Flying is a common theme in songs. Soaring through the air inspires songwriters of every genre; however, the metaphor is seldom plane-specific. A relatively modern mode of transportation, airplanes have only begun to stake out their place in the musical landscape. We've picked the best songs with plane in the title-or at least in the lyrics-from across styles and genres.
“Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul, and Mary
Song Year: 1969
John Denver wrote “Leaving on a Jet Plane” in 1966, setting the standard for plane-related songs. Written during a Washington layover, the beloved tune is one of John Denver's earliest songs.
An aching folk ballad about the pain of separation, the song reflects the ups and downs of a relationship strained by one partner going on tour.
While the song is specifically about touring musicians, the sweet tune's themes of longing are universal.
Peter, Paul, and Mary's recording of the song is the most well-known and successful interpretation. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is the trio's only number one song. Their rendition is also the only version of the song to chart.
“Jet Airliner” by The Steve Miller Band
Song Year: 1977
TheSteve Miller Band's 1977 release, “Jet Airliner,” is almost universally known. The riff is immediately familiar. It may surprise you to learn the song is, in fact, a cover.
Paul Pena wrote the song in 1973 but didn't release his version until 2000, owing to a contract conflict with his label.
The Steve Miller Band's far more recognizable version reached number eight on the Billboard charts.
Released during a hot streak, Jet Airliner was Steve Miller's third song to break the top ten in seven months.
“Jet Airliner” is another song about touring. The tune laments the cost of travel on close relationships. It's an upbeat, fun number with an undercurrent of sadness, and the song is included on the album Book of Dreams.
“Drunk on a Plane” by Dierks Bentley
Song Year: 2014
Don't be fooled by its perky tempo and upbeat rhythms; “Drunk on a Plane” is a sad man's song.
Written by Dierks Bentley, Josh Kear, and Chris Tompkins, the song is the third single off Bentley's seventh album, Riser.
While the tune is peppy and more than a little tongue-in-cheek, it hides an undercurrent of sadness.
“Drunk on a Plane,” tells the story of a man whose fiance abandons him. He can't get a refund for his honeymoon tickets, so he's making the trip alone. Naturally, he avails himself to the drink cart, hoping to drown his sorrows. His resulting inebriation leads to the title, thus “Drunk on a Plane.”
The song hit number ten on Billboard's Hot Country Songs and 27 on Billboard Hot 100.
Dierks Bentley is an actual pilot, making “Drunk on a Plane” the only song on this list with working knowledge of how planes work.
The song went triple platinum in the U.S. and won a CMA award.
“Paper Planes” by MIA
Song Year: 2007
The planes in MIA's song aren't literal aircraft, but we're not splitting hairs. Included on the artist's album, Kala, “Paper Planes,” is a protest song crafted to challenge xenophobic views of immigrants. MIA wrote the song as an anti-violence anthem
The rare protest song about red tape, “Paper Planes,” also indicts the difficulties immigrants face attempting to attain a Visa.
MIA is British and of Sri Lankan Tamil heritage
Diplo and MIA co-wrote the song, which samples “Straight to Hell” by The Clash. Members of the Clash have songwriting credits as a result.
MIA's biggest hit, “Paper Planes,” is used in movies, shows, and trailers. Multiple artists have covered, remixed, and sampled the song.
The tune peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and received international success.
“Aeroplane” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Song Year: 1996
“Aeroplane” is the third single off Red Hot Chili Peppers' album, One Hot Minute.
The song peaked at number eight on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and hit number thirty on the Mainstream Top 40 chart.
Something of a secular hymn, “Aeroplane,” finds the Chili Peppers describing music as their airplane, something that gives them the sensation of flying.
The song borrows from “Jesus is My Aeroplane,” an old blues/gospel song.
A family affair, “Aeroplane” features a children's choir comprised of Flea's daughter's kindergarten class.
The song was written by Red Hot Chili Peppers: Anthony Kiedis, Dave Navarro, Chad Smith, and Michael Balzary.
