Almost as soon as his discharge papers arrived, and guided by his dream of a musical career, ex-marine and budding songwriter Bobby Troup and his new wife Cynthia bundled into a green 1941 Buick convertible to leave Lancaster, Pennsylvania for Los Angeles. Not only would his dream be fulfilled but their cross-country journey, translated into song, has become one of the icons of popular music. After driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike and a stretch of U.S. 40, the Troups turned onto Route 66 in St. Louis. Cynthia soon “began rhyming ‘six, nix, picks, kicks,’ finally whispering to Bobby, ‘Get your kicks on Route 66,’ as a phrase of subtle sexual alliteration. His quick response was full of appreciation, ‘That’s a marvelous title! Damn! That’s a great title,’ realizing the core of a musical phrase for expanded verse.”* More verses followed as they scanned a 1946 AAA map of the U.S.A. for ideas and town names . Upon reaching Sunset Strip they had the stuff of legend, a musical geography: Take the highway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66! with the marvelous litany of towns immortalized in a lyrical cartography, Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty, You’ll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Arizona, Don’t forget Winona only to end with this classic line of hipster slang, Won’t you get hip to this timely tip . . .Get your kicks on Route 66! Through good fortune, the Troups got the attention of Nat King Cole, who liked the song idea, recorded it, and scored a major hit in 1946 . The Troups also did well by this number: they earned enough to buy a house within two weeks of the record’s release. In celebration, “Cynthia took the Route 66 road map and pasted sections of the song sheet with snap shots of U.S. 66 signs, circling the place names from the rhymed verse” , and adding artistic details such as the jazz trumpet. The framed map is now treasured by family heirs, who have kindly made these photographs available. * * We are grateful to the Troup Estate for permission to use these materials and sincerely thank Arthur Krim for his advice and for several quotations taken from his writings on the Troups and Route 66.
Official Road Map: United States.
Washington, D.C.: American Automobile Association, 1946
New York: Burke and Van Heusen, 1946.
Courtesy of Arthur Kaim.
Photographs of Bobby and Cynthia Troup's Map of Route 66.
Courtesy of the Bobby Troup Estate Collection.
... Did the song make the road, or the road make the song? Certainly, the eight-foot long, celebratory Drive US 66 strip map, published just a few years later, made no reference to the song although it did note that the road had been a prominent feature of both movies and books. Perhaps the map ignored the song because its sexual connotations would not have suited a family audience . However, the song is today inextricable from the road [121, 122].
The Grand Canyon Route: Drive US 66 Across the Scenic West.
Oklahoma City: Southwestern Stationary and Bank Supply, ca. 1949.
Road Map of Historic Route 66: Collector's Edition.
Palmdale, CA: Pro-Map, ca. 1976. 122.
Route 66: 66th Anniversary, 1926-1992.
Chicago: Rand McNally and Company, 1991.
[Saturday Evening Post, permission of Curtis Publishing Company, 1991.]