(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66

Bobby Troup, 1946

What is Route 66? When did it open, and where did it take travelers? How was it different from today's expressways?

What does it mean to "get your kicks on Route 66"?

Who traveled on Route 66? Were whites and African Americans equally welcome?

What was the Green Book? Were locations on Route 66 in the Green Book?

The song was first recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio, which had broad appeal across racial lines at a time when most recordings were aimed at specific races. Who was the intended audience for this song? Do you think the intended audience overlapped with those who travelled—or dreamed of traveling—Route 66?

Is this a serious song about the road? Or is the song simply trying to capture an aspect of mid-1940s "hipness"? Would whites and African Americans have seen traveling the road as hip?

"(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66" performed by Nat "King" Cole on The Nat King Cole Story, © 1991. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For more information on Nat King Cole, visit his official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. For the lyrics please consult this online source:

http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/bobby+troup/route+66_20310175.html

The thriving US automobile industry of the 1920s inspired the construction of paved roads, one of the first of which was the legendary Route 66. Officially opened in 1926, the highway totaled over 2,400 miles and traveled through eight states. Beginning in Chicago, Illinois, it took drivers through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, where it ended in Los Angeles (it was later extended to Santa Monica). It was a highly trafficked westward route for decades until it was surpassed by more updated highway systems in late twentieth century. The road lost its official route designation in 1985.

Adventure seekers, people migrating to the West, and tourists exploring towns and the American landscape were among the people who used Route 66. Unlike current expressways or super highways with median dividers, highway rest stops, and fast speed limits, Route 66 and other early highways passed through towns where travelers stopped at local diners, motels, and roadside attractions.

Route 66 was highly romanticized. Known as “America’s Main Street," it served as the inspiration for many authors, musicians, and artists. But it was not the main street of everyone’s America. Many African Americans traveled on the road, but they were subject to harsh prejudices, perhaps especially in rural and more desolate areas, where they often stood out among the predominantly white locals. To help navigate racial prejudice along the route, African Americans used The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide published from 1936 to 1966 that recommended tolerant places to stop along the way and warned of racist people and establishments to avoid.

Songwriter Bobby Troup, living in Pennsylvania in the 1940s, set out for California with his wife, traveling on Route 66, to try songwriting in Hollywood. He wrote "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66" while on the cross-country drive. In California, Columbia Records picked up the song, and it became a number-one hit when it was recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio.

The song begins with a piano and guitar introduction before Cole’s smooth voice asks listeners if they plan on traveling west. Cole advises them to "get your kicks on Route 66." The song encourages the listener to enjoy themselves on the journey, taking the listener on a trip throughout the route, noting some of the towns that the route passes through. The song became an instant classic and was sung by such artists as Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, and many others.

Route 66 map

Map of Route 66.