“Trains and Boats and Planes” by Dionne Warwick
Song Year: 1966
No one sings a torch song like Dionne Warwick. The queen of heartfelt ballads, Dionne included “Trains and Boats and Planes” on her album, Here Where There is Love.
The song details a romance passed; Dionne and a visitor met and fell in love. He (or she, no judgment) returned home, promising to come back for Dionne. Dionne now watches every train, boat, and plain, waiting for the return of her erstwhile lover. Years have passed, and the absent partner remains m.i.a.
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the song was initially intended for Gene Pitney, who was underwhelmed by the track. Pitney declared, “It's not one of your better ones,” but Bacharach didn't give up on it. He recorded it with session singers and released it on the enthusiastically named “Hit Maker! Burt Bacharach plays the Burt Bacharach Hits”.
Dionne's version charted at 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 37 on the Billboard Easy Listening charts.
“Wheels Ain't Coming Down” by Slade
Song Year: 1979
“Wheels Ain't Coming Down” took three attempts before it hit. Slade included it on “Return to Base,” which bombed, then again on “Six of the Best,” which also tanked. Finally, Slade gained some traction with “We'll Bring the House Down,” the single, and included “Wheels Ain't' Coming Down” on the album, We'll Bring the House Down.
The song recounts the true story of songwriters Noddy Holder and Jim Lea, enduring a hellish plane trip to Los Angeles. The pilot couldn't get the wheels down and had to crash land the plane at a different airport than the intended destination.
The song focuses on the fear of impending death and the relief the writers felt once they safely landed. Ultimately the song is a celebration of life and survival after facing death.
“Flying Over Water” by Jason Isbell
Song Year: 2013
“Flying Over Water” is a barn-burner song from Jason Isbell's 2013 masterpiece, “Southeastern.”
The song seems straightforward enough. A couple traveling together worry about what they're leaving behind, nervous about what their destination holds. She doesn't like flying over water; he's very interested in the contents of the liquor cart.
Like most Jason Isbell songs, “Flying Over Water” is rife with metaphorical meaning and personal interpretations. The fateful flight could represent the couple's relationship, or it could symbolize the singer's entire life. The audience gets to determine what it means to them.
“Flight 505” by the Rolling Stones
Song Year: 1966
The Rolling Stones included “Flight 505” on their album “Aftermath.”
The song is a cautionary tale, warning that wanting the other side's greener grass usually leads to heartache via plane crash in this particular situation.
“Flight 505” s narrator is happy until he abruptly isn't. He decides to dispel his ennui by hopping the titular Flight 505. His initial excitement dissipates once the plane crashes into the ocean.
Many have mistakenly assumed “Flight 505” is about the final, fatal flight of Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper.
However, ample documentation proves this theory-thought, widely disseminated, is purely speculative.
The Rolling Stones' first trip to the United States was on British Airways flight 505, offering a more probable inspiration for the song's title.
“747 (Strangers in the Night)” by Saxon
Song Year: 1979
The BBC provided the improbable inspiration for the metal song “747”. Saxon frontman Biff Byford got the idea after watching a documentary about the Great Northeast Blackout in parts of the United States and Canada in 1965.
Vast swathes of the countries lost all power-including runway lights-for 13 hours. Airports re-routed planes to land in areas with electricity.
“747” explores a different but still shared experience. The titular strangers in the night are on different planes but experiencing the same, once-in-a-lifetime event, which gives them a sort of bond.
“747” is credited to every member of Saxon: Biff Byford, Paul Quinn, Graham Oliver, Steve Dawson, and Pete Gill and is included on the band's 1980 album, Wheels of Steel.
As you might expect, Byford borrowed some none-too-subtle inspiration from Frank Sinatra, both in the title and in the more melodic structure of the song.
“Watching Airplanes” by Gary Allan
Song Year: 2007
“Watching Airplanes” may bring down the mood, but the loving tribute to Gary Allan's wife was a massive success for the country singer.
