You don't have to worry about road trip tunes when rock 'n' roll is your destination. The beat comes naturally when you're connecting the dots between crossroads, polyester suit shops, distortion pedals, death sites and links to those Gallagher brothers. To help start, here's our Top 40 list. Just remember, as you go, to keep reaching for the stars - and go easy on the hotel rooms, will you?
What will it be, a bottle of red, or a bottle of white-uh? It's been hotly contested what restaurant was the basis of Billy Joel's 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.' Joel once said it was a restaurant, now gone, across from Carnegie Hall. I think Billy, claiming this on the other side of a few drunk driving incidents, is wrong. So do others. There's suggestions the scenes are more likely linked to Christiano's. The restaurant hams up the connection and has a Billy Joel wall to take a photo of. Food's fine. Billy's childhood home is in nearby Hicksville, where the song's Brenda and Eddie flirt at the famed village green. I tried to track down the soul of Billy, and of rock'n'roll obviously, by using the man's lyrics as a guidebook to suburban Long Island in the video below.
Billy says you can never go back to the green in the song. He's sort of right. It's now called 'Neighborhood Park.'
Jack White – of White Stripes fame (and Cold Mountain, let's not forget) – opened Third Man Records in a city known for country music. He won't likely be manning the register when you go by (though he did send 1000 of his 2012 solo albums from here by helium balloons – apparently only five were found), but it's clearly a business true to his unique aesthetic. It starred on the Comedy Central TV show The Colbert Report where the mock-conservative talking head recorded with the label's band Black Belles. (See Jack hold his own with Colbert.)
The most famous street no one thinks about? Even Google? Could be Belmar's E, which Bruce Springsteen's back-up band named itself for. It's a residential block, just off 10th Avenue that Bruce immortalized in '10th Avenue Freezeout,' that Google's Street View van decided to skip (so far). You can discuss what you've seen, and see Jersey-fried rock, at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, where Springsteen's played.
37. Marc Bolan tree, London
Marc Bolan – the frontman from T Rex – died when his girlfriend lost control of her purple Mini 1275 GT at 4am on September 16, 1977, and slammed in a sycamore on Queens Ride, Barnes, in south London. Apparently a tire burst. Bolan died instantly. The tree has become recognized as the 'Marc Bolan Rock Shrine,' where his son put up a memorial on the 20th anniversary of his death.
I'm not sure anything is cuter than Melbourne City Council breaking from official duties in 2004 to vote, by unanimous decision, to change the name of a non-descript alleyway called Corporation Lane to ACDC Lane, named for the famed Sydney-based band AC/DC. An artist even added the missing thunderbolt, but it was removed.
Wait! There is one thing cuter. AC/DC Calle in Madrid, named in 2000.
Seriously, Lake Geneva has an edge. No really. It began in 1971, when a Frank Zappa show in the Montreux Casino ended after a clown shot a flare gun, resulting in a fire that – bass player of Deep Purple, Roger Glover, would note – sent 'smoke on the water.' Deep Purple's classic (if grotesquely overrated) song retells the event.
There's also a funny Freddie Mercury statue here. Queen bought a studio here in 1978 and one of Freddie's final recordings was of 'A Winter's Tale,' about this Swiss town of 25,000.
Heavy metal never died, it just moved to Eastern Europe. Kavarna, a scrubby little town on the rugged Black Sea coast of northeastern Bulgaria, has a mayor with 'Hells Bells' as his ringer and a statue of Dio on his desk. After becoming mayor in 2003, Tsonko Tsonev pushed a policy of painting murals of metal stars on gray, Stalinist housing blocks and attracting bands to an increasingly popular summer metalfest.
33. Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco
OK, this has to be addressed. The hippie thing. The 'Summer of Love' in 1967 was centered around San Francisco's Upper Haight in the blocks around Ashbury St. Bands like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin lived around here, and 'hippies' across the country poured in for music, drugs and the like. Sensing an opportunity, John Phillips (of Mamas & Papas fame) wrote the rather tepid 'San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers In Your Hair)' for Scott Mackenzie, which was an immediate hit. Now? Skip the tie dye and troll the $1 bins at the wonderful Amoeba Records, made from an old bowling alley.
32. Oasis' Street, London
We are contractually obligated to acknowledge Britpop somewhere in this list. So, Oasis, you win. Berwick Street in Soho, lined with record shops, served as the cover for the Sgt Pepper's of Britpop – bratty Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory from 1995. We've not been able to track down a wonderwall here. Hope you have better luck. (Don't watch this.
Even if it weren't for the 18 in foam Stonehenge that descends on a Milwaukee stage in the druid-soaked performance by Spinal Tap in the 1984 movie, Stonehenge – the real one – has to be included in any rock 'n' roll list. Tap actually got the idea from Black Sabbath's 1983 tour, which featured Stonehenge props, a 'dwarf' dressed as an evil baby that fell off the set in fearful fit. Former Deep Purple singer, Ian Gillan, who sang on the album, told Mojo magazine in 1994 that the audience was 'either in stitches or wincing in horror.' The album, which features a 1:58 song 'Stonehenge,' is considered to have one of the worst album covers of all time.
The real thing is difficult to reach without your own transport. Take Stonehenge Tour (www.thestonehengetour.com) hop on/off bus from Salisbury’s train station, which includes a stop at the Saxon fort Old Sarum.
