Songs to run by

A fellow runner recently told me that they had never run with music, and then asked me if I had any suggested listening. Honestly, I was a little disgusted by the whole “running without music” thing. I mean, I know this person has run a lot...and all without music? I guess it makes their running achievements all that more impressive. I mean, a whole marathon with nothing but your inner-monologue? That’d be bad business for me.

It got me thinking though. What makes certain music better to run to than other music? Like any music categorization, it is all very personal. I mean, I think most would agree that something upbeat traditionally trumps something slow, but I would argue that is not even always the case (especially on longer runs). Personally, the songs do not have to be great, but they have to be working towards something, or have something that gives me that extra push when I may be dragging a bit. In fact, every song that I can think of when I try to think of songs that I love running to has something about it that lights a little fire in me.

As I have been a (somewhat) regular runner since I graduated from college (2006), I figured I would go back through the archives and look at what songs I have run to the most over the past few years. These are not in order of greatness (rather, alphabetical), but for better or worse, the 15 songs that I have run to the most over the last four years (ends up being about an hour of music). Also, below that list, I have included the five songs I have been running to the most over the past few months (just to keep things current).

Arcade Fire - “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” - Ironically enough, “Neighbordhood #3 (Power Out)” is one of Arcade Fire’s most energetic songs. The drums drive the song, and Win Butler and Company’s vocals carry the perfect level of desperation to keep me moving along. Pick-Me Up Moment: The verse right before the bridge (3:00 - 3:30ish) that ends with the line “you ain’t fooling nobody, with the lights out!”

Bloc Party - “Positive Tension” - Bloc Party are a great band to run to because their rhythm section is so tight (listen to the drums fill out that bass line) and Kele Okereke’s vocals are so earnest they will exhaust you just sitting there listening. Pick-Me-Up Moment: Breakdown leading up to the line “so fucking useless” (2:35 - 3:25).

Frightened Rabbit - “The Modern Leper” - Frightened Rabbit write bleeding heart lyrics and sing them at the top of their lungs (in thick Scottish accents) over rollicking rock and roll. Sign me up. Pick-Me-Up Moment: Entire song from 1:50 on (starts with the line: “So I cut out all the good stuff, yeah, I cut off my foot to spite my leg”).

The Gaslight Anthem - “1930” - The Gaslight Anthem are at their most pop-punk here. Drums going a mile a minute (just trying to keep up with the guitar I guess). I always exhale right with the music at 1:55 (and then finish it off with a nice little air drum). Pick-Me-Up Moment: The end of the song where it gets all slow (2:50) and then the drums drive right into that awesome close with the two singers singing over each other.

Girl Talk - “Smash Your Head” - If you are not familiar with Girl Talk’s intricate brand of mash-up’s, then “Smash Your Head” may catch you off guard (the first 10 seconds brings together Fall Out Boy, Clipse and SWV). Pick-Me-Up Moment: The moment of clarity when Chris Wallace spits “Juicy” over “Tiny Dancer” (1:30 - 2:30).

Japandroids - “Young Hearts Spark Fire” - I talk about this song on here all the time. If you have not checked it out by now, you never will. Your loss. Pick-Me-Up Moment: Drums/vocals throughout, but that whole part at the end where the music drops out a few times and they are singing just the “Ohhhh’s” (4:25-4:45) is pretty badass.

Kelly Clarkson - “Since U Been Gone” - If you don’t know why this song is on here, then you have not been in the vicinity of a radio since 2004. Upbeat, scream it out, rock and roll pop music. Pick-Me-Up Moment: The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s-esque guitar on that bridge into the final round of choruses (specifically the inflection in her voice when she sings “I get what I want” at about 2:35ish....if we are getting specific).

The Killers - “When You Were Young” - In 2006, the Killers tried to be a modern day version of Bruce Springsteen, and with “When You Were Young”, they kind of pulled it off. From its first crunch (about 3 seconds in), this song is just huge open-road rock and roll. Pick-Me-Up Moment: Brandon Flowers’ vocal performance on the whole damn song.

MGMT - “Kids” - I remember seeing that NME named “Kids” its song of the year in 2008 and thinking it was such bullshit (because I had never even heard it at the time). Now I can see how NME would make that call (though I still disagree with the placement) . Purposeful, slightly off-kilter electronic music with melody. I can run to that. Pick-Me-Up Moment: Like any warm-blooded person, I like the part where the music drops out, the kid screams, and then all the music kicks back in with the chorus (3:50).