Jim Beavers and Jonathan Singleton wrote the song to honor Allan's spouse, a flight attendant who took her own life.
Lyrically, the song equates the physical distance between a man watching airplanes from the ground and his beloved in the air to the emotional divide developed between lovers. The song is a tragic ode to lost love.
The song, included on Allan's 2007 album Living Hard, spent 31 weeks on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, peaking at number 2. It reached number 43 on the general Billboard Hot 100 chart and 80 on the Billboard Pop 100 chart. The single is certified platinum.
“Paper Plane” by Status Quo
Song Year: 1972
Written by Francis Rossi and Bob Young, “Paper Plane” appears on Status Quo's album, Piledriver.
Francis Rossi, Status Quo's frontman, wrote the song with his close friend Bob Young. Young wrote a poem that Rossi derived the song's lyrics from.
“Paper Plane” ‘s meaning is difficult to parse. The song's plane is assuredly not literal, but we never said it had to be!
“Paper Plane” is an abstract song that conveys a sense of sadness and loss. The lyrics are open to individual interpretation.
Persephone's Bees covered “Paper Plane” in 2006.
“Shut Up and Get on the Plane” Drive-By Truckers
Song Year: 2001
Drive-By Truckers spent six years as the loudest band on the planet. They have a deeply complicated relationship with their southern roots and often grapple with their heritage through their lyrics.
The song explores the story that some band members were hesitant to board the plane after it experienced multiple engine complications before taking off.
As the story goes, Ronnie Van Zant lost his patience with his nervous bandmates and spoke the titular line: shut up and get on the plane.
The song tells the anecdote but adds ruminations on mortality and the inevitability of death. Cooley's song points out that death comes for us all, whether it's a plane crash or a heroin overdose.
“5:30 Plane” by The Supremes
Song Year: 1972
The Supremes' impact on modern music can't be overstated. Pioneers of pop, r&b, soul, and disco, the ladies didn't have quite the same effect on plane-inspired music.
“5:30 Plane” is an overlooked gem. Written by Jimmy Web instead of the girl groups' usual writers, Holland, Dozier, and Holland, Picardy initially released the song in 1968. The Supremes released their version of the melancholy song in 1972.
The plane in this particular song serves both a literal and metaphorical purpose. The heroine observes her dying relationship; both parties are out of love, but neither can leave. “The 5:30 plane's already gone” is her way of saying, “we're already over, even if no one's left.”
The singer is also literally leaving, striking out on her own, planning to be gone before her partner makes it home from work. She's presumably taking the 5:30 plane to a new life while her partner sits alone, wondering where she's gone.
“Airplane Man” by Howlin' Wolf
Song Year: 1975
Howlin' Wolf included the bluesy lament “Mr. Airplane Man” on his Change My Way album.
Perhaps confused by a pilot's responsibilities, Howlin' Wolf asks the titular Mr. Airplane man to take a message to his lady in Chicago.
Howlin' is aware his girl may be out and about; if she isn't there when Mr. Airplane Man arrives, she's probably visiting the neighbor next door. Given the nature of pop music, we can safely assume “visiting” is a euphemism, and Howlin' has some suspicions about his partner.
Howlin' message for his partner- “ahhoooo, ahhoooo, ahhoooo, ahhoooo” is challenging to translate; however, he encourages Mr. Airplane man to return to Chicago if he can't find the lady to deliver the message.
Howlin' Wolf-Chester Arthur Burnett to family-hugely impacted blue and rock. “Mr. Airplane Man” isn't his greatest offering but still stands strong as a unique and powerful entry in the niche genre of airplane-specific music.
Top Songs About Planes, Final Thoughts
It may take a while for songs about planes to overtake cars as songwriters' muses, but the transports have a solid start. While aircraft are often used as a metaphor, our list includes songs that are about very literal planes-ones that usually, unfortunately, crash. The potential danger paired with the experience of flying-something humans long for but can't attain organically, make planes fertile fuel for songwriters.
We hope you've enjoyed our selection and that we've provided you with a great playlist for your next flight.