Tom Cochrane – ”Life Is A Highway” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“Life Is a Highway” is a ruggedly optimistic song about taking the ups and downs of life with a good, hardy attitude. The lyrics focus on how life can be very unpredictable; it’s like a highway because it has twists and turns. Regardless of this, the message of the song is that we should keep driving forward. In addition, the track manages to touch on the importance of companionship as one takes this journey.

Tom Cochrane wrote this song when he was still the frontman of Red Rider, but he didn’t revisit it until years later. Eventually, Cochrane took a trip to regions in Eastern Africa affected by famine. The poverty and suffering he saw there affected him deeply, so he was in the market for some hope. After being encouraged to do so by his friend, John Webster, Cochrane finalized the tune (adding the iconic chorus).

In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these hopeful lyrics to discover their deeper meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the universal themes that give this song its true appeal. Without further ado, let’s get started!

“Life Is a Highway” Lyrics Meaning

The lyrics begin by dropping some straight-talking philosophy on us. First, it sets up the main metaphor: that “life is a highway.” We’re told that “life’s like a road you travel on” for many reasons, all of which have their own appeal.

The first reason is that it moves quickly – “one day here and the next day gone.” We can lose it at any moment, just like a given patch of road goes by in an instant when driving fast. Secondly, it can go smoothly or be rough – “sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand.”

Despite these dark realities, “there’s a world outside every darkened door.” This means that we can always choose to get out there and look at the bright side. When we do this, our “blues won’t haunt” us anymore. Cochrane urges us to seize the moment with positivity fast. After all, “there’s not much time left today.”

The chorus hits the central theme hard while adding a useful twist. “Life is a highway,” and Cochrane wants to “ride it all night long.” He’s consciously choosing to embrace life. This is especially true if others are “going my [Cochrane’s] way.” Basically, life is lived better when it’s lived with others by your side.

Verse two looks like it’s directed at one such companion. To this unnamed person, Cochrane says, “I love you now like I loved you then.” He’s trying to show dedication. This verse also emphasizes the universality of his life-loving message, which is “all around.” Anywhere, from “Mozambique” to “Memphis,” you can find people who are ready to take life by the horns. Cochrane is “not a lonely man” because of his unnamed company.

The bridge gets more serious for a moment. Cochrane acknowledges that “the roads are rough” (life is hard) but has faith that there will be a day when “the light comes in.” Why is he so sure? Because he and his companion are “survivors.” They can take whatever life throws at them.

The last new section of lyrics is the bridge, which adds one final piece to the track’s message. Just like life can be rocky, the relationships we lean on to get through it have their flaws too. With his companion, Cochrane remembers a “misunderstanding” that once came up. The two now “look it in the eye” which means they’ve overcome this obstacle, too.

With that, the song repeats some earlier sections until the close. In summary, “Life Is a Highway” is all about saying “yes” to life, struggles and all, with a friend by your side. All of us in this world have no choice but to do this or die, so it’s no wonder this song has such a deep appeal to so many.

The Story Behind “Life Is a Highway”

Cochrane didn’t comment much (at least in a unified way) about this song’s story until it was time for its 25th anniversary. When that rolled around, he gave an interview to The Canadian Press about the song, which I’ll be using as my basis for this section.

First and foremost, it’s important to know that Cochrane carried the idea for a long while before finalizing it. Originally, the idea came to him when he was still the frontman for Red Rider. He put a pin in the song until years later when circumstances seemed to force his hand.

After taking a trip to impoverished, starving regions in Eastern Africa, Cochrane’s psyche was deeply affected. Naturally, he got a bad case of the blues after all he had seen. This made him hungry for some positivity.

His friend and colleague John Webster gave him one last push, encouraging him to finalize the song. Cochrane finally did, producing the track we all know and love today.

It was a massive success for Cochrane, becoming a #1 hit in Canada and a #6 hit in the United States. It became his most well-known creation, cementing his spot in music history. In addition, his version spawned several famous cover versions,  including (most famously) one by Rascal Flatts for the Cars soundtrack.

The next time you play this powerful song, let these pieces of music history make it even more special!