Musicians Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney of the band Rascal Flatts, winners of the "Favorite Song from a Movie" award (for "Life is a Highway" from Cars) pose in the press room during the 33rd Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 9, 2007 in Los Angeles, California
Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images

'Life is a Highway': How Tom Cochrane and Rascal Flatts Made the Ultimate Road Trip Jam

For over 30 years, "Life is a Highway" has been one of the great songs of country music. It's the ultimate road trip song, has inspiring lyrics that will always brighten your day, and has been covered by some pretty incredible country artists over the years. Maybe you know Canadian artist Tom Cochrane's original version, or maybe you're more familiar with the Rascal Flatts cover a few years later. Either way, odds are you've at least heard the song and most likely, have sung along with it on the radio. It's that catchy.

Cochrane had an unexpected hit on his hands when the song was first released in 1991, but it took some time for him to perfect the lyrics and concept of this feel-good song. His inspiration came from a very unexpected place.

Tom Cochrane's debut hit

Back in the '80s, Tom Cochrane was a member of the Canadian rock band Red Rider. He had an idea for a song he called "Love is a Highway," but his bandmates nixed it. He hadn't really nailed the chorus or the lyrics and wasn't necessarily sure where to go with it, so it makes sense why no one wanted to move forward with it. Cochrane wasn't even sure he wanted to move forward with it. He only revisited the song at the encouragement of friend John Webster, an instrumentalist on his album Mad Mad World.

Cochrane ultimately found some inspiration for his unfinished song in a surprising place — on a trip to East Africa with the World Vision famine relief organization. The singer was shocked and horrified by the devastating levels of poverty he witnessed and returned home needing to write something positive. That shifted his song to "Life is a Highway."

"It became a pep talk to myself . . . saying you can't really control all of this stuff, you just do the best you can," Cochrane told The Star.

Cochrane's new concept for the song worked, and pretty much immediately after releasing it as his first solo single, it was charting in Canada. It not only became a worldwide hit but made his album Mad Mad World one of the most successful albums ever released in Canada.

Chris Ledoux's version

Seven years later, country singer Chris LeDoux recorded "Life is a Highway" for his album One Road Man. It's probably the least well-known version of the popular song but still notable as LeDoux was a beloved singer and rodeo star who always brought something special to his music. He made a few updates to his take on Cochrane's song, including tweaking the song's opening and changing a few location names. He also adds his notable twang to delivering his lyrics that sets his apart from the other two big versions.

Rascal Flatts and Cars

The cool thing about this song is all of the major artists who have covered it brought their own unique spin. Disney/Pixar brought on popular country trio Rascal Flatts to record a song for their new 2006 film Cars, so they recorded a cover of Tom Cochrane's classic that took on a life of its own. At the time, Rascal Flatts had been releasing singles for their new album Me and My Gang, while their Disney song continued to climb the charts unexpectedly. It was never released as a single, but it made it to number 7 on the Hot 100 Billboard charts and 18 on the country charts. It even won two People's Choice Awards for Best Remake and Favorite Song From a Movie. As much as the original is a classic, there's no denying that this version is incredibly catchy and impossible not to sing along with.

Fifteen years after Tom Cochrane's initial release, this new version introduced the song to an entirely new generation of country fans. It continues to live on not only through the Cars universe, but through consistent radio play, and is widely believed to be one of Rascal Flatts' many greatest hits.

READ MORE: 'Bless The Broken Road': The Rascal Flatts Hit Had its Own Journey Before Reaching the Trio