Lonely as the Road I’m On

Not me, I’ve got the wonderful Missus to keep me company most of the time.  No, that’s a line from Highway Song, by Blackfoot.

It seems to me that the majority of songs in rock history are about someone’s “baby”.  Right?  Either it’s a love song or a song about someone you want to date or someone that broke up with you and broke your heart.  On and on.  Yada yada.  There must be tens of thousands of songs written about dating, love, and sex.

After that, one of the next big songwriting topics is “the road”.  Typically, a band used all of their best songs they had on their first album and if it was a hit, were scrambling to write more songs while still on the road touring in support of that first album.  Having run out of things to say, they write about the road.  Very often, second albums are not as good as the first.

Road songs break down into two main types. There are the uptempo ones that make you want to floor it.  Good examples of this include Highway Star by Deep Purple, Radar Love by Golden Earring, Ramblin Man by the Allman Brothers, Ramblin Gamblin Man by Seger, even Truckin by The Grateful Dead.

Then there are  the somewhat slower, contemplative ones that decry the lonely life on the road.  Blackfoot was a second tier, southern rock band out of Jacksonville.  They scored a couple hits with Train, Train and with Highway Song.  They were led by Rickey Medlocke, who went on to play for Skynyrd.  I saw the band once as an opening act.  Unfortunately, opening acts were infrequently listed on concert tickets so I’m not sure who they opened for, although I know it was at the Rochester War Memorial.

For me, Highway Song is about 3/4’s of a good, lonely road song.  The lyrics are sufficiently contemplative and the chorus has a great hook .  Unfortunately, they lose me with the long, boring guitar solo at the end.  This is a common problem with many southern rock songs, in my opinion.  Some good songs with some really boring guitar playing.

Well, the hurt you leave behind
It’s the hurt that’s on your mind
Oh, and last night’s show took its toll on me
Well the city lights fly by me
As I lay my body in my bed
Oh, and dreams of you dance through my head
It’s a highway song
You sing it on and on
On and on
Highway song
Is as lonely
As the road I’m on

It’s not exactly Dylan but it has a certain charm to it.

 

Next up is The Load-Out by Jackson Browne, from back when he could still churn out great songs.  Boy, there’s someone who just hit a wall with his songwriting in the early 80’s.  I just love the dated, pop culture references in this song, talking about Richard Pryor, eight tracks and cassettes, etc.  I was always thought it was cool the way this song segues into Stay, with David Lyndley covering the high parts.

But the band’s on the bus
And they’re waiting to go
We’ve got to drive all night and do a show in Chicago
or Detroit, I don’t know
We do so many shows in a row
And these towns all look the same
We just pass the time in our hotel rooms
And wander ’round backstage
Till those lights come up and we hear that crowd
And we remember why we came

Next up is a song that can really best be described as a guilty pleasure for me.  It’s a band that I have never liked(Motley Crue) in a genre that I have never liked(Hair Metal).  I’m a first and second generation Metal guy.  If I want to crank it to 11(it’s one louder), I’ll throw on War Pigs or Run to the Hills.  By the time Hair Metal came around, I was already on to other things and I found all of those bands to be kind of silly.  Anyway, Home Sweet Home is my one Crue, guilty pleasure.  A quick look at the lyrics really does not reveal much but it’s got that simple, catchy piano line and a video which seems to tell the story that the band wants to go home.  I don’t  know.  As I type this, it occurs to me that this is the weakest entry on my short list.

I’m on my way
I’m on my way
Home sweet home

From the weakest entry to what has to be the strongest.  Is there a rock song that better conveys what life on the road was like than Turn the Page?  Every single word of this song is dripping with imagery.  We have “echoes from the amplifiers”, avoiding bar fights with rednecks over your long hair, and “smoking the day’s last cigarette”.  That’s rock n roll gold to me.  Sure, the song is completely played out, but for good reason. It’s so artfully written.  Add in that lonesome, “roadhouse” sax from Alto Reed and you’ve got yourself one hell of a song.  I could dissect the lyrics but chances are, you already know them.

On a long and lonesome highway
east of Omaha
You can listen to the engine
moanin’ out his one note song
You can think about the woman
or the girl you knew the night before
But your thoughts will soon be wandering
the way they always do
When you’re ridin’ sixteen hours
and there’s nothin’ there to do
And you don’t feel much like ridin’,
you just wish the trip was through

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ star again
There I go
Turn the page

Well you walk into a restaurant,
strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you
as you’re shakin’ off the cold
You pretend it doesn’t bother you
but you just want to explode

Most times you can’t hear ’em talk,
other times you can
All the same old cliches,
“Is that a woman or a man?”
And you always seem outnumbered,
you don’t dare make a stand

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ star again
There I go
Turn the page

Out there in the spotlight
you’re a million miles away
Every ounce of energy
you try to give away
As the sweat pours out your body
like the music that you play

Later in the evening
as you lie awake in bed
With the echoes from the amplifiers
ringin’ in your head
You smoke the day’s last cigarette,
rememberin’ what she said

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ star again
There I go
Turn the page
Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin’ star again
There I go
Turn the page
There I go
There I go

This is the quintessential version, from Live Bullet.

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