Study Guide

Route 66 Introduction

Route 66 Introduction

In a Nutshell

There are songs about highways, byways, streets, and roads of all kinds, but there's one route that's king of them all. Fittingly, it was a King who sang about it. 

Nat King Cole's classic 1946 tune helped give Route 66 a reputation as the sweetest path around. Today, this particular U.S. Highway is a greater attraction for rambling European tourists than it is for practical driving, but there are still some American travelers who use the route when they cross the country. 

But whose idea was it to build a road from Chicago to Los Angeles anyway? Read on to learn more about this Grandpappy of the Interstate—and the man who made it famous.

About the Song

ArtistKing Cole, Nat
Year1946
LabelCapitol
Writer(s)Bobby Troup
Musician(s)Nat King Cole (vocals, piano)
Learn to play
AlbumRoute 66 (Single)

Music Video

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Influences on King Cole, Nat

Earl Hines
Billy Kyle
Louis Jordan
Teddy Wilson
Art Tatum

Influenced by King Cole, Nat

Oscar Peterson
Ray Charles
Dean Martin
Tony DeSare
Marvin Gaye
Diana Krall
Chuck Berry
Brook Benton
Cecil Grant
Five Red Caps
Natalie Cole

Route 66 Resources

Books

Maria Cole: Nat King Cole: An Intimate Biography (1971)
This biography by Cole’s second wife (and the mother of his five children) may not be the best-written bio around, but it includes first-hand details and lots of important background information.

Daniel Mark Epstein: Nat King Cole (2000)
This moving biography is the go-to source on Nat King Cole’s personal and professional life.

Albums

Nat King Cole: The Very Best of Nat King Cole (2006)
Nat King Cole recorded a considerable number of hit records and classic songs, especially considering that he died at only age 45. This is but one place to start with his massive catalog.

Nat King Cole: The Capitol Collectors Series (2008)
This digitally re-mastered album is a fan favorite.

Images

Nat King Cole, the original hipster
It’s not just today that big, black-rimmed glasses are strangely cool. They were cool in the 1950s, too.

The Very Best of Nat King Cole Cover Photo
This photo, taken later in Cole’s short life, captures the energy in Cole’s eyes.

“Nat King Cole Show” Portrait
For a while, Cole’s notoriety as a performer earned him a spot on television. Unfortunately, his variety show was cut after only 13 months due to lack of support from racist advertisers.

Nat King Cole Portrait
This beautiful painting shows Cole at his piano.

Nat King Cole in performance
While we usually see him sitting in front of a piano, here he’s at the mike.

King Cole Trio partying down
Cole and his trio played jazz together for years before Cole moved to a solo pop act.

King Cole Trio portrait
The trio’s recording career was successful and is now considered classic; Cole’s popularity in the mainstream, however, did not come until he left the trio.

Nat King Cole Postage Stamp
A 1994 U.S. Postage Stamp honored Cole. A letter cost 29 cents to send back then.

Movies & TV

The World of Nat King Cole (2006)
This documentary produced for the PBS American Masters series is a detailed and moving look at the singer’s life, career, and confrontations with racism.

St. Louis Blues (1958)
Cole’s pop music career also led to a career in acting. In this feature film, he plays the part of influential African-American composer W.C. Handy.

Websites

Route 66 History Site
This site tags itself as “the oldest Route 66 website: Where the Mother Road meets the Internet.” This might make it sound a little more thrilling than it is, but it’s still worth checking out.

Nat King Cole on iTunes
Cole’s iTunes page includes a discography and a detailed biography.

U.S. Highways: From U.S. 1 to U.S. 830
This fun page is an introduction to the whole complex U.S. highway system, with links to lots of highway-related details.

Video & Audio

Nat King Cole: “Route 66” Live
Cole was a notoriously charming and smooth performer.

Nat King Cole: “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66”
This re-mastered version of the studio recording sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday.

Rhapsody: “The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio”
This 17-disc box set is now a very pricey collectors item (going for over $1000 new on Amazon), but you can do some free listening here. Funny how that works.

Nat King Cole YouTube Page
A convenient chronological listing of available Nat King Cole tracks on YouTube.

Depeche Mode: “Route 66”
A very different take on the song.

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