The New Pornographers - “The Bleeding Heart Show” - This one starts out a little slow, but builds into an indie-pop flurry of drum rolls, jangly guitars, and harmonies. Pick-Me-Up Moment: A.C. Newman singing the line “the phantom taste, drinking wine from your heels” (2:02)...mainly because I know what is coming after.

Radiohead - “Idioteque” - I enjoy running to electronic music because it always gets me into a groove. This is likely due to the repetitive nature of most electronic music. However, “Idioteque” has more than that because outside of the driving bass, blips, and beeps, it has Thom Yorke singing about panic and apocalypse. Pick-Me-Up Moment: The way the entire second verse (starts with “Ice age coming” at about 1:50) feels more and more urgent even though Yorke barely changes anything about his vocal delivery throughout (sidenote: live versions - which are great to run to as well - you can hear the crowd go wild after the second is because Yorke is going nuts on-stage for basically the last minute of the song).

Red Hot Chili Peppers - “Can’t Stop” - I know this song has been all over the radio. However, I remember the first time I heard it (or at least noticed it) was actually at a house in Bowling Green. A buddy of mine (Nick) had stopped over at one of Lindsay’s friends’ places. It was not a huge group hanging out or anything, but it was a good group of folks having beers. Well, Nick got a hold of the ipod and made a playlist (no surprise). I remember there was a quiet when he started the playlist. Then this song played first. I remember thinking the intro was so epic (that was the word...epic). Five years later, and I have probably run to this song over two hundred times. Pick-Me-Up Moment: Aforementioned intro.

Stars - “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” - This song starts with the line “When there is nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire”. This song is about moving on..well, about re-hashing some stuff, and then moving on. This song is a dramatic mess of strings, heartbreak, and speaking your peace. This song is over the top. This song is great to run to. Pick-Me-Up Moment: When it feels like the song is ready to die, but fills back up again (2:55), and then Amy Milan starts with the line, “there’s one thing I want to say, so I’ll be brave.”

The Strokes - “Reptilia” - It is hard to pick something out of a Strokes song that makes it stand out because everything is so simple, but works so well together. Whether it is the way the rhythm section never misses a beat, or Albert Hammond Jr’s little guitar fills...the band always sounds on (at least on those first two albums). I am always a little partial to the grit of Casablanca’s vocals though. Pick-Me-Up Moment: That awesome line “the room is on fire as she’s fixing her hair” (2:27). Not just because Casablancas captured the electricity of sitting in a room on a Friday night with a beer while watching your girlfriend (wife) prepare herself for a night out with friends (and you), but also because Casablancas delivers it with the necessary zeal to really convey that feeling.

Vampire Weekend - “A-Punk” - Just a bouncy little pop rock number about a girl, a ring, and turquoise harmonicas. I love Vampire Weekend. Pick-Me-Up Moment: The rhythm section leading right into the “ey ey ey ey - ey ey ey” parts, of course.

Current Top 5 Songs to run by (as of 8.28.10):
LCD Soundsystem - “Losing My Edge”
The Killers - “Mr Brightside” (Jacques Lucont's Thin White Duke Remix)
Sleigh Bells - “Infinity Guitars”
Japandroids - “Younger Us”
The Gaslight Anthem - “Orphans”



AB said...

It's interesting... I actually prefer to run to instrumentals, movie scores typically. Not sure what that says about me..

Jameson said...

I think that actually makes a lot of sense. Like I was saying, most everything I listen to when I run gets me kind of jacked up (for some reason or another). It does not necessarily have to be something fast or with big guitars...just something that pumps me up. For someone who is a huge fan of movies, I could see movie scores working well for you. I am assuming you are not listening to movie scores from movies that you thought were shitty? As such, you hear the movie score and it basically reminds you of that movie you liked.

I know there are songs that are used in movies/television that I basically like (or like a lot more) because they remind me of a great scene from the show/movie (see: Bob Dylan - "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" - played during the final scene of Mad Men season 1 finale, Peter Sarstedt - "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)" - played throughout Hotel Chevalier). While I like both of those songs on their own, I will never separate them from those respective moments, so I subconsciously like them even more.

Luke said...

I love that Girl Talk song... the tiny dancer bit is brilliant.

When I used to run... obviously I will be going low-impact exercise the rest of my life... I would listen to Brownfields almost exclusively.

I wonder what that says about me?

Anonymous said...

I never listen to music when I run. Including the marathon I ran.


Anonymous said...

Oh wait. You were referring to me, weren't you? Hahaha. I'm a genius. And very unassuming...and modest...and stuff.