You’d likely have difficulty finding someone who doesn’t know the song Life is a Highway. Maybe they don’t know all the lyrics, but they surely know the chorus.
Life is a highway I’m gonna ride it all night long
It’s been used in car commercials and even a popular Pixar movie. But who sang the tune originally? Some would say Rascal Flatts, but that would be incorrect.
Let’s take a ride together to learn more about this hit and its Canadian origins.
Who Originally Sang Life is a Highway?
Life is a Highway was initially written and recorded by Canadian musician Tom Cochrane. While he never really hit it big in America, Canada showed their fellow countryman a lot of love.
Cochrane began his music career in 1978 when he joined Red Rider, a Canadian rock band. He remained with them until 1991 when he started his solo career. Life is a Highway made its debut that year as Tom’s first solo single.
The song became a global hit, placing Cochrane onto the worldwide mainstream music charts. Following the great success of Life is a Highway, Cochrane released his second solo album Mad Mad World, which sold six million copies globally.
Tom Cochrane is a long-time activist for humanitarian causes. He enjoys blending music and activism, which is how Life is a Highway came to be. The lyrics were inspired after he made a trip to West Africa to support famine relief efforts.
Cochrane explained in an interview with Jam! Music that he was mentally and physically exhausted after he returned from West Africa. He knew he could pull himself back up by creating an upbeat number. Tom headed into his studio one morning at 7 am, and an hour later, Life is a Highway was born.
The tune earned Cochrane two Juno Awards in 1992 for Songwriter and Single of the Year. The Junos is the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy Awards in the US.
Rebirth of the Song
After 1992, the number became best known as a jingle in TV commercials, notably car advertisements. But 14 years later, Rascal Flatts brought the piece back to life with their version of the hit. In 2007, Rascal Flatts performed a show in Edmonton, Canada, where Tom Cochrane joined them to sing Life is a Highway.
Cochrane received several honors from his home country over the years. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2003 and Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2009. In 2016, a stretch of highway in Manitoba was named Life is a Highway. The 200-mile section ends at Lynn Lake, Cochrane’s birthplace and hometown.
How Rascal Flatts Came to Sing Life is a Highway
In the early 2000s, country-pop trio Rascal Flatts was topping music charts across the board. They produced songs that appealed to country music fans plus adult contemporary and pop fans.
The band consisted of vocalist Gary LeVox, bassist Jay DeMarcus, and guitarist Joe Don Rooney. Both Jay and Joe also provided backing vocals.
In 2000, not long after forming, Lyric Street Records, the record label owned by Disney Music Group, signed them on. The band’s first three albums were instant successes, each reaching multi-platinum status.
In 2005, Pixar Films approached Rascal Flatts to record a number for their upcoming animated movie Cars. The tune they chose was Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway, released in 1991.
The Canadian singer’s original version topped music charts in Canada and was a hit on America’s mainstream pop charts. And, it seemed fitting to include a piece about driving in a movie with cartoon talking cars.
As with most other singles Rascal Flatts released, Life is a Highway became another hit for the country stars. It ranked high on Hot Country Songs and Billboard pop music charts. In 2007, the piece won the Favorite Song from a Movie award in the 33rd People’s Choice Awards.
When Did Chris LeDoux Sing Life is a Highway?
Country singer Chris LeDoux recorded another popular cover of Life is a Highway in 1998, changing it a bit to fit his style. Producers created a music video supporting the country artist’s version, with LeDoux appearing in various scenes.
Chris LeDoux was a much-loved country singer, gaining fame in the 1980s with his unique cowboy songs. Those tunes described his life, which included several years as a professional cowboy in the rodeo. Sadly, LeDoux passed away from liver disease in 2005 at 56.
Did Tom Petty Cover the Hit?
Life is a Highway has been covered over 20 times by various artists. The most notable versions are those from Chris LeDoux and Rascal Flatts. It’s even been recorded as an instrumental song five different times.
The Midnight String Quartet, known for covering numbers from Metallica to Taylor Swift, released their version of Life is a Highway in 2017.
Lots of people ask, but there’s no known cover of Life is a Highway by Tom Petty. The closest we’ve found is a YouTube video showing pictures of Petty with Tom Cochrane’s version of the tune playing.
We’re not sure why this video exists. But it does, and it’s likely why some people think there’s a Tom Petty version out there somewhere.
What’s Your Favorite Version of Life is a Highway?
If you’re one of the many people who only knew Life is a Highway from TV commercials, you’re not alone! But it’s a pretty good tune, and we recommend giving the various versions a listen. Then let us know which one’s your favorite!