So, who was the first human to fly? Who encouraged our fascination with flight? Who started the ball rolling toward international air travel? And, who helped to give a subject matter for songwriters to write songs about flying and planes?
Some might argue it was the Wright Brothers, but they only flew just over 100 meters. Some will say they didn’t fly far enough. Perhaps Frenchman Louis Bleriot flying the twenty-plus miles over the English Channel was the first serious flight.
- It Was A Long Time Coming
- Travelin’ Band by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Leaving, On a Jet Plane by John Denver
- Paper Plane by Status Quo
- The Letter by The Box Tops
- Daniel by Elton John
- Promised Land by Chuck Berry
- Amelia by Joni Mitchell
- Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Come Fly With Me (Remastered 1998) by Frank Sinatra
- Fly Me To The Moon (2008 Remastered) by Frank Sinatra
- 747 (Strangers in the Night) by Saxon
- Learning To Fly by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- Trains and Boats and Planes by Dionne Warwick
- My Song by The Moody Blues
- Looking for Songs About Specific Things?
- Songs About Flying and Planes – Conclusion
Well, both of those assumptions are incorrect. The first person to leave the ground in flight and return safely, well, relatively safely, was Ibn Firnas. “Who?”, most will ask.
He was a young student and lived from 810-887 AD. He made a winged contraption and hurled himself off a ledge overlooking a hill near Cordoba in Spain. It worked, and he survived, just barely.
It Was A Long Time Coming
It’s a long way from there to the massive jets of today and space travel, but it had to start somewhere. Today, flying is commonplace. For some a fantastic experience; for others a terrifying ordeal that must be negotiated. And, for the few, something that is nearly an everyday work activity.
Songwriters use it, of course. Sometimes, it is a metaphorical idea but quite often, talking about the real thing and what emotions it is creating.
I expect we have all stood and watched a passenger jet coming into land and marveled at the engineering humans are capable of. That is the subject of our first song about planes and flying.
Travelin’ Band by Creedence Clearwater Revival
It was written by John Fogerty, who was known to love the work of Little Richard. Are we surprised that we got this?
What you might call 1970 “in your face rock n roll.” It was the subject of a lawsuit as it was claimed it sounded like “Good Golly Miss Molly.” But then, so do a couple of hundred other songs. It was settled out of court.
The song is about a band on the road as they take their flight to the next destination. Lost luggage, hotels, fights in the audience. What sort of gigs did they play? This song was one of the best the band produced, in my opinion. Along with “Proud Mary,” “Green River,” and “Bad Moon Rising.”
Leaving, On a Jet Plane by John Denver
I have included this song on other song lists I have compiled, including the one of Peter, Paul, and Mary, who had a big hit with it in 1969. This time, I have included it by the man who wrote the song. John gives a different type of performance to the Peter, Paul, and Mary version, which some may prefer.
It is a song that may have its roots in his lifestyle when he was young. His family was constantly on the move, and this didn’t change much when he found success in music.
A Song About Relationships
That is what this song is about, and how difficult it is to keep them stable when you are always traveling. A reason why so many musicians and singers have a hard time with their partners, wives, or husbands, I suspect.
He wrote the song in 1966, two years before he met Annie. She was the rock he could have built his life around. For a time, that seemed possible. But, he fell by the wayside as so many do, and they divorced after fourteen years together.
Maybe that is a good example of exactly what the song is all about. A very poignant piece of work for him and so many others. And one of the best songs about flying and planes.
Paper Plane by Status Quo
We have had some good old rock n roll American style from Creedence. Now to the same, but British-style. This is from the “kings of the three-chord trick” from the early 70s.
This was taken from their 1972 album Piledriver, which was aptly named. They had changed record labels, and this album was the first of a ‘new’ Quo. It set the scene for the next two decades as they twelve-barred their way into our consciousness.
A simple enough song but delivered in that inimitable style that could only be them.
The Letter by The Box Tops
Almost what you might call a “one-hit-wonder band.” They did have some success later, but they didn’t achieve what we thought they might. “Cry Like A Baby” was another decent enough effort, but they seemed to have an identity crisis of who they were.
