The Perfect New England Road Trip Playlist (PS: It’s Mostly Noah Kahan)

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I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Noah Kahan lately. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s a 26 year old singer-songwriter from Strafford, Vermont who has had a meteoric rise over the past year or two. His music is fantastic and so many of his songs are evocative of Vermont, New England, and that northern atmosphere I know and love so well. As a Vermonter, I can’t get enough of his music.

Playing his songs on repeat these past few months gave me the idea to create my own New England road trip playlist: a collection of songs that would be absolutely perfect for anyone taking a drive through New England.

This playlist will include songs about or taking place in the New England states, or songs written by iconic artists from the region. These New England songs span across genre and time, but one thing is for sure, they will transport you immediately to the shores, streets, and woods of New England.

You don’t need to wait to dive into my New England playlist either. I’ve conveniently linked it right here on Spotify. Enjoy!

The Perfect New England Road Trip Playlist

“Homesick” by Noah Kahan

I don’t think it gets more Vermont/Northern New England than this song. Right from the start we hear about the intensity of the weather and a reference to hibernation. Homesick seems to be about feeling trapped in a place but also having a sense of appreciation for it. While this is far from a love song to New England, I think you can look at the title “Homesick” for its double meaning.

Also, Noah just nails the folk-rock genre here.

Notable lyrics:

I would leave if only I could find a reason
I’m mean because I grew up in New England

An SUV embarks on a serene New England road trip, winding through a misty, forest-lined road with rolling hills in the distance.  the trees are bare and it appears to be late autumn. The scene captures the tranquil beauty of a chilly morning drive

“Stick Season” by Noah Kahan

Starting out strong on this New England playlist with a second song by Noah Kahan. This was one of the first songs I heard by Kahan and I believe it is one of the ones that rocketed him to stardom. Stick season, that ugly time of year in Vermont between fall foliage and the first winter snows, has now become a mainstream term. But even for those who didn’t grow up in New England, the feeling of that miserable time of year “in-between” is completely relatable.

Notable lyrics:

And I love Vermont, but it’s the season of the sticks
And I saw your mom, she forgot that I existed
And it’s half my fault, but I just like to play the victim
I’ll drink alcohol ’til my friends come home for Christmas

“Dirty Water” by The Standells

This is an absolutely iconic New England song. “Dirty Water” by The Standells was released in 1966 and has is many ways become Boston’s anthem. The song references the “dirty water” of the Charles River which was then heavily polluted. What is fascinating about this song is that the band is NOT from Boston or Massachusetts. In fact, they had never even been to the city when they wrote this song!

Notable lyrics:

Well, I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you’re my home

“New England” by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers

Compared with the complex, deeply-layered tracks by other musicians on this list, this song feels like a breath of fresh, uncomplicated air. With its simple lyrics and catchy refrain, “New England” is a straightforward ode to the New England region. And this 1976 tune is a bop!

Notable lyrics:

I’ve already been to Paris, already been to Rome
(Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day)
And what did I do but miss my home? (Oh-oh New England)
I have been out West to Californ’ (dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day)
But I miss the land where I was born (oh, New England)

“Winter in New England” by Joanie Sommers

This 1963 song is a pretty ballad that has a great vintage feel. Joanie Sommers’ piece is a love song about someone you haven’t seen in a long time and how the winter season reminds you of them. I like the simple lyrics in this song and I particularly like the part about going back this year. It ends on a hopeful note!

Notable lyrics:

Winter in New England
Memories, oh, so dear
I’ve been gone too long
And I know it’s wrong but I’m going back this year
I’m going back this year

“New Hampshire” by Town Meeting

This rowdy and fun tune is a great addition to this list. First of all, the town meeting is a New Hampshire institution, so this band’s name is well chosen. The song “New Hampshire” seems to be a blend of folk and blues and is undoubtedly a tribute to the state they cherish. The mention of the Old Man of the Mountain that fell several years ago, is a nice touch.

Notable lyrics:

Up that central highway surrounded by the pines
To the lake below the mountains where the water slows down time
And all the trembling that comes with the dollar and the dime
It gets lost when you cross the state line

“Wolcott” by Vampire Weekend

Wolcott is a peppy indie rock song by the band Vampire Weekend. So what does it have to do with New England? Well, honestly, not a whole lot. This song is mostly a stream of New England towns being namedropped, with seemingly little connection. As it turns out, the band’s name came from a film that lead singer Ezra Koenig worked on in college. The film, named Vampire Weekend, focused on a man named Walcott who believed vampires were coming to attack Cape Cod.

While the New England connection is…tenuous…this ditty still deserves a place on this list. It’s a great one to sing along to, which makes it an essential road trip anthem.

Notable lyrics:

Walcott, don’t you know that it’s insane?
Don’t you want to get out of Cape Cod
Out of Cape Cod tonight
?

A serene autumn scene in New England with a vintage car parked on a winding road, where the road markings transform into musical notes amongst scattered fall leaves, evoking the harmony of New England songs.

“Kylie from Connecticut” by Ben Folds

While “Yankee Doodle” may be the state song of Connecticut, I know no one really wants that song on their road trip playlist! Instead, enjoy the gentle sounds of Ben Folds’ “Kylie from Connecticut.”

