Summer is here, and for many people, that means it’s vacation time. While there are plenty of ways people get to their vacations, nothing compares to the good old-fashioned road trip. Even before the pandemic, road trips were increasing in popularity among American vacationers. This trend continued last year when COVID-19 hampered many other forms of travel and looks to continue through this summer season.
If you’re one of the many looking forward to a road trip this summer, our team has some advice on how to prepare. Before you hit the road, there are a few essential things to take care of: check your car insurance, fill up on gas (hopefully with one of the best credit cards for gas), and of course, create your road trip playlist.
On that last point, no road trip is complete without some killer tunes. The right playlist can help make the hours fly by while also becoming an indelible part of memories formed on the road with family or friends. But what exactly makes a good road trip playlist? And which songs, artists, and genres are best suited for the kind of long-haul driving a road trip requires?
To find the answers to those questions and help inspire any travelers out there putting together their own road trip playlists, the FinanceBuzz team pulled data on 100 popular road trip playlists on Spotify. We broke down things like the average number of songs in a playlist; how often different songs, artists, and albums appear on popular playlists; and more.
Read on to see the results of our analysis and get a link to the ultimate road trip playlist that we created based on our research!
Most popular road trip songs
After collecting and organizing the data from 100 playlists, we were able to determine which songs were most popular overall. Above, you can see the 25 songs (26 including ties) that appeared on the highest percentage of playlists. Lynyrd Skynyrd's all-time Southern rock classic “Sweet Home Alabama” takes the top spot, appearing on one out of every four playlists we evaluated.
Skynyrd taking the top spot sets a precedent that follows throughout much of this list, as 19 of 26 songs on this list fall under the “classic rock” genre. Further solidifying the dominance of classic rock artists, the only bands with tunes that land on this list twice are all-time classic rock greats — The Eagles and Queen.
After “Sweet Home Alabama,” only three other songs appeared on even 20% of playlists — Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, and Oasis’ “Wonderwall.”
Finally, while these are the most popular songs in our analysis, they represent just a fraction of the music included across all the playlists we evaluated. If you total up each individual inclusion on all the playlists, there are a total of 16,954 slots for songs. The top 25 songs represent just 437 of these nearly 17,000 slots. That means our top 25 songs amount to just 2.58% of the songs across all playlists.
Most popular artists to listen to on road trips
Outside of specific songs, we also looked into which artists appeared most often. We did this by finding how often songs from each artist’s catalog showed up on our road trip playlists. The top 25 artists (29 including ties) can be seen above.
The top overall artist is The Rolling Stones, with their songs appearing 125 different times across the 100 playlists, meaning they average 1.25 songs per playlist. Despite having the highest number of total songs appearing on the playlists, the Rolling Stones do not have a single song in the top 25. “Paint It, Black” was the closest, as it appeared on 12 playlists, while “(I Can’t Get Get No) Satisfaction” and “Start Me Up” both appear on 10. All told, 40 different Stones songs appear on at least one playlist.
Beyond the Stones, only three other artists had songs appear on playlists more than 100 times. Creedence Clearwater Revival was second with 112 appearances, Rihanna ranked third with 108, and The Beatles were right behind her with 107. After those artists, there is a big drop-off. Queen is next on the list with 91 song appearances, then a similarly-sized gap to Taylor Swift and Fleetwood Mac with 77 songs each.
While the Rolling Stones took the top spot without having a single track make our list of the 25 most popular songs, nine artists on the list above do have a top 25 road trip song. Those artists are Creedence Clearwater Revival, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Eagles, Guns N’ Roses, Tom Petty, and Avicii.
Most popular road trip albums
We also wanted to see which albums were the best at producing road trip-quality songs. To do this we counted how many times songs from specific albums appeared on the playlists, including when the same song appeared on multiple playlists. We compiled the above list of the 25 albums (26 including ties) that had the highest number of road trip-ready songs.
