10 Restless Wandering or Traveling Songs
These are my favorite traveling or wandering songs in no particular order.
You may notice that my choices are not limited to a particular genre, but they do tend to be older songs, since this is the musical era that I am most familiar with.
- Travelin' Song
- I'm a Wanderer
- Papa Was a Rolling Stone
- I Was Born a Ramblin' Man
- Leaving on a Jet Plane
- Gentle on My Mind
- Born to be Wild
- Running on Empty
- Free Bird
1. "Travelin' Song"– Jackie Greene
“Travelin' Song” is the newest song on my list, and it's not even that new. It is off of Jackie Greene's Gone Wanderin' album, which was released in 2002.
The album won the California Music Award for the Best Blues/Roots Album in 2003 and stayed on the national Americana charts for over a year. The New York Times even named Jackie Greene “The Prince of Americana.”
This talented singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has gone on to release several more albums, but this is still one of my favorite songs of his.
2. "The Wanderer"– Dion
This is the oldest song on my list, so all the rest will fall somewhere in between 1961 and 2002.
Ernie Maresca wrote “The Wanderer” and Dion was the first to record it in 1961. A very catchy song, it is ranked number 243 on the Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The song is so lively, and the guy in the song seems to be having a great time. Still, that “Happy as a clown with my two fists of iron but I'm going nowhere,” seems to be an indication that even he knows this is leading, well, nowhere.
3. "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"– The Temptations
This song is identified so strongly with The Temptations, that most people would be surprised to know that Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong originally wrote “Papa Was a Rolling Stone" for a different band, The Undisputed Truth. They recorded the song in 1972. It was even somewhat successful charting at number 24 on the R&B Charts and number 63 on the Pop Charts.
When The Temptations' 12-minute version went to number 1, and won three Grammy's in 1973, that other band's version was pretty much forgotten.
4. "Ramblin' Man"– Allman Brothers
Now this is what I call a ramblin' man. He was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus rolling down Highway Forty-one!
“Ramblin' Man" is the lead single off of Brothers and Sisters, The Allman Brothers Band's forth studio album, released in 1973. Dickey Betts wrote and sang the song, it was inspired by a Hank Williams song of the same name. It was the Allman Brothers Band's first and only top 10 single.
5. "Leaving on a Jet Plane"– Peter, Paul and Mary
John Denver wrote "Leaving on a Jet Plane." He originally titled it "Babe, I Hate to Go." It was featured on his 1966 album John Denver Sings.
Of course, the version most of us know is the one by Peter, Paul and Mary. It seems like Mary Travers' beautiful voice was just made to sing this song, and her band mates harmonize with her seamlessly.
"Leaving on a Jet Plane" was on Peter, Paul and Mary's 1967 record, Album 1700. They released it as a single in 1969 and it became their biggest hit.
6. "Gentle on My Mind"– Glen Campbell
I have always love the imagery in this song. These lines seem to put you right there on the road and around the campfire.
“Though the wheat fields and the clothes lines
And the junkyards and the highways come between us”
“I dip my cup of soup back from a gurglin' cracklin' cauldron
In some train yard
My beard a rustlin' coal pile
And a dirty hat pulled low across my face
Through cupped hands 'round a tin can
I pretend to hold you to my breast and find
That you're waitin' from the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
Ever smilin', ever gentle on my mind”
John Hartford wrote “Gentle on My Mind.” His recording of it won two Grammy's in 1969. However, the man I associate with this song won two more Grammys for it that same year, Glen Campbell. This song was ranked number 16 on BMI's Top 100 Songs of the Century!
7. "Born to be Wild" – Steppenwolf
"Born to Be Wild" was first written by Mars Bonfire as a ballad. Hard to imagine huh? After he failed to interest other bands in the song, he let Steppenwolf record their own sped up and rearranged version of the song.
"Born to Be Wild" was Steppenwolf's third single off their 1968 debut album, Steppenwolf, and it became their most successful single, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts.
"Born to Be Wild" is indelibly associated with bikers, and the biker lifestyle, probably because it was featured in the 1969 film Easy Rider.
It has also been described as the first heavy metal song, perhaps partly because of the second verse lyric "heavy metal thunder."
8. "Running on Empty"– Jackson Browne
My first impulse was to include the Jackson Browne song "The Load Out"/"Stay," in this list, but then I thought about "Running on Empty." I didn't want to include two by the same band. I believe "Running on Empty" is really more of a travelling/wandering song, and so fits better with the premise of my list.
While I love it, "The Load Out"/"Stay" is about touring with a band, where I feel the rest of the songs on my list seem to see traveling or wandering as a solitary pursuit.
Both songs are included on Browne's fifth album titled Running on Empty. The whole album features songs about life on the road.
The album was released in 1977, and the it reached number 3 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart in 1978.
The song, "Running on Empty," peaked at number 11 and "The Load-Out"/"Stay" got to number 20 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.
9. "Katmandu"– Bob Seger
"Katmandu" was written and recorded by Bob Seger and was featured on his eighth studio album, Beautiful Loser in 1975. The single reached number 43 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was his most successful single since the success of his "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" which climbed to number 17 in 1969.
I have fond memories of this song because my kids used to rock out to it in the car. I had a cassette tape of Beautiful Loser playing perpetually in my car for months.
10. "Free Bird"– Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," is the perfect example of a power ballad. It was first featured on their debut album, Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd, in 1973. It was the band's second Top 40 hit. It topped out at number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100.
At the peak of the band's success, the music came to a sudden end when band members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines died in a plane crash.
The surviving band members re-formed in 1987 for a reunion tour with Johnny Van Zant taking on the role of lead vocalist. Lynyrd Skynyrd has continued to tour and record since then, but on January 25, 2018, they announced their Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour, which began on May 4, 2018.
"Free Bird" is still the band's signature song. They often close their live performances with it while showing pictures and video of deceased band members as a tribute to their "Free Birds."
I had a lot of fun putting this list together. Whether you are getting ready to ride down that long lonesome highway, or sitting on your couch, I hope you enjoyed it too.
© 2018 Sherry Hewins