This is a chill, piano-driven song like most of Ben Folds’ work, and within just a few repeated lyrics weaves the intricate story of a couple who have been married for 3 decades.

Notable lyrics:

It said Kylie
Is calling from Connecticut
It’s still on her mind as she closes her eyes
She believes there are things you shouldn’t know about
When you’ve been married for 35 years
And her heart belongs to a man that she hadn’t seen
Since a magical night when the children were small

“Farmhouse” by Phish

You might notice this playlist is a bit Vermont-heavy. Since I lived there for so long, I can’t help but find I resonate most with the Vermont-centric songs. Phish is 100% Vermont; probably the most Vermonty band to ever exist. The ultimate jam band, Phish has been playing since they first formed in Burlington in 1983.
“Farmhouse” is definitely one of their most popular tunes and I really like it. So it goes on the list!

Side note, I once waited on the Phish members’ wives and kids when I worked at a restaurant in Essex, Vermont. So, I’m almost famous.

Notable lyrics:

I never ever saw the northern lights (This is a farmhouse)
I never really heard of cluster flies (Cluster flies, alas)
Never ever saw the stars so bright (This is a farmhouse)
In the farmhouse things will be alright

“I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys

This Irish-styled punk band from Quincy, Massachusetts really seems to strike a chord with New Englanders. There are a lot of links between the city of Boston and the band’s various songs, but it is perhaps “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” that is the standout. And the inclusion of the song in the 2016 film The Departed cemented its New England-ness even more.

Notable lyrics:

I’m a sailor Peg and I lost my leg
Climbing up the top sails
I lost my leg

Hey-ho, hey-ho, hey-ho
Hey-ho

I’m shipping up to Boston
I’m shipping up to Boston
I’m shipping up to Boston
I’m shipping off
To find my wooden leg

Oh, turns out that’s basically the whole song.

“The Reach” by Dan Fogelberg

Here’s a distinctive song about Maine to add to the playlist. “The Reach” by Dan Fogelberg first aired in 1981. A beautiful ballad, this song is very clear in its subject matter and is reportedly beloved by many Mainers, especially those in Downeast Maine.

Fogelberg lived for many years in Deer Isle, Maine, so he certainly had the vivid sense of place he imparts into this emotional song.

Notable lyrics:

It`s Maine…
And it`s Autumn
The birches have just begun turning
It`s life and it`s dying
The lobstermen`s boats come returning
With the catch of they day in their holds
and the young boys cold and complaining
The fog meets the beaches and out on
the Reach it is raining —

A picturesque New England coastline with a classic lighthouse and houses, overlaid with whimsical musical notes symbolizing songs about New England, as a sailboat glides on the tranquil sea under a cloud-sprinkled sky.

“More than a Feeling” by Boston

This is classic rock at its best. You could jam out to this song on any road trip, but on a New England road trip, it is especially perfect.

The band Boston formed in (you guessed it) the city of Boston back in the 1970s. The song “More than a Feeling” was on their first album, also entitled “Boston.” The band’s popularity exploded massively, and they’re still very well known today. In fact, Boston has sold 75 million records worldwide.

Notable lyrics:

So many people have come and gone
Their faces fade as the years go by
Yet I still recall as I wander on
As clear as the sun in the summer sky

“The View Between Villages” by Noah Kahan

At its core, this is a song about driving back home and all of the complicated emotions and memories that go along with it. The song builds in intensity as it goes, much like the anticipation and feelings as the driver/narrator gets closer and closer to home.

Based directly on Noah Kahan’s own Vermont hometown and his relationship with it, this song really evokes a sense of the Green Mountain state for me, but I’d wager it will resonate with a great many listeners, no matter where they come from.

Notable lyrics:

Feel the rush of my blood
I’m seventeen again
I am not scared of death
I’ve got dreams again
It’s just me and the curve of the valley
And there is meaning on Earth, I am happy

“Weekend in New England” by Barry Manilow

We couldn’t create this playlist without including some easy listening, could we? And who better than gentle crooner Barry Manilow with his classic “Weekend in New England?” This love song only mentions New England very briefly, but it seems that this region is where the romance he sings of first began. This song has New England written all over it.(Also, please appreciate the key change towards the end. I just love a good key change.)

Notable lyrics:

Time in New England took me away to long rocky beaches you by the bay

We started a story whose end must now wait

“Longtime Sunshine” by Weezer

Both Maine and Vermont are mentioned by name in this tune by Weezer, but any of the New England states could fit. Despite its chipper exterior, this song seems to have a somewhat darker meaning than appears on the surface. One could interpret the simple and even bucolic scenes described as being something the narrator both desires and shrinks away from.

Notable lyrics:

Sometimes I wanna pack it all up
Get on a bus and move to Vermont
Or Maine, or any of those states back east
That I remember
Sometimes I wanna go back to school
An east coast college with some history
I’d be satisfied, I know
In the simple things

“Moonlight in Vermont” by Willie Nelson

When you think of songs about Vermont, this one no doubt comes to mind. Written in 1944, “Moonlight in Vermont” has become a standard. It’s been covered countless times, but on this playlist, I’ve chosen to include a version by Willie Nelson. No matter who is singing it, this song is an ode to the magic and beauty of those Green Mountains.