They were portrayed as a “new” Memphis sound, trying to mix a soul feel with pop. Didn’t work in most people’s eyes.
“The Letter” from 1967, though, was different. A very good song about a man flying home to see a girl. And, in the end, a key change accompanied by simulated plane noise gave it a nice finale. The best song they did and remains a favorite.
Daniel by Elton John
This was a song from the album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player from 1973. It was also released as a single on both sides of the Atlantic. It was recorded in France using the personnel that was to become Elton’s live band for concerts.
An interesting and often misunderstood song that includes a lyric that talks about “the red tail lights” of the plane “heading to Spain.” In the UK, that means going on a two-week package holiday and someone waving someone else goodbye.
The Missing Last Verse
Because the finished song was too long, rules about radio airplay, etc., Elton cut off the last verse. That explained that it was about a Vietnam war combatant who was haunted by what he had seen.
He came home, but the memories were too stark, and he had to get away. Daniel was the brother of the man who sang about him. The record company, in their infinite wisdom, didn’t want to release it as a single. They thought the message would offend and it would not be successful. Wrong again.
Whatever the song’s meaning, it has a resonance. Anyone who has been to the airport to watch a loved one fly off into the distance for whatever reason knows the feeling.
Promised Land by Chuck Berry
This is a much-performed song, notably, some would say, by Elvis Presley. But, I have included a version here from the writer, Chuck Berry. It is a song that has plenty of imagery and the feeling of trying to break out and escape.
That might be because Chuck was in jail when he wrote it. Whatever the motivation, it talks about the plane flight to a new and promised land that will allow him a new start in life.
A great song, with plenty of “Chuck rock n roll” going on. It may also be one of the best songs about a plane ride ever written.
Amelia by Joni Mitchell
This is a song that throws up some interesting questions about the language we use and terminology. This is a song by Joni Mitchell taken from her album Hejira from 1976 about Amelia Earhart.
She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, in case anyone is in doubt about who she might have been. That was in 1932. She disappeared in 1937, presumed killed, pursuing her passion, trying to fly around the world.
Joni Mitchell, who I happen to think is one of the great songwriters of the time, sees similarities. She sees the similarity between her obsession with her career, much like Miss Earharts’ obsession with flying and pushing herself to achieve.
Both going solo is one analogy you could use. Both paid the cost. Amelia, with her life, Joni by being unable to fulfill a stable relationship.
Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd
From the South of the US came Lynyrd Skynyrd. This track cemented their place in the annals of great rock music. The track we all know was just over four and a half minutes long. If you get the chance, listen to the album track. That goes on for over nine minutes.
It is a great example of a band in the groove and jamming well. The song itself is about not allowing yourself to become tied down until the time is right. Remaining a Freebird.
The irony of this song, of course, is that two of the band members plus a backing singer were killed in that fateful air crash in 1977. Other members of the band were seriously injured. The plane they had chartered crashed and effectively ended the careers of a great band.
Come Fly With Me (Remastered 1998) by Frank Sinatra
So, let’s change the mood, style, and just about everything else to take in this masterpiece. The song was written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen and was all about a developing lifestyle.
Sinatra already had it, of course, flying here, there, and everywhere, but most didn’t. Whilst popping off to Acapulco Bay today is easy, in 1958, when this song was written, it was a bit more tricky. And, just a bit more expensive in comparison to today.
A great song, written with Frank Sinatra firmly in mind regarding style, performed with consummate skill by one of the great crooners. It remained a part of his concert repertoire in just about every place he sang.
Fly Me To The Moon (2008 Remastered) by Frank Sinatra
One more from Uncle Frank, and why not. This 1954 song was written by Bart Howard and has been sung by just about everyone and their dog. But no one sings it quite like Sinatra.
This particular version, recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra, with arrangement by Quincy Jones, remains the standard for the song. It received a second breath of life when it was associated with the Apollo moon missions of the late 60s and early 70s.
