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What do you listen to before the in-flight entertainment starts? Why, songs about airplanes, of course! Here, TPG Contributor Otis Wright highlights 10 of our favorite tunes to taxi to — with YouTube videos for each in case you want to rock out while you read.
Musicians have been writing about airplanes almost as long as they’ve been hopping in them to get from gig to gig. While it’s true most of what they have to say about flying usually involves how sick they are of being in airplanes, their complaints make for some fine toe-tapping while you’re waiting for your A320 to taxi to the runway. The list below is by no means comprehensive, but includes some of our favorites. Rock on, travelers, rock on.
1. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary
Written by John Denver in 1966, and most popularly remembered for Peter, Paul and Mary’s 1969 recording, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (“Don’t know when I’ll be back again … When I come back, I’ll bring your wedding ring”) manages to combine the wistfulness of an airport farewell with the promise of a love fulfilled, at least eventually.
2. “Jet Airliner” by the Steve Miller Band
You’ll have to update the 1977 reference to the Boeing 707, but the message, about how homesickness starts as soon as you board the plane, remains as relevant as ever.
3. “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” by The Damned
Released in 1977 by Elton Motello (with a repurposed melody shared with Plastic Bertrand’s “Ça Plane Pour Moi”), innuendo-laden promises of global travel punctuate a tale of the thwarted seduction of a 15-year-old boy. There have been many covers, notably those of the New York Dolls and Sonic Youth, but the version by The Damned is arguably tops.
4. “Aeroplane Blues” by The Black Keys
The Ohio garage rockers narrate the nihilistic mutterings of an airplane passenger numbed by drugs, sleepless nights and endless travels, in 2004. Despite his invitation to take a seat, he’s probably not the guy you want to spend a long haul next to.
5. “Paper Planes” by M.I.A.
Though only nominally plane-related, the controversial British singer’s 2007 indictment of America’s endless pursuit of money and its ostracism of immigrants is an infectious song that’ll have you making “pyoo-pyoo ka-ching” noises while questioning the effectiveness of our visa system.
6. “5:30 Plane” by The Supremes
What is it about airplanes and the potential end of relationships? The legendary Motown group (minus Diana Ross) squeezes out every ounce of ambivalence and pathos from the 1972 story of two people who seriously need couples counseling — and a woman who could really benefit from keeping to a flight schedule.
7. “Hold That Plane” by Buddy Guy
Channeling the anxiety of every business traveler who’s ever gotten a late start to the day, the Chicago blues great obviously wrote this 1972 song after way too much time on the road.
8. “This Plane” by Wiz Khalifa
The lead single and one of the better entries from Wiz Khalifa’s 2009 Deal or No Deal album, “This Plane” — in which he unapologetically celebrates the success of his career — is best appreciated from first class.
9. “Blues From an Airplane” by Jefferson Airplane
Naturally we had to find some way to fit in a song about airplanes by the most famous band with, y’know, the word “airplane” in it. This early Jefferson Airplane song, from the debut 1966 album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, reminds listeners about the quintessential loneliness of air travel.
10. “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” by the Drive-By Truckers
Yet another song that seems rooted in the weariness of life on the road — obviously an occupational hazard — this 2001 song by the Southern alt-rockers from Athens, Georgia, was actually inspired by what Ronnie Van Zant said to the rest of Lynyrd Skynyrd when they balked at taking their fateful last flight in 1977.
What are your favorite songs about airplanes? Are there others you’d add to this list?
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