Airline Pop Songs

Thanks, I think, to everyone who chipped in with examples of airplane songs. Here were the most common submissions. Remember to check the first list before citing missing entries, and please note the author did not verify titles and lyrics for every apostrophized verb, so please don’t bother him with petty inaccuracies…

Steve Miller Band Jet Airliner (Yes, well, I suppose it’d be disrespectful to the idea of quintessence to leave this one out, much as I’d like to. The “big wheel” that “keeps spinnin’ around” is, one assumes, the first stage turbofan at the front of the engine.)

Peter, Paul and Mary Leavin’ On A Jet Plane (Same sentiments here.)

The Beatles Back in the USSR
“Flew into Miami Beach, BOAC.” (In the old days you didn’t take British Airways, but British Overseas Airways Corporation.)

Gordon Lightfoot (and others) Early Morning Rain
“Out on runway number nine, big 707 set to go.” (Gordon’s departing eastbound — 090 degrees — on the old Boeing.)

Freedy Johnston Western Sky
“After his father crashed / He moved his family back /And vowed to never leave the ground.”

Elton John Daniel
“Daniel is travelin’ tonight on a plane.”

Joni Mitchell This Flight Tonight
“Turn this crazy bird around…I shouldn’t have got on this flight tonight”

John Conlee California Memory
“Two Allegheny engines broke the silence of the morning.” (Allegheny Airlines is called US Airways today, their engines, at least for now, still causing a racket.)

Sarah Harmer Uniform Grey
“And I meant to write it on the plane…But I slept right through the flight.”

Donovan (and later Jefferson Airplane) Fat Angel
“Fly Trans-Love Airways…gets you there on time.” (And those stewardesses …)

The Boxtops (and later Joe Cocker)
“Give me a ticket for an aeroplane.”

The Animals Sky Pilot
“Sky Pilot…how high can you fly?”

Liz Phair Stratford-on-Guy
“And the cabin was filled with an unearthly glow.”

Chuck Berry Promised Land
“Cut your engines, cool your wings, and let me make it to the telephone.” (Cry of the frequent flyer, except today it’s: “…and let me use my cellphone.”)

The Dead Milkmen Air Crash Museum (Maybe it’s in Amsterdam, adjacent to the sex and torture Museums.)

Mark Eitzel When My Plane Finally Goes Down (Who submitted this? Thanks for the bad karma)

Pop Will Eat Itself Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (Were you reading the dry ice story?)

In going back through his own collection, the author adds these:

The Clash Spanish Bombs
Joe Strummer is “Flyin’ in on a DC-10 tonight.”

Nick Lowe So it Goes
“747 for the midnight condition, flyin’ back from a peace keepin’ mission.”

Hüsker Dü Crystal
Bob Mould sings, “Important man…sucked out of the first class window!” Dear Ask the Pilot, is it true that if…

Hüsker Dü Private Plane
Mould is being metaphorical here, but the title can’t be skipped. (Okay, and while we’re at it the band also did a song called “Up in the Air” and a cover of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.”)

And in the miscellaneous department, the cover art of the Beastie Boys’ 1985 Licensed to Ill record features the tail section of an American Airlines 727. The AA logo is airbrushed over with a Beastie Boys emblem. Hüsker Dü’s Land Speed Record features airplanes both front and back, including a DC-8, the same type immortalized in my dry ice story.

Sub-Pop records of Seattle once ran an advertisement picturing the wreckage of a plane crash — the shattered tail of a jetliner resting in the middle of a city street, surrounded by debris and fireman. The coats of the fireman were airbrushed over, so on their backs where it normally would have the block-letter initials of the fire department, it now showed the Sub-Pop logo. The picture is an actual news photograph from December of 1960, when a United Airlines DC-8 collided in mid-air over New York City with a TWA Lockheed Constellation. It’s anyone’s guess if the Sub-Pop people had any idea of this.


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.