Who Did Life Is a Highway Before Rascal Flatts?

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Song: Life Is a Highway (1992)

Artist: Tom Cochrane

Writer: Tom Chochrane

Label: Capitol

Life Is a Highway was given a big boost in 2006 by being featured in the Pixar animated movie Cars, that version was a cover performed by Rascal Flatts. The original, released by Tom Cochrane in 1992 was a no. 1 hit in Canada, Cochrane’s home country and it went to no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. On the strength of this one hit song, Tom Cochrane is often labeled a one-hit-wonder and an ‘overnight success’ but he had been in the music business, quite successfully, for over twenty years.

Life Is a Highway was a single from Tom Cochrane’s solo album Mad Mad World and has appeared on numerous rock compilations like Living in the 90’s, To the Extreme, and Modern Rock Superstars of the 1990s. While Cochrane may not have been a superstar at the time of its release, you may recognize other hit songs he wrote and recorded as part of his original band, Red Rider, such as Lunatic Fringe, which first charted in Canada in 1981. From their album, As Far as Siam, Lunatic Fringe never cracked the top 40 in the United States, but eventually ended up getting plenty of airplay on album-oriented American rock stations.

Other successful songs from Red Rider were White Hot (1979), Young Thing, Wild Dreams (1984); and Big League and Human Race, both from 1983.

Cochrane actually conceived Life Is a Highway during the 1980s while still with his band Red Rider. The song was originally supposed to be “Love is a Highway” but it was not finished at the time and Cochrane did not feel it was usable. An early demo had only mumbled and improvised lyrics, but on the advice of his friend John Webster, and with inspiration from his trip to Eastern Africa with the World Vision famine relief organization he took the song off the shelf and revamped it into Life Is a Highway. The poverty in Eastern Africa had shocked and traumatized him, causing him to look for ‘something positive to hang the experience on.’ This experience helped drive the uptempo and upbeat spirit of the song, propelling it to no. 1 in Canada for two full weeks, and giving Cochrane his only top-40 hit in the United States.

The original demo of ‘Love is a Highway’ was eventually released on the 25th-anniversary reissue of the album Mad Mad World.

Cochrane was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2003 for outstanding contribution to the greater recognition of Canadian Music,  and he has received numerous other honors in Canada. His last album, Take It Home, was released in 2015. He has continued to tour, including upcoming dates in 2023.