Written by Joseph Schooling. 1 March 2016.
“Life is a Highway” was recorded as a cover version in 2006 by Rascal Flatts for the Disney-Pixar animated movie, Cars. The movie, claimed by many as “imaginative” and “an instant classic”, is an American animated movie about a young rookie racecar named ‘Lightning McQueen’, trying to win his first Piston Cup and secure a very lucrative sponsorship deal from a rival company.
Tom Cochrane wrote the original version of “Life is a Highway” in 1991. The song was a part of his Mad Mad World album and is probably his most famous song. It reached the number one spot on the charts in his home country of Canada, and number six on the Billboard Charts in the United States. This song was Cochrane’s only top 40 hit in the United States.
Rascal Flatts was founded in 1999 and is comprised of Gary LeVox (lead vocals), Jay DeMarcus (bass guitar, keyboard, background vocals), and Joe Don Rooney (electric guitar and background vocals). From 2000 to 2010, Rascal Flatts recorded for Disney Music Group’s Lyric Street Records. After rapidly gaining popularity through their record selling album Me and My Gang, Disney decided to let Rascal Flatts sing the country pop cover version of “Life is a Highway” for the upcoming movie, Cars. Through this, Rascal Flatts proved their ability to record music outside of their traditional country genre.
Disney-Pixar chose to record the cover for the movie with a country-pop sound because country-pop music was flourishing in the 2000s. Additionally, an upbeat pop tune was more relatable in a racecar movie, as opposed to Cochrane’s more traditional version, which had a slower tempo.
Rascal Flatts was one of the fast emerging country-pop bands, earning numerous prestigious accolades and seven platinum certified albums in the span of a decade. In 2010, Rascal Flatts moved to the independent Big Machine Records and released three more albums. Their studio albums have accounted for more than 25 singles, twelve of which have reached number one on Billboard Hot Country Songs or Country Airplay. As of March 2009, the song had crossed the two million mark for paid downloads and by March 2013, sold over three million copies.
Around ten months prior to the release of Cars, Disney-Pixar’s screenwriter, Joe Ranft, died in a car crash midway. After Ranft’s death, his co-producer, John Lasseter, spoke about how he and Ranft’s love for cars inspired the movie: “I have always loved cars. In one vein, I have Disney blood, and in the other, there’s motor oil. When Joe (Ranft) and I first started talking about this film in 1998, we knew we wanted to do something with cars as characters. Around that same time, we watched a documentary called ‘Divided Highways’, which dealt with the interstate highway and how it affected the small towns along the way. We were so moved by it and began thinking about what it must have been like in these small towns that got bypassed.” After reading Lasseter’s remarks, we can see why they chose a song like “Life is a Highway”. Lasseter saw these highways as a passage of life for the little towns. Without those highways, life on the outside would be cut off and the small towns would cease to exist.
Pixar wanted a song that would appeal to both a younger generation and their parents. The song’s lyrics introduce values like determination, friendship, and love, similar to the values displayed in Cars.
“Life is a Highway” can be interpreted either as a love or motivational song. As a love song, it tells a story of two people being apart. Their love is like a highway. Although it might be long, filled with ups and downs, their love will survive and they will fight through the battles that come. On the other hand, some might perceive this song to be motivational. The song foreshadows a long and grueling life with many bumps in between. It says life is never easy. There will be some sad moments, but what defines a person is their ability to get up and move on. The messages portrayed in the song are appropriate for Cars because Lightning McQueen falls in love with an old secluded town called Radiator Springs, but is later forced to leave town to compete for the Piston Cup.
The song opens with “Whooo umm yeah/ Life is like a road that you travel on/ When there is one day here and the next day gone.” The first line sets up the next few. It’s as if the artist is trying to tell his audience he’s stretching and yawning in the morning, thinking about the long day ahead. Then, the next two lines mean that life is a straightforward one-way street, where the days pass by quickly like the signs on the road. The next two lines “Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand/ Sometimes you turn your back to the wind”, describe how life has its ups and downs. Some days feel good, others feel bad, and while some days you just don’t care.
Half way through the first verse, the words start to come alive. LeVox sings, “There is a world outside every darkened door/ Where blues will not haunt you anymore/ Where brave are free and lovers soar/ Come ride with me to the distant shore.” The first two lines tell us that there is a world far beyond where you are despite not being able to see it. There is a world free of sadness and depression, and all you have to do is open the door. The next two lines restate that there is a world that you are able to find true freedom and love. In the last three lines of the first verse, the singer says, “We will not hesitate/ To break down the garden gate/ There is not much time left today.” This symbolizes a world with no hesitation. People should be out there to explore as our time is limited, and once time passes by, we cannot reclaim it.
I believe the first verse is the most important part of the song. This verse leads to the chorus, which is the thesis of the song. The chorus sings, “Life is a Highway/ I want to ride it all night long/ If you are going my way/ I want to drive it all night long.” Although the chorus is only four phrases long, it reinforces the verse. In the first two sentences of the chorus, the singer is telling us that he wants to enjoy life to the fullest and not sleep through it. The last two sentences of the chorus have a dual meaning. The first meaning symbolizes a person following his/her loved one down the same path. The second meaning comes from the movie Cars. This foreshadows the scene when Lightning McQueen finds out that “Doc” is actually the famous “Fabulous Hudson Hornet.” After finding out Doc’s secret, McQueen has a renewed sense of determination and motivation to learn from the legend and pesters Doc to teach him his race moves and strategy, even if it means driving all night long to learn.
The musical instruments used in “Life is a Highway” are the drums, an electric guitar, a bass, another electric guitar with a whammy bar, and a little acoustic guitar. The song starts out with a very catchy upbeat electric guitar with drums in the background, and then the lead guitar kicks in to introduce the singer. When the artist sings, “Life is like a road that you travel on” the bass guitar kicks in, giving the song a very chirpy melody. There is a prominent guitar solo in the middle of the song, which leads into the chorus three more times. The songs ends with LeVox singing the chorus one more time, as the music in the background fades, foreshadowing the end of a long life.
The movie and song have done so well because they relate well to both the younger generation and their parents. Parents want their kids to watch movies that teach good values like determination and love, so that their kids can learn these values while watching a fun and insightful movie. Angus Ronalds, a man who lost both his wife and son to cancer, listens to “Life is a Highway” on a daily basis. Ronalds claims, “I just wanted to showcase what one person can do when they put their mind to it.” Ronald’s attitude and grit is a testament to how successful the song and movie promote determination and love.
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