With spring finally showing signs of being here for good, motorcycles are coming back to Canadian roads. Of course, bikes and rock go hand in hand, and those two-wheeled machines have inspired countless songs about the siren call of the road, and the power of a roaring engine. So in honour of bike season, I’d like to count down the 10 best motorcycle riding songs ever written.
10 – Born to Be Wild – Steppenwolf
Get your motor running
Get out on the highway
Steppenwolf wastes no time letting us know what this song is all about, and along the way they also baptize heavy metal, a genre still a couple of years away from being born among the steel mills of Birmingham, UK. “I like smoke and lightning. Heavy metal thunder.”
You’ll usually find this song atop the list of greatest motorcycle songs ever written but I’m putting it at 10 because it’s so overplayed that it’s become shorthand for bikes. It’s a great song, but others deserve their turn in the spotlight.
9 – Ride the Wind – Poison
Hearts of fire
Streets of stone
Saddle iron horses of chrome
Poison were the prettiest boys of the hair band era, but that never stopped singer Bret Michaels from reaching for bona fide rebel cred. This ode to rebel types with flowing manes of hair is one of the band’s best songs.
8 – Live to Ride, Ride to Live – Twisted Sister
You’ve got to
Ride to live, live to ride
Feel the flames burn inside
And though you know
You ride to hide
You ride to live to ride
Before being MTV sensations, Twisted Sister were an ass kicking club band in the New York area (see the fantastic documentary “We are Twisted Fucking Sister” to learn more about that period). Dee Snider is an avid biker and holds the annual Dee Snider Ride to Fight Hunger so it’s not surprising that he wrote a song about riding.
7 – Ezy Ryder – Jimi Hendrix
There goes ezy, ezy ryder
Riding down the highway of desire
He says the free wind, takes him higher
Searchin for his heaven above
Recorded with Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys lineup, it became a concert staple in his last stretch of touring despite seeing an official release only after his untimely death, on his first posthumous album “The Cry of Love”. Hendrix drew inspiration from the movie of the same name, but I’m not sure why he chose the first grader spelling.
6 – Wanted Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi
It’s all the same, only the names will change
Everyday, it seems we’re wastin’ away
Another place where the faces are so cold
I drive all night just to get back home
I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride
I’m wanted dead or alive
Wanted dead or alive
Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora aren’t the first names that come to mind when you think of bad ass bikers, but this song encapsulates perfectly the modern outlaw mystique. And this is the one song that Jovi haters usually begrudgingly admit to liking.
5 – Hell Bent For Leather – Judas Priest
Seek him here, seek him on the highway
Never knowing when he’ll appear
All await, engine’s ticking over
Hear the roar as they sense the fear
Wheels! A glint of steel and a flash of light!
Screams! From a streak of fire as he strikes!
Hell bent, hell bent for leather
Hell bent, hell bent for leather
Judas Priest has a few songs about riding but this track is so linked to bikes that Rob Halford usually rides his Harley Davidson on stage at the beginning of the song. Not sure what the lyrics are all about but who cares; they sound cool.
4 – This Life – Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers
Ridin’ through this world
God takes your soul
You’re on your own
The crow flies straight
A perfect line
On the devil’s path
Until you die
The theme song to the über violent motorcycle drama “Sons of Anarchy” has a quiet intensity that is a perfect soundtrack to the series’ subtext. Like the guys in SAMCRO, it sounds like it’s one match away from an explosion, in no small part due to Curtis Stigers’ vocals.
3 – Ghost Rider – Rush
Pack up all those phantoms
Shoulder that invisible load
Keep on riding North and West
Haunting that wilderness road
Like a ghost rider
In 1997, the 19-year-old daughter of Rush’s drummer and lyricist Neil Peart died in a car accident. 10 months later, his wife would succumb to cancer. To deal with the pain, Peart retired from music, and went on a 88,000 km motorcycle ride throughout Canada, the US and Central America. This song and book of the same name chronicle this difficult time for the drummer. A more introspective track, it speaks of a more spiritual connection with bikes.
2 – Motorcycle Man – Saxon
I can beat your street machine
I’m taking risks, that’s what I mean
‘Cause I’m a motorcycle man
We get our kicks just when we can
Saxon were part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal from the late 70’s/early 80’s, and while they never reached the heights of say, Iron Maiden, they had a string of great albums. “Motorcycle Man” is from their 1979 second album “Wheels of Steel” (another great bike song). I love the song’s unbridled energy.
1- Iron Horse – Motörhead
He rides a road, that don’t have no end
An open highway, without any bends
Tramp and his stallion, alone in a dream
Proud in his colors, as the chromium gleams
On iron horse he flies
On iron horse he gladly dies
Iron horse his wife
Iron horse his life
Motörhead’s Lemmy was the epitome of cool, sporting the biker look basically 24/7. Bon Jovi may have sung about being a modern-day cowboy, but Lemmy was the real deal. “Iron Horse”‘s repetitive guitar riff sounds like the roar of a motorcycle down a lonely stretch of road.
What are your favourite motorcycle songs? Add yours in the comments!
He's also a regular contributor at the very rad site Montreal Rampage