30. Capitol Records Tower, Hollywood
Built in 1956 to resemble a stack of vinyl records, the 13-storey Capitol Records Tower is an iconic survivor. Its top blinks 'Hollywood' in Morse code. John Lennon's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is outside, as is a mural of jazz artists like Nat 'King' Cole.
29. The Day Music Died, Mason City & Clear Lake, Iowa
Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens made their final appearance at the Surf Ballroom in Mason City, which hasn't changed much in the half-century since that fateful night in February 1959. There's a free museum here, including some artifacts like the phone booth Holly made his last call from. Afterwards you can see memorials to Holly near the crash site at Clear Lake. One of the reasons this tragedy never leaves rock consciousness is that dreadful Don McLean song 'American Pie.'
Home to London's Tin Pan Alley, and with musical origins linked to the 17-fricking-30s, Denmark Street was home to Regent Sound (4 Denmark St), where the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Donovan – and later little Phil Collins – made their first recordings. Dylan looks at cool looking guitars in 'Don't Look Back' here. In 1970, the Kinks sang about the cynical side of the music business with 'Denmark Street.' The Sex Pistols lived at 6 Denmark St in the mid '70s. It's still lined with guitar shops, funny hand-drawn want ads for 'non-pretensious bass players' and hopeful bands smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk.
27. Berlin Wall
The ultimate metaphor for angst or division. Lou Reed made a (guttingly depressing) album about it (1973's Berlin) and Bowie let serve as the tragic barrier of 'Heroes' (1978), the Sex Pistols longed for it in 'Holidays in the Sun' and Roger Waters played Pink Floyd's The Wall here after it came down in 1989. It's the Stonehenge of our era. The best way to learn more is with with Fritz Music Tours.
26. Ziggy Stardust Alley, London
David Bowie pilgrims (yes, they exist) rank an appealing London alley called Hedden St as the top destination. It's the spot where Bowie-as-Ziggy sassily propped up a foot by a stack of garbage on the rain-wet sidewalks under the glow of a sign reading 'K. West,' which apparently was a beautiful accident and not meant to mean 'quest.'
25. Keith Moon & Mama Cass' last bed, London
Both Mama Cass and Keith Moon died at singer Harry Nilsson's flat, No 12 at 9 Curzon Place (now 1 Curzon Sq) in fashionable Mayfair, London. On the same bed! (Though four years apart.) Nilsson, who had a Billboard #1 with breakup song classic 'Without You' and similar success with a cover of 'Everybody's Talkin' from Midnight Cowboy not to mention that song about a lime and a coconut, felt the flat had bad vibes from the start. Apparently Ringo Starr's girlfriend designed it for him, but on one mirror was the picture of a hangman's noose. 'Ever since that day something struck me. It's like whistling in the graveyard.' After Moon died there in 1978, Pete Townshend bought the flat so a distraught Nilsson wouldn't have to return.
24. Physical Graffiti, New York City
Led Zeppelin's 1976 double album Physical Graffiti featured a cropped photo of the two tenement buildings on at 96-98 St Marks Place in the East Village. To get the dimensions right, the designer Peter Corriston cut out the fourth of five floors to make it fit (nominated for a Grammy for best cover). It caught the eye of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who sat on the stoop for their 1981 'Waiting on a Friend' video from the Tattoo You album, also designed by Corriston (you can see a copy hanging at the St Marks Bar at the corner of 1st Ave – Mick and Keith's destination in the video). Either have a beer there, or something less alcoholic at wonderfully named Physical Graffitea (98 St Marks Pl).
23. The Day the Red Elvis died, Berlin
No one today seems to know Dean Reed, the 'Red Elvis.' But, considering millions of people could access rock music only through the 'Red Elvis' for years, you probably should. Dean was born in Colorado, and left the US after a Top 40 hit to follow his leftist politics in South America and Eastern Europe. He played cowboys in Czech-made films, sang songs about the Viet Cong, married two East German women – not at the same time – and sang out against the CIA in pointed songs like 'You,' then did bizarre covers of 'Give Peace a Chance' for perplexed Soviet audiences. His body was found in 1986, under mysterious circumstances, near his home at Zeutener Lake. It's movie-like story, enough so that Tom Hanks bought the rights to one of the biographies on Dean.
I tracked down the spot he died just before the 25th anniversary of his death and made this video:
The original site of Chess Studios – which, from 1957 to 1967, recorded the likes of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and, later, the Rolling Stones – is now a non-profit site named after the blues musician who wrote many of the songs that came out of here. There's free blues concerts at 6pm on Thursday in summer. It's about a mile south of the Loop in downtown.
You know when Jimi Hendrix goes Hendrix on the 'Star Spangled Banner' or Joe Cocker goes Cocker on dance moves during the 'Woodstock' concert from 1969? Yeah, that wasn't actually near Woodstock, but at Bethel. Relive the event that '60s survivors will brag about for years to come at Bethel's museum, a couple hours north of New York City.
Robert Reid is Lonely Planet's US Travel Editor and resident obsessive music lover. Robert recently devoted nearly 7000 words to listing and defending the Top 50 Rolling Stones songs.
This article was first published in February 2013 and was republished in April 2013.
Have these rock n' roll destinations set your toes tapping? We have created a Spotify list of great songs by some of the artists featured in this article. Why not have a listen and see if they inspire you to travel? Click here and then click on the ‘Listen in Spotify’ button, which should launch Spotify. You can also add your own favourite travel tracks by clicking on the 'Add Track' button at the top of the list.