Music for Running: A Guide to the Perfect Playlist
I love running to music. The pavement is my dance floor and I can go for hours. Any given morning on Tempe Town Lake I will jog, playing air guitar to the riff of David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" if no one is looking.
The amount of fun I have on the trail has translated into a healthy turnaround for me. Over the last few years, I've lost more than 100 pounds eating right and running. I've done countless 5Ks, numerous half marathons, and I ran 26.2 miles four times in less than two years. The secret to my success is finding the right type of sonic motivation to place between my ears. You find the right track and you'll be good to go all morning. If you start getting fancy with the playlist and pick the wrong thing, it's going to be a long slog to the finish line. For example, the Belle and Sebastian song "Stars of Track and Field" isn't about running the 800 meter dash. Trust me.
There are some common misconceptions about running that could seep into your potential playlist suggestions. Running isn't about going as fast as you can. It's about keeping your pace. It's tempting to put on Macklemore and Lewis' "Can't Hold Us," but before the ceiling can't hold you the pavement might be holding your breakfast instead.
Below are a few do's and don't's to help you find an edge for your final race before the heat sets in. Doesn't matter if you're a hipster or simply enjoy pop music. Feel free to list any suggestions you have in the comments.
Try: "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who
A nine minute opus about a revolution full of synthesizers, riffs, and quite possibly the best drum solo in the history of rock music courtesy of Keith Moon. Roger Daltry shouting "meet the new boss/same as the old boss" is as rousing as any anthem you can find.
Avoid: "Hey Tonight" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
This song has a nice tempo and a stirring vocal about chasing tomorrow from John Fogerty, but before you get to the song's bridge you already feel like you're running through a hot Southern swamp on the way to a Baptist revival. Running is like religion to some people, but it's hard to feel inspired once this tune is over.
Try: "Police On My Back" by The Clash
This cover of The Equals rhythm and blues classic adds a sense of urgency to any run as Joe Strummer screams he's been running all seven days of the week from the fuzz for a crime he didn't commit. The guitars resemble sirens so you might as well be on the run yourself.
Avoid: "Once In A Lifetime" by Talking Heads
This song is so steeped in philosophy that any run can feel the "same as it ever was." The standout track from the band's "Remain In Light" album keeps a good beat but its message can slow you down quick.
Try: "Master of Puppets" by Metallica
It's the obvious choice from Hetfield and company, but it is nearly nine minutes of driving guitar and drums that never let's up. Slam your feet against the sidewalk instead of banging your head as you bow to your master.
Avoid: "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne
The familiar "aye-aye-aye" plays at every sporting event from a Cardinals game on Sunday to your neighbor's Saturday morning cricket match. As obvious as my Metallica pick was, it still makes you feel like a badass. "Crazy Train," on the other hand, makes you feel like a has-been.
Try: "Don't Change" by INXS
There's just something that gets you moving when you hear Michael Hutchence sing that there's a "resolution of happiness/things have been dark/for too long." The soaring synths combined with a simple guitar riff was welcome as I started to lose weight.
Avoid: "Ceremony" by New Order
For those familiar with the history of New Order, this song was originally intended for Joy Division, the band they were in before their leader Ian Curtis hung himself. No one wants to think about suicide while running. Running already feels like suicide. This is why there's no room on any playlist for anything from the '90s. Everything from that period makes me think of Kurt Cobain.
Try: "Tightrope" by Janelle Monae featuring Big Boi
Featuring the classiest brass section from future, Monae's fun track from her funky 2010 opus based on the silent film Metropolis swings high and low from the rafters. Add a smooth guest appearance from Outkast's Big Boi and you've got something to get you moving.
Avoid: "Holy Grail" by Jay-Z
When Justin Timberlake is the best part of your track, you need no explanation.
Try: "The Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga
It starts with a heartbeat and it leaves you hanging on the edge with a sax solo by the late Clarence Clemmons. It's the perfect song to get a rush out of you and running headlong into flames. It also contains the perfect lyrics for anyone crossing the finish line for the first time.
Avoid: "Roar" by Katy Perry
You're better off listening to "Eye Of The Tiger" than listen to Perry use every cliché in the book to talk about how she survived a divorce that everyone knew would happen but her. It lacks everything you need to move, including inspiration.
Try: "45:33" by LCD Soundsystem
Nike commissioned James Murphy and his band of merry musicians to create a track perfect for working out on the treadmill. The result was a 46 minute space opera that covers every aspect of a running workout, including the warm-up and cool down. It's also got a great sense of humor to keep you interested.
Starting Line Anthem
Try: "Don't Stop Me" by Queen
This song perfect encapsulates why I love running. I want to have a real good time. I want to feel alive. I'm a racing car moving around like Lady Godiva, so please don't stop me at all. It's the perfect anthem for moving ahead of the pack.
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