Tunes on Tuesday – Route 66

Why this tune?

You must have heard “Route 66” – that iconic song about driving that highway “from Chicago to LA.” Perhaps it was during that little movie about cars in 2006, which included two versions of the song on the soundtrack, by Chuck Berry and John Mayer.

The first version I remember hearing was from the guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, channeling the original recording by Nat King Cole. It’s been recorded almost 300 times since Bobby Troup wrote it in 1946, by artists from all sorts of genres and styles.

Dig this detail!

When you take the song apart, it’s hard to see what makes it so great – it’s a simple blues with a simple melody, and the lyrics are basically a list of city names. Somehow, though, it is great. Maybe it’s the stop time bridge, or maybe iconic lyrics like “Don’t forget Winona.” It’s a great example of how a simple tune can have a huge impact.

This story of an iconic song is a good opportunity to revisit the history of the iconic highway it celebrates. This video, published by the National Park Service, explores the African-American experience along Route 66, and the guidebook that helped Black travelers find food and shelter in an often hostile and dangerous environment.

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Check it out!

Nat King Cole

John Pizzarelli

Published by Oren Levine

Jazz pianist and composer in Washington, DC. Also a digital product and technology professional working at a small DC nonprofit

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