Flying is one of the wonders of the modern age. We take it for granted, but it’s still a pretty amazing feat for us humans.
The subject of flying is also something songwriters like to use in songs, whether literally or metaphorically.
So, here are some of the best songs about flying ever recorded, including songs from Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Frank Sinatra, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The New York Dolls, and more.
Table of Contents
- ‘Sunset (Bird of Prey)’ by Fatboy Slim
- ‘Learning to Fly’ by Pink Floyd
- ‘Amelia’ by Joni Mitchell
- ‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- ‘Come Fly with Me’ by Frank Sinatra
- ‘Jet Airliner’ by Steve Miller Band
- ‘Learning to Fly’ by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- ‘The Zephyr Song’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers
- ‘Jet’ by Paul McCartney and Wings
- ‘Eight Miles High’ by The Byrds
- ‘Learning to Fly’ by Foo Fighters
- ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra
- ‘Flight 505’ by The Rolling Stones
- ‘Aeroplane’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers
- ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’ by Saxon
- ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ by John Denver
- ‘Jet Boy’ by The New York Dolls
- ‘The Best Way To Travel’ by The Moody Blues
- ‘Given to Fly’ by Pearl Jam
‘Sunset (Bird of Prey)’ by Fatboy Slim
Any fans of The Doors’ Jim Morrison out there? Good. Then you’ll love this one from ‘big beat’ master DJ Fatboy Slim (aka Norman Cook, the bass player from ’80s indie band, The Housemartins).
Here’s an example of when a video takes a song to another level. In the video, a man takes a ‘bubbling substance.’ The next minute is piloting a plane.
The music, visuals, and haunting voice of Jim Morrison (which you can’t get enough of, in my opinion) are breathtaking and feel almost like a flight simulation.
The famous “Daisy” television commercial shown at the start was used by President Lyndon B. Johnson on his campaign trail in 1964.
‘Learning to Fly’ by Pink Floyd
‘Learning to Fly’ was released on Pink Floyd’s 1987 album A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (the first to be recorded without Roger Waters).
It’s a song about breaking free (flying is a metaphor for freedom). There’s also plenty of aviation references, probably because David Gilmour (who wrote the song) was learning to fly planes at the time of writing.
‘Amelia’ by Joni Mitchell
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. Five years later (in 1937), she vanished while flying over the Pacific ocean on a round-the-world attempt (“she was swallowed by the sky”).
Here, Mitchell sees herself very much like Earhart, alone and striving for “something you must do.” But it’s lonely up there (in many ways, this depicts the artist’s struggle).
In a 1997 Los Angeles Times interview, she says, “I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another.”
The lyrics touch on the cost of this obsession. For Earhart, it was her life. For Mitchell, she cannot maintain a relationship. Now it’s over, she’s telling Amelia, “it was just a false alarm.”
‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded ‘Free Bird’ in 1973. The album version runs at 9:08 (the radio edit was cut down to 4:41).
Those extra four minutes are one of the finest extended jams in the history of rock music – if you haven’t heard it before, you should stop what you’re doing and take a listen.
The song is about resisting the urge to settle down. “But if I stay here with you, girl / Things just couldn’t be the same.” Tragically, only a few years later, singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines were both killed in a plane crash in 1977.
‘Come Fly with Me’ by Frank Sinatra
The successful songwriter team of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn wrote this great song (Van Heusen, in particular, had a passion for flying and worked as a test pilot during World War II).
The song was written with Frank Sinatra in mind to complement his ‘jet setter’ lifestyle. We hear about exotic places (especially back then, when travel was a luxury) like Bombay, Peru, and Acapulco Bay.
‘Jet Airliner’ by Steve Miller Band
This feel-good number was written by a blind folk singer from Cape Cod called Paul Pena (in 1973). However, it was Steve Miller Band who made it a hit in 1977.
The song is notable because it’s one of the earliest instances of the phrase “keep on keepin’ on” used in a piece. We later heard the phrase in Dylan’s ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ and John Lennon’s ‘Old Dirt Road.’
‘Learning to Fly’ by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Yet another song called ‘learning to fly’! This time, written by Tom Petty and his Traveling Wilburys colleague (ELO frontman Jeff Lynne).
The inspiration for the song came from an interview with a pilot that Petty saw while watching TV. Flying is easy, the pilot said. The hardest part is coming down.
Petty used the analogy of flying for struggles in life (he’d recently been subject to an arson attack on his home). “You can lay down and let the tragedy overwhelm you, or you can fly above it,” he told ABC News in 1991.
‘The Zephyr Song’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers
A ‘Zephyr’ is a gentle breeze or breeze from the west, named after the Greek god of the west wind, Zephyrus.
Lead singer Anthony Kiedis invites you to fly away on his zephyr, quite what his ‘zephyr’ is, is a subject of debate. It could be love, a substance, or could simply surfing (“In the water where I center my emotion”).
‘Jet’ by Paul McCartney and Wings
Paul McCartney and his late wife Linda owned a black pony called Jet, where he apparently got the name for the song from. But that’s where the association with ponies end. It’s really a song about being free.