Another song Sinatra would include as a near-permanent fixture in his stage show. Is this the best song about flying? Some would say that there’s no doubt about it.
747 (Strangers in the Night) by Saxon
This is a song from British metal band, Saxon, from their 1980 Wheels of Steel album. It is all about a real-life airplane drama.
It happened in 1965 when a power failure turned off all the lights in a large part of Northeast America and Canada. Great fun if you like playing jokes. Not so good if you are at 30,000 feet trying to get into JFK, and there are no lights on the ground, no radar, and no radio. And that includes the rather important runway lights.
What can you do if you are a pilot?
You have to stay in the air until they get it sorted. But, planes only carry enough fuel for their journey plus a bit. Certainly not enough to wait while this is fixed.
“Strangers in the Night” refers to all the planes flying so close to each other but not even knowing they were all there.
This flight was not a 747; the 747 didn’t come into service until four years after the incident. But, it just sounded better in the song, and we would all know what they meant. DC-8 hasn’t quite got the same punch. Also, it wasn’t Scandinavian 101 as they sing; it was 911. But again, that sounded better.
There was no choice, they had no fuel, and they had to get the plane down. They make their approach with only the moonlight to guide them. The first officer is yelling to control, “For God’s sake, get your ground lights on.”
The song fades out without giving you the ending. The pilots got the plane and its 89 passengers and crew down safely.
This is a great song about flying performed by a very underrated band in some circles. However, Metallica and Megadeth both cite Saxon as early influences on their music. They were also the main band that influenced the creation of the “This Is Spinal Tap” spoof rockumentary movie.
Learning To Fly by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
This is a song written by Tom Petty with ELO member Jeff Lynne. It was included in the album Into The Great Wide Open. In some people’s eyes, it was an unexpected chart success.
This song was inspired by an interview Tom Petty saw with an airline pilot. The pilot said that the flying part was easy. It was the coming down that was the tricky part. Petty used the idea to convey a message of riding or flying above life’s problems when they occur.
You can just lay down and let problems overwhelm you, or you can fly above them. An interesting thought.
Trains and Boats and Planes by Dionne Warwick
For me, growing up through the 60s and 70s and taking my first tentative musical steps, there was only one female singer. Dionne Warwick had a special voice, although, at the time, I didn’t realize just how special.
“Trains and Boats and Planes” was just one of her collaborations with the great Bacharach and David team. A lot of the songs they wrote were just for her.
This was released in 1966 and tells the tale of lost love. Someone who came from another country but who didn’t return when they left. The “Trains and Boats and Planes” taking them away.
My Song by The Moody Blues
We started with a man building himself some wings and throwing himself off a ledge in Spain. We finish this list of songs about flying and planes with a song about space travel.
The Moody Blues were one of the great progressive rock bands of the 70s. The concepts and the techniques used in making their albums were far more complex than what most were doing.
A Personal Favorite
I have to say, the album this comes from, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, is one of the best albums ever made. This song is the final track. Towards the end, we are transported back to earth from space, complete with rocket noises. We then get the closing lyrics:
“One day, I hope we’ll be in perfect harmony, A planet with one mind, Then I could tell you, All the things inside my head.”
“I’m going to sing my song, And sing it all day long, A song that never ends, How can I tell you all the things inside my head?”
“I’m going to sing my song, A song that never ends.”
I don’t think it gets any better than that.
Looking for Songs About Specific Things?
We can help. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Songs about Fighting, the Best Songs About Dreams, the Best Songs About Walking, the Best Songs About Change, the Best Songs about Friday, and the Best Songs About Clouds for more great song selections.
You’ll need to hear those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones Under $200, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best Bass Earbuds, and the Best iPhone Earbuds you can buy in 2022.
Songs About Flying and Planes – Conclusion
So there we are. Songs about planes, air travel, and near disasters. Some made records about flight and were tragically affected by it. Some use flight and flying as metaphors for other emotions.
All are great songs, inspired by the progress made after what some little man did hundreds of years ago.
Until next time, let the music soar high and free.