12 best travel songs of all time

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A journey through the best travel tunes ever recorded

Go-Go's, Bruce and S&G all represented

You've heard our pick for number one a million times ... but still probably can't turn it off your radio

CNN  — 

Music and travel have always gone together.

But if you were to name 12 great travel-inspired tracks from the last 20 years, where would you start?

No, putting Enya on shuffle to transform 11 hours of bun-numbing economy class tedium into a “spiritual journey” doesn’t count.

You’d probably find it hard to start at all.

While performers like Jay-Z and Alicia Keys continue to crank out tunes that celebrate destinations like New York, barely anyone seems to be writing great songs about travel any more.

Once a life-changing event, leaving on a jet plane is now something everyone does, all the time. And it sucks.

High fuel prices and dull highways means epic car journeys are often out of the question.

And the only people still hopping freight trains inevitably wind up mangled in machinery.

So, with due apologies for excessive wallowing in classic guitar licks of years gone by, please fasten your seatbelts and familiarize yourself with the safety procedures as we embark on a journey through the best travel tunes ever recorded.

12. Peter, Paul and Mary: ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ (1967)

This wistful John Denver ballad telling the story of an achy-hearted traveler’s sadness at leaving a loved one and not knowing “when I’ll be back again” is an anthem for long-distance love.

In these days of volcanic eruptions, angry passengers and unhelpful counter agents, it could simply be a mundane tirade against the uncertainties of commercial flying.

Sad but apt fact: In one of popular music’s most apt demises, Denver died when his experimental plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

11. I Nine: ‘Same in Any Language’ (2005)

As a director, Cameron Crowe has become the modern bard of hits (“Jerry McGuire,” “Almost Famous”) and misses (“We Bought a Zoo”).

As a compiler of soundtracks, we’d probably put him above Wes Anderson as the best in the biz.

Though among his less celebrated films, 2005’s “Elizabethtown” showcases one of his most memorable collections of excellent, semi-obscure tunes, highlighted by this strummy rocker about the gypsy lifestyle from South Carolina’s critically acclaimed I Nine.

The song takes us from Tripoli to Amsterdam to Birmingham, but finds that all of us share the universal desire of chatting up a Navajo in a parking lot in Tokyo. (Somehow this all works really, really well.)

Whattya gonna do? fact: A great soundtrack couldn’t hide the flaws in “Elizabethtown,” which gets just a 28% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

10. Gene Pitney: ’24 Hours from Tulsa’ (1963)

Clearly a song of its time, Gene Pitney’s hit is a tale of unexpectedly falling in love a day’s drive away from an existing relationship.

It wouldn’t happen today because the song’s protagonist would have hopped onto a budget airline and made the journey in a couple of hours – although he could perhaps have squeezed in a quick flirtation with the woman in seat 16B who was giving him those looks …

Slightly tasteless fact: The Welsh hotel room where Pitney died of heart failure in 2006 was about 24 hours’ travel time from Tulsa.

9. Iggy Pop: ‘The Passenger’ (1977)

Not to be confused with Elton John’s execrable 1984 song “Passengers,” or the 2003 album “Passenger” by Swedish nu metal band “Passenger,” Iggy’s restless punk anthem cleaves a ragged path through the dark heart of an unexplored urban landscape – or at least it used to until it was appropriated (with lucrative results for Mr. Pop no doubt) to peddle cars, Guinness and cosmetics.

Sell-out fact: Apparently no longer content to be a passenger, Iggy himself – old, wrinkled but still shirtless – once advertised car insurance in the United Kingdom.

8. M.I.A.: ‘Paper Planes’ (2008)

Before you start hurling heavy objects at your screen, hear us out.

Yes, this might be a feeble attempt to keep this list current, but M.I.A.’s melodic mash-up of The Clash’s “Straight to Hell” and Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rumpshaker” is about travel.

Sure, M.I.A.’s incoherent polemics on glo