In the song, Paul recounts the look ‘on their funny faces’ when his wife (Linda) told her father-in-law (‘Major Tom’) that she planned to marry him.
He urges her to “climb on the back and we’ll go for a ride in the sky”. Quite what he’s playing at calling his father-in-law ‘a lady suffragette’, I have no idea!
‘Eight Miles High’ by The Byrds
The story goes that, during a flight, singer Gene Clark asked guitarist Roger McGuinn how high up they were.
“Six miles high,” he answered. The idea for the song was borne, although ‘eight’ was used rather than ‘six.’
This song was considered a staple of the ‘acid rock’ scene that evolved from the mid-1960s garage punk movement. The genre was characterized by distorted guitars, long improvised jams, and ‘trippy’ lyrics with references to, ahem, psychedelic substances.
‘Learning to Fly’ by Foo Fighters
Here’s another song called ‘learning to fly’ by indie rockers Foo Fighters.
In the hilarious video, Jack Black and Kyle Gass appear as cleaners who mistakenly spike the coffee, leaving the band to manage the safe descent of the plane. Dave Grohl also appears in various disguises, including an obese woman and a flight attendant.
‘Fly Me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra
This standard was written by Bart Howard in 1954 and has been covered plenty of times (Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, etc.).
However, Frank Sinatra’s rendition of the song with the Count Basie Orchestra became the definitive version.
It’s one of the best flying songs ever made.
‘Flight 505’ by The Rolling Stones
‘Flight 505′ appeared on the Stones’ 1966 album, Aftermath.
It’s a cautionary tale about being content with what you have. Amid a mid-life crisis, the protagonist decides to book a seat on Flight 505 to escape his meaningless existence. The plane, however, ends up crashing into the sea. He should have stayed put!
Bassist Bill Wyman uses a fuzz bass tone here to great effect. He used it a lot in the Aftermath period (check out the brilliant ‘Under My Thumb’ for another example).
‘Aeroplane’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers
The second song on the list by the brilliant Red Hot Chili Peppers (what is it about flying and these guys?!)
This one is based on a traditional blues song called ‘Jesus Is My Aeroplane.’ For them, music is their aeroplane and takes them to a higher place (flying high).
‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’ by Saxon
From the English heavy metal Saxon’s 1980 album Wheels of Steel, ‘747’ is about a power outage in 1965 that turned out the lights over a significant area of Canada and North America (known as ‘The Great Northeast Blackout’). Yes, this actually happened!
Like a scene from the movie Die Hard 2, the power cut forced planes in New York City to remain in ascent.
Scandinavian Airlines 911 was one of those planes and managed to make a safe landing in the dark at John F. Kennedy Airport, with its crew and 89 passengers aboard.
‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ by John Denver
As the child of a military family, John Denver moved around a fair amount. However, when he became a full-time musician, his nomadic existence continued.
The thing about traveling so much is it’s hard to hold down relationships. This song deals with the subject and his longing for a permanent home. Denver’s wife, Annie, was the one person who finally grounded him in his life.
Peter, Paul, and Mary also had a hit with the song.
‘Jet Boy’ by The New York Dolls
The closing track on The New York Dolls’ self-titled album, ‘Jet Boy,’ is about a hedonistic guy ‘flying about New York’ in the fast lane, probably indulging in some drugs.
Rolling Stone called it “Marvel comics meets the Lower East Side.” I couldn’t put it better myself.
‘The Best Way To Travel’ by The Moody Blues
Prog rock band The Moody Blues released ‘The Best Way to Travel’ in 1968, as part of their In Search of the Lost Chord album.
The references to getting ‘high as a kite’ suggest it’s about drug use, namely LSD ( a substance that was very in vogue in the late ’60s).
‘Given to Fly’ by Pearl Jam
‘Given to Fly’ was the first single from their 1998 offering, Yield.
“It’s a children’s story,” Eddie Vedder said about the song. “I imagined a line on each page and a picture to go with it,” he said. “It’s a fable, that’s all. The music almost gives you this feeling of flight,” he told Rolling Stone.
More songs about flying (if you needed more!)
- ‘Watching Airplanes’ by Gary Allan
- ‘Plane’ by Jason Mraz
- ‘Fly Away’ by Lenny Kravitz
- ‘Take Me to the Pilot’ by Elton John
- ‘Drunk on a Plane’ by Dierks Bentley
- ‘Turbulence’ by Steve Aoki & Laidback Luke (featuring Lil Jon)
- ‘Flying’ by The Beatles (an instrumental track from the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ album)
- ‘Paper Plane’ by Status Quo
- ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ by Bette Midler
- ‘Born to Fly’ by Sara Evans
- ‘Planes Fly’ by Angel Haze
- ‘Still, I Fly’ by Spencer Lee
- ‘Supersonic’ by Oasis
- ‘ME 262’ by Blue Oyster Cult
- ‘Aces High’ by Iron Maiden