In the spirit of the Grammy Awards coming up Feb. 12, we reached out to Nashville session drummer and pilot Paul Leim, fellow AOPA staff members, and others to compile a playlist for aviators. How many of these aviation-inspired songs do you already have?
Cessna 182 owner Leim recommends the double Grammy Award-winning song Wind Beneath My Wings, performed by Bette Midler with Leim keeping the beat. The song from the movie Beaches took home 1990’s Song of the Year and Record of the Year honors and shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
Leaving on a Jet Plane by pilot John Denver was a near-unanimous favorite with AOPA staff and should probably be in every pilot’s music rotation. Denver told a live audience that the only thing he didn’t like about flying “was having to leave somebody you care for a great deal.” John, you left us too soon.
Learning to Fly by Tom Petty has a catchy refrain that was a favorite with AOPA staff: “I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings. Coming down is the hardest thing.” Some debate whether the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was writing about something other than flying an airplane.
Time for Me to Fly, a rock ballad by 1970s powerhouse REO Speedwagon features a catchy tune, a crying guitar solo, and the lyrics, “I'll make you laugh and you make me cry, I believe it’s time for me to fly.”
Rocket Man, penned by the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, laments the isolation of space travel during the 1970s Apollo moon explorations. The AOPA staff favorite features the lyrics, “I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife, It’s lonely out in space, On such a timeless flight.”
Similarly, Space Oddity by David Bowie recalls the dangers of outer-space travel. Major Tom lamented, “For here am I sitting in a tin can, far above the world,” but the tune earned Bowie his first Top 40 U.S. hit not long after Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969. However, Bowie told Performing Songwriter magazine that the song was actually inspired by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Learn to Fly video by the Foo Fighters is almost as much fun as the song itself, which declares, “I’m looking to the sky to save me, Looking for a sign of life,” and was a big hit with AOPA staff.
Learning to Fly by British rockers Pink Floyd is clearly penned by guitarist and pilot David Gilmour. The song sweeps listeners up on an imaginary flight with lyrics straight out of a preflight check, “Friction lock, set. Mixture rich, Propellers fully forward,” and was a popular choice with several AOPA staff. The official video with a hang glider and a low-flying single-engine airplane is a different animal as it accompanies the longing, “Can’t keep my eyes from circling the skies, Tongue tied and twisted just an earth bound misfit I.”
Red Staggerwing by Emmylou Harris and Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler is an upbeat country-bluegrass tune offered by AOPA Live This Week Executive Producer Warren Morningstar. It rocks along at a fast clip before warning listeners, “I’d fly over to your house, baby, Buzz you in your bed.” Guitar, automobile, and motorcycle aficionados also will appreciate the lyrics.
Snoopy vs. the Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen is a classic offered by AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines and refers to World War I ace fighter pilot Baron von Richthofen. The lyrics “Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more, The Bloody Red Baron was rolling up the score,” reminds listeners of von Richthofen and his deadly red Fokker triplane.
Turbulence by rappers Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke, featuring Lil Jon, takes listeners “On a journey all around the world with Flight 909” with a hard-driving bass beat, electronic dance music synthesizers, and DJs warning passengers: “I regret to inform you, we might encounter some turbulence, So when it happens, Put your hands up high, Like you on a roller coaster.”
Born to Fly by Sara Evans skips along on a country two-step with buttery bass lines and was a favorite of AOPA Online Managing Editor Alyssa Miller. The song asks, “And how do you keep your feet on the ground, When you know, that you were born, you were born to fly?”
Surfin Bird – The Bird is the Word by The Trashmen, the speed ditty made popular in the Robin Williams film Good Morning, Vietnam, is a favorite among AOPA staff members because the unforgettable, simple lyrics, “B-b-b-bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s the word. A-well-a bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word” get stuck in your head.
Wheels Ain’t Coming Down by Slade is a rocker that has wiry guitar solos propelling the hard-driving song down the runway. It was favored by AOPA staff because of airplane jargon including, “Was a 1950’s prop job, that had seen better days, When we came on in to the last approach saw the runway through the haze.”
Airplanes by rapper B.o.B. with vocals by Haley Williams has over 359 million YouTube views. The song asks, “Can we pretend that airplanes, In the night sky, Are like shooting stars? I could really use a wish right now.”
Drunk on a Plane by Dierks Bentley explains the alternatives to a wedding gone awry and was offered up by AOPA staff. “Buyin’ drinks for everybody, But the pilot, it’s a party, Got this 737 rocking like a G6” helps the groom forget about the bride who stood him up.
Aeroplane by the Red Hot Chili Peppers drives a funky beat punctuated by solo guitar and bass riffs that proclaims, “I like pleasure spiked with pain, And music is my aeroplane, It’s my aeroplane.” It was another popular tune with PrivateFly.com’s Adam Twidell.
Up, Up, and Away performed by the Fifth Dimension describes a hot air balloon flight where the pilots rise “Up, up, and away, in my beautiful, my beautiful, balloon.” The hot song rose to the Top 10 on Billboard’s easy listening charts before snagging four 1968 Grammy Awards including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
No aviation song list would be complete without two big band aviation selections from “The Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra. Fly Me to the Moon invites listeners to “Fly me to the moon, Let me play among the stars, Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.” In Come Fly with Me, he promises, “Once I get you up there where the air is rarified, We’ll just glide starry-eyed.”
Add these tunes to your playlist and enjoy the wonders of flight through music while you’re at home, on the road, or even in the air.