Hitting the ‘Road’

After doing “street” songs last week, this seemed like the logical next step. Oddly, I had exactly 31 songs with “street” in the title, and the same number with “road.”

Some kind of volatile helplessness reigns …

“At the End of the Road,” Julie Miller
Bright Side of the Road,” Van Morrison
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” Lucinda Williams

Chicken Crosses the Road,” Terry Taylor
Country Road,” James Taylor
Crossroad Blues,” Robert Johnson
“Farther up the Road,” Vigilantes of Love
Further On (Up the Road),” Bruce Springsteen
Further On (Up the Road),” Johnny Cash
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John
Hit the Road to Dreamland,” Betty Hutton
Holiday Road,” Matt Pond PA
“King of the Road,” Jim White
Lonely Road,” Mark Heard
Lonesome Road,” Crooked Still
“Long Road,” Patty Griffin
Low Side of the Road,” Tom Waits
Main Road,” Victoria Williams
Middle of the Road,” The Pretenders
“More Than the Road,” Christine Havrilla
On the Road,” Tom Waits
Road Movie to Berlin,” They Might Be Giants
Road of the Righteous,” Dropkick Murphys
“Road So Clear,” Cassandra Wilson
Road to Peace,” Tom Waits
Rocking Horse Road,” Elvis Costello
South Ferry Road,” The Hooters
Telegraph Road,” Dire Straits
Thunder Road,” Bruce Springsteen
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” The Beatles
Wrong Side of the Road,” Tom Waits

A thesaurus will tell you that “road” and “street” are synonyms. This is more evidence that synonyms are an imaginary creature dreamed up by people certain that denotation matters more than connotation. If you want to know the difference between a street and a road, go get three or four Tom Waits albums, it doesn’t matter which, and pay attention to when he sings about streets and when he sings about roads. Tom’ll explain it for you.

Or just go through these song titles and substitute in “street” for “road” and consider how it changes them. The King of the Street is a very different person from the King of the Road. Lonesome Road sounds like a journey while Lonesome Street sounds like a location — same with the Road/Street of the Righteous. Crossroad Blues is a life-changing turning point while Cross-street Blues sounds more like a traffic problem. And Hit the Street to Dreamland just sounds vaguely disreputable. I somehow lack the Willie Nelson classic, but On the Road Again is a very different sentiment than On the Street Again.

Or consider what just might maybe be, sometimes, my favorite song: Thunder Street just would not do. Nor would it be quite the same if Mary were to waste her summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these roads.

Synonyms? There’s no such thing.

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