which-appropriately, given the nature of this list-speaks of the journey down “life’s road.” Like any cross-Canada trek, there are times that it’s a “hard road to travel on,” but no matter what route they take, Roberts tells the driver they’re headed in the right direction. Poetry, road trip style.
“Do the Bearcat,” David Wilcox, Out of the Woods (1977)
With its funky guitar riff and driving beat, “Do the Bearcat” makes for perfect road trip listening. When you think of it, Wilcox is rock’s answer to of Raffi (Canada’s hero of children’s music), and the song—which is nothing short of a rubber ball of energy that bounces from the car speakers—elicits a child-like excitement, helped to no end by the unabashedly silly lyrics. A great shot in the arm for passengers who are starting to let the ride lull them to sleep.
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“These Eyes,” The Guess Who, Wheatfield Soul (1969)
“These Eyes” is one of those songs that dares you not to sing along—and maybe even tear up. So powerful is this Guess Who classic, its tendency to trigger waterworks was lampooned in the film Superbad, which saw Canadian-born actor Michael Cera provide his own hilarious rendition. Arguably one of the best Canadian road trip songs ever recorded, and much deserving of a spot in our top 10.
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“One Week,” Barenaked Ladies, Stunt (1998)
The real test for this road trip song is how many provinces you’ll span before you can recite the rapid-fire lyrics without making a single gaffe. (That includes “chickity China / the Chinese chicken.”). Even with the words memorized, it takes immense skill and rhythm to deliver them as flawlessly as the Barenaked Ladies.
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“Born to be Wild,” Steppenwolf, Steppenwolf (1968)
“Born to be Wild” speaks to everyone’s inner need to let loose—and where better than the open road to belt out that iconic chorus? It’s the Canadian anthem for casting your cares aside and discovering total freedom, and an easy choice for our Canadian road trip playlist.
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“Spirit of the Radio,” Rush, Permanent Waves (1980)
Put on the brakes for a moment to reflect on just how brilliant Rush’s “Spirit of the Radio” truly is. There’s the masterful guitar line in the song’s opening bars, which is incredibly unique and among the most recognizable in rock history. Then, layers of complexity are added in the form of the drums and bass. But through it all, that beat never wavers—a testament to the talent of these Canadian musicians. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s a song that pays homage to the radio: A device that’s synonymous with the automobile, and the soundtrack to Canadian road trips for the bulk of the 20th century.
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“The Weight,” The Band, Music from Big Pink (1968)
The Band left the world some magnificent music, and 1968’s “The Weight” is one of its most road-worthy legacies. As the chorus builds to the spine-tingling three-party harmony, there won’t be anyone in the car who’s not singing right along.
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“Out on the Weekend,” Neil Young, Harvest (1972)
Who else could occupy the number one spot on our countdown but Neil Young? In “Out on the Weekend,” the iconic Canadian songwriter’s melancholy melody and chord progression provides the notion of comfort in loneliness—something that long-haul drivers can relate to all too well. The last few minutes of the song play driver back home; as it concludes, with the driver safely in the driveway, the happy memories of the trip will be tucked away, saved as a story to tell for another day.
Next, check out the greatest Canadian albums of all time.