Telegraph cables, they sing down the highway
And travel each bend in the road

People who meet, in this romantic setting
So hypnotized by the lovely

Evening summer breeze
Warbling of a meadowlark
Moonlight in Vermont

A vibrant New England farm scene with lush green fields and a reflective lake, where the tranquil water becomes a staff of musical notes, creating a visual New England playlist set against rolling hills and a clear blue sky

“Northern Attitude” by Noah Kahan, featuring Hozier

Okay, this is the last Noah Kahan song on this New England playlist, I promise! And it’s a good one, especially because it features another terrific musician, Hozier.

“Northern Attitude” is one of those songs that everyone in the car will sing/scream along to. It’s got great lyrics, an awesome chorus, and if you’re from New England (or really anywhere cold and dark) this song feels like it was meant for you.

Notable lyrics:

If I get too close
And I’m not how you hoped
Forgive my northern attitude
Oh, I was raised out in the cold
If the sun don’t rise
‘Til the summertime
Forgive my northern attitude
Oh, I was raised on little light

“New Hampshire’s All Right if You Like Fighting” by Scissorfight

I’m not sure why this band thinks New Hampshire is so violent, but the resulting song is pretty darn funny. I don’t know. I went to college in New Hampshire and people seemed pretty peaceful to me!

The lyrics aren’t too deep on this bad boy, either. It seems like just a list of places and things in New Hampshire, including my college! Welp! Still a cool tune, and it gives me Cake vibes.

PS: This band is from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Notable lyrics:

A nice place to fight in the summer
A nice place to fight in the winter
New Hampshire’s all right if you like fighting

A charge of assault in the summer
A punch in the face in the winter
New Hampshire’s all right if you like fighting

“New Birth in New England” by Phosphorescent

One of my Instagram followers recommended this song to me, and I really like it! While it’s not about one specific New England state (and probably only about New England just incidentally) it’s a fun listen, so I think it’s a great addition.

I like what this site said about the song: “The lyrics paint a vivid picture of the protagonist navigating through the complexities of life, grappling with the juxtaposition of familiarity and the yearning for change. The mention of New England serves as a symbolic representation of a place that holds nostalgic memories, echoing sentiments of homesickness and the longing for something new.”

Notable lyrics:

I was sitting at a bar in New England
I was thinking about another beer
It had a lady playing on the piano
It was like it never got to my ears

I said, “Hey, I like it how you play the piano”
She just said, “Honey, what are you doing here?”
I said, “Well, I’m sitting in a bar in New England
I was thinking about another beer”

“Rhode Island is Famous for You” by Blossom Dearie

This 1948 tune was originally written for a musical theatre production about the United States. But “Rhode Island is Famous for You” caught on, and it has since been covered numerous times. It is mostly interpreted as a love song, but has been presented in many unique ways, including at the 1995 mayoral inauguration of Providence mayor Buddy Cianci who himself performed the song alongside Broadway actor Robert Goulet.

Notable lyrics:

Copper comes from Arizona
Peaches come from Georgia
And lobsters come from Maine
The wheat fields are the sweet fields of Nebraska
And Kansas gets bonanzas from the grain
Ol’ Whiskey comes from Ol’ Kentucky
Ain’t the country lucky?
New Jersey gives us glue

And you, you come from Rhode Island
And little Rhode Island is famous for you

A charming cobblestone street in historic Boston, lined with red brick buildings and lush hanging flower baskets, under a whimsical canopy of musical notes that dance above, capturing the essence of a New England playlist.

“Beg, Steal, or Borrow” by Ray Lamontagne

I personally have a lot of New England memories that have Ray Lamontagne songs as their soundtrack. He’s a talented artist. It’s no surprise he’s a New Englander himself; he was born in Nashua, New Hampshire. He writes terrific folk music that is a perfect addition to any road trip soundtrack.

“Beg, Steal, or Borrow” is not a song about New England, but it’s lyrics, focusing on following big dreams out of a small town, could easily be set in any one of New England’s small towns. I hope you love it as much as I do!

Notable lyrics:

So your home town’s bringing you down
Are you drowning in the small talk and the chatter?
Are you gonna step into line like your daddy done
Punching the time and climbing life’s long ladder?

“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond

I had to close out this playlist of New England songs with a classic. Now, this song legitimately has nothing to do with New England. However, if you’re any fan of Boston sports at all, you’ll know this has become the unofficial song of Fenway Park and the Red Sox. Sing it loud, sing it proud, and don’t forget to shout out, “SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!”

Notable lyrics:

Sweet Caroline (BA BA BA!)
Good times never seemed so good (So Good! So Good! So Good!)
I’ve been inclined (BA BA BA!)
To believe they never would


Planning a trip to New England? Check out these articles:

馃尣 The Best New England Vacation Spots
馃尣 The Complete New England Bucket List: Things to Do
馃尣 Vermont Road Trip: One Week Itinerary of Green Mountain Magic