Texas Road Trip Mix Tape

Mix tape: 18 essential Texas songs for your essential Texas road trip

Mix tape: 18 essential Texas songs for your essential Texas road trip

A good road trip needs a good soundtrack. Photo by Kevin McCauley

There is a certain feeling of wanderlust that comes with the arrival of spring. Sunny skies and 70 degree weather create visions of the open road, of a classic road trip filled with pit stops, starry skies and the vast vistas that only Texas can provide. Channeling the dozens of road trips we've taken across this great state — and this great country — we know the importance of a musical mix that is equal parts fun, dreamy and nostalgic.

The inspiration behind our mix tape is simple: Texas. Looking at our culture, our people and the Texas-sized myth behind the Lone Star State, this soundtrack embraces the spirit of long car rides. And if you can't get away, don't despair. Plug in your headphones, open your window and just pretend. So queue up our special playlist and listen along as we explain why and where each song should be played during your time on the road.

Song: "Back in the Saddle Again"
Artist: Riders in the Sky
When you should listen to it: At the beginning of your trip
All road trips need to start on a light note. Realizing you're about to be in this car for a long time can be overwhelming if you think about it for too long. If you're traveling with someone else, well then you really must start on a light note. "Back in the Saddle Again" is equal parts Texas, nostalgia and fun.

Song: "Piece of My Heart"
Artist: Janis Joplin
When you should listen to it: The first time you get out of city traffic
This song should be timed with the first moment you actually get out of Austin traffic and get your car above 65 mph. For optimal effect, the windows should be rolled down and everyone should belt out the words. Bonus points if one of the dudes in the car will shout the "take it, break it!" background vocals and everyone else does that wavy thing with their arm sticking out of the window.

Song: "I'll Be Here in the Morning"
Artist: Townes Van Zandt
When you should listen to it: The moment you realize that this trip isn't ending anytime soon
"I could never hit the open road/ And leave you layin' there/ Close your eyes/ I'll be here in the morning." Simple, sweet and utterly romantic, Townes encapsulates perfectly into the feeling of being on the open road, with your beloved by your side. It also works in a literal sense. If your cohort wants to take a nap, you can assure them that you'll still be there when they wake up. 

Song: "Ride Wit Me"
Artist: Nelly
When you should listen to it: When energy is low or someone tells a story about attending a middle school dance
Nelly, a.k.a. Cornell Iral Haynes, Jr., was born right here in Austin. Sure, he may have made his name representing St. Louis, but for our purposes, we're claiming him as a Texan. "Ride Wit Me" is one of the best road trip songs ever. A bold statement, but hear me out. Is it not true that everyone knows most of the lyrics to "Ride Wit Me" without ever having consciously decided to learn them? A song where everyone in the car gets involved is a must-have on any traveler's mix tape.

Song: "Your Hand in Mine"
Artist: Explosions in the Sky
When you should listen to it: The first moment where no one is talking, just taking in the great expanse around them
There is a reason this was selected to be the theme song for Friday Night Lights, the greatest television show of all time. While most of the instrumental compositions of the Austin-based Explosions in the Sky would be an excellent addition to a road trip mix, "Your Hand in Mine" is special, pulling at a nostalgia that lives deep in the gut of the listener.

Song: "Deep in the Heart of Texas"
Artist: Ray Charles
When you should listen to it: Your first night on the road, about an hour after sunset
While there may be some flack given for selecting the Ray Charles version of this classic Texas tune, there is something about Charles' croon and the big band instrumentals that makes this version special.

Song: "Copperhead Road"
Artist: Steve Earle
When you should listen to it: When you take that dirt road detour
"Copperhead Road" is an anthem for the back roads. Crank it up, roll down the windows and let Earle ease you down the road. 

Song: La Conozco
Artist: "Grupo Fantasmo"
When you should listen to it: In the parking lot of a dive bar, preferably with a cocktail
Grupo Fantasmo is one of those bands that inspires impromptu dance parties wherever they go. Why not find a friendly spot, put down the bed of the truck (you are driving a pick up truck on this road trip, right?) and crank this on your stereo. Grab a six-pack, a bottle of tequila, a few limes and prepare to meet your new best friends.

Song: "Red River Valley"
Artist: Gene Autry
When you should listen to it: The morning after your impromptu party
Whether you've taken our advice and thrown a party, or just imbibed at some local watering hole, there may be a morning where you're just not feeling aces. North Texas-born Gene Autry's voice is so soothing that you will instantly feel better about any of the bad choices you made the night before. Or maybe he won't. Regardless, it's a great song.

Song: "Threadbare Gypsy Soul"
Artist: Pat Green (and Willie Nelson)
When you should listen to it: When you've embraced your new life as a ramblin' road warrior
You've been traveling cross-country — or across this fine state — so chances are you've also embodied a bit of the gypsy spirit. Sing along with Texas country's pal Pat Green and embrace that wild streak in your heart. 

Song: "All My Exes Live in Texas"
Artist: George Strait
When you should listen to it: When you pass the hometown of your ex
Sure, Texas may be bigger than France — but it can also feel quite small when you run into someone you used to love. (Plus, you didn't think we'd make a Texas road trip list without adding George Strait, did you?)

Song: "Slow Ride"
Artist: Foghat
When you should listen to it: When you need a movie moment
We don't know if Foghat sat down and said, "let's write a classic road trip song" before penning "Slow Ride," but that was certainly the result. Plus, this track is ripped right from Dazed and Confused, arguably one of the best movies made in Texas with arguably one of the best soundtracks.

Song: "'03 Bonnie and Clyde"
Artist: Beyonce and Jay-Z
When you should listen to it: When you're really willing to commit to lip-syncing
Queen Bey and her King Jay require your utmost respect, so do not attempt to half-ass this song. And though Jay-Z is a born New Yorker, he is married to Beyonce, so we consider him part of the Texas family. Consider this song a wild card; when you need it, you'll know.

Song: "Si Una Vez"
Artist: Selena
When you should listen to it: When you've gotten into a fight with your companion
Even without understanding Spanish, your significant other will feel the intensity behind Selena's words and know he or she has done wrong.

Song: "Dublin Blues"
Artist: Guy Clark
When you should listen to it: When you're pining for home
Clark is a master songwriter, and with "Dublin Blues," he captures the loneliness of the road. One listen to this tune and we bet you'll stop by the Texas Chili Parlor upon your return. 

Song: "La Grange"
Artist: ZZ Top
When you should listen it: If you've actually left Texas, and you're about to cross the Texas state line (again)
You're home! Well, you're back in Texas at least. You've been everywhere, man, but now you're back in the very best. Put on your shades, turn up the Top and cruise across the state line. 

Song: "Never Left the Lone Star State"
Artist: Bill Neely
When you should listen to it: If you didn't travel outside of the state
There is something profound in realizing you've just driven hundreds of miles, over many hours, and never actually managed to leave Texas.

Song: "On the Road Again"
Artist: Willie Nelson
When you should listen to it: The day after your road trip ends
There are few things more iconic than the Great American road trip. Kerouac and Steinbeck wrote famous books about it. Countless movies have celebrated the tradition and more songs have been written than Spotify could handle. But no one captures the spirit of the open road better than our very own Willie Nelson.