"Life Is a Highway" is a song by Tom Cochrane from his second studio album, Mad Mad World (1991). The song became a number-one hit in Cochrane's native Canada in late 1991. "Life Is a Highway" also peaked at number six on the US BillboardHot 100 chart in August 1992 and reached the top three in Australia and New Zealand that same year. The song was covered by Chris LeDoux for his 1998 album One Road Man and Rascal Flatts for the Cars soundtrack.
Background and release
Cochrane has stated that "Life Is a Highway" was originally conceived in the 1980s as "Love is a Highway" while he was still a member of Red Rider, but was shelved at that time because he felt the unfinished song was unusable. Following a trip with his family to Eastern Africa with the World Vision famine relief organization, Cochrane revisited the song on the advice of his friend John Webster, an instrumentalist on the Mad Mad World album. In a 2017 interview with The Canadian Press to mark the song's 25th anniversary, Cochrane said Webster encouraged him to revisit the demo recording, which at that point only had mumbled vocals and improvised lyrics, but not the song's well-known chorus. "(The song) became a pep talk to myself... saying you can’t really control all of this stuff, you just do the best you can," he says. Cochrane says he was trying to make sense of the poverty he witnessed on his trip, which he found "shocking and traumatic".
Eventually, the original demo version was released on the 25th-anniversary reissue of Mad Mad World under the original title "Love is a Highway". He later said the uptempo spirit of the song came from looking for something positive to "hang the experience on." Most of the vocals on the track were recorded in Cochrane's small home studio. The song was Cochrane's only top-40 hit in the United States, reaching number six on the BillboardHot 100. In Canada, the song stayed at number one for two weeks, and three other singles from the album charted within the top 10; "No Regrets" peaked at number three, "Sinking Like a Sunset" reached number two, and "Washed Away" climbed to number seven. In Australia and New Zealand, the single peaked at number two in both countries. Elsewhere, it became a top-40 hit in Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
In 1998, Chris LeDoux covered "Life Is a Highway" for his album One Road Man. Changes include the intro, timing of vocal entrances on the chorus, and location names between the first and second chorus. LeDoux's version was released as a single the following year and peaked at number 64 on the BillboardHot Country Songs chart on June 11, 1999 and remained at the spot for nine weeks.
The music video for the song, directed by Michael Salomon, takes place on multiple roads and highways as well as a blue and red static themed room. When on roads and highways, there is a chance for LeDoux to appear on a television that is sitting on a sidewalk or grass, however, while the background behind LeDoux (that appears on the TV) is the same background as everything behind the TV itself, LeDoux does not appear to be standing behind the TV. In most locations, LeDoux is walking down a road as at the start of the music video. The video ends with LeDoux singing the chorus while appearing on a flap-down TV inside of someone's car, then transitioning to LeDoux being once again in the static room and then walking out of it. After LeDoux leaves the room, the screen slowly fades to black and the video ends.
The instrumental of the Rascal Flatts' cover version was prominently featured in the Top Gear: US Special, which aired February 11, 2007. The song is included on the soundtrack for Lego Rock Band. It topped the two million mark in paid downloads as of the chart dated March 28, 2009. As of March 2013, the song has sold over three million copies in the US. On July 14, 2015, Scott Walker, Republican Governor of Wisconsin, launched his presidential campaign as Republican Party nominee in Waukesha, Wisconsin using the song. On December 8, 2020, Harmonix announced that the cover will be featured on the video game, FUSER, as a DLC on December 10, 2020.
The music video portrays the three band members pulling into a drive-in theater driving three vintage vehicles. The cars allude to three characters from the movie: Lightning McQueen, Doc Hudson and Mater. As the projector rolls, scenes from the Disney/Pixar movie Cars are shown as the band plays through the number. It was directed by Shaun Silva.
The Rascal Flatts version subsequently became a hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it peaked at number seven. Even though it was not officially released to country radio, many country stations played the song as an album cut, overlapping with their then-current country single "My Wish". The unsolicited country airplay brought "Life Is a Highway" to number 18 on the US Hot Country Songs chart. The song has sold 3.4 million copies in the US as of June 2016.