The Fleetwood Mac album “Rumours” proved to be well ahead of the competition in this regard. Songs from that album appeared on the playlists we analyzed 47 different times. That is 13 more songs than the second-place finisher, “Appetite for Destruction” from Guns N’ Roses. It is also more than twice as many songs as each album from the fourteenth spot on the list down.
“Rumours” is also one of two albums on this list that are among the 10 best-selling of all time, the other being “Back in Black” by AC/DC. Both of those albums sold over 25 million copies.
Finally, only one band has multiple albums on our top 25 list. That band is Creedence Clearwater Revival. Both “Willy and the Poor Boys” and “Cosmo’s Factory” land not only in the top 25 but in the top 10, finishing in fifth and sixth place respectively.
Most popular road trip song genres
When breaking down the different genres represented on these playlists, our team found that classic rock is the genre that road trippers like to listen to most. 19% of all songs fall into the classic rock category.
Pop is close behind, with 18% of road trip songs coming from the world of pop. Only two other genres make up more than 10% of songs on these playlists, with both hip-hop and alternative rock topping that mark.
Beyond the music: Road trip habits
We wanted to get a sense of how the general public feels about some travel-related topics beyond the data we could glean by evaluating playlists. We surveyed a representative sample of 1,200 U.S. adults to learn more about their approach to road trips.
As anyone who has been on a road trip knows, not everyone always agrees on what to listen to. We asked survey respondents to tell us who should get to make the ultimate decision.
The most popular answer was that the driver should have the final say, with 45% of people selecting that option. Nearly as many people feel it should be a compromise between driver and passengers, though, with 41.5% of people saying that’s how the choice should be made, while only 13% of people think passengers should get to choose.
We also asked which restaurants people like to stop at while on a road trip, with the top 10 answers shown above. Unsurprisingly, McDonald’s took the top spot by a mile, with 22.73% of people selecting the Golden Arches. That number is nearly triple the percentage of people who chose the second-place finisher, Chick-fil-A.
On the road again
Finally, we decided to use everything we learned while performing this analysis to create the Ultimate Road Trip Playlist, featuring the 170 most popular songs (plus ties) from the 100 playlists we evaluated. You can find a link to that playlist here or check out the embedded version below.
Even if you don’t want to listen to the playlist we put together, we hope this study has potentially inspired the playlists of anyone preparing to take off on their own road trip this summer. For those looking for even more road trip inspo, our team has a few tips for where to go and how to get there:
- Make sure you have the essentials covered. There are lots of things to pack for a successful road trip, and it can be easy for important things to fall through the cracks. Be sure to check our list of road trip essentials to ensure you have everything you need in the vehicle before you start driving.
- Figure out where to go and what to see. There are so many amazing destinations that are accessible by car, so it can be hard to figure out exactly where to go. To help you plot your course, our team has compiled a number of resources, including a list of amazing state parks in every state, a list of unusual roadside attractions that are worth checking out, and a guide to destinations to avoid because they are overrun with tourists (including better alternatives to visit).
- Earn rewards while you travel. Part of the appeal of road trips is that they tend to be less expensive than other forms of travel. Savvy vacationers can get even more financial benefits out of their road trip by using one of the best travel credit cards to pay for their expenses while on the road.
How we identified these top road trip jams
For this analysis, we looked at 100 different, publicly available Spotify playlists that mention road trips, cars, or driving in the title or description. To be included, a playlist needed to have at least 4,000 likes. Eighteen of the included playlists were made by Spotify itself. Fourteen were made by verified users on the site. The remaining 68 were compiled by average users.
We pulled data on each song, artist, and album on every playlist, and we collected the length of each song. We also looked up the genre of every song and tracked the number of songs in each playlist.
Across the 100 playlists we evaluated, we discovered that the average road trip playlist is 170 songs long, with the average song length coming in at 3 minutes and 47 seconds. That means the average road trip playlist lasts for just under 10 hours and 45 minutes, which is about the amount of time it takes to drive from Chicago to Atlanta.