Next weekend I’m running a half marathon, and not long after that I’m running the London Marathon – which is TWICE that far!
So I’ve been going long – going out for long runs, listening to long songs. When I did my first Marathon, in 2011, I put together a playlist of the longest songs I had, and then, on tour in the Far East, I forced myself to listen to them very carefully whilst running on hotel gym treadmills for as long as my sanity would allow.
This week’s list of Long Songs improves on that in two important ways – firstly, these songs aren’t just long, they’re excellent, and they’re tried and tested running aids. Secondly, they’re chosen for a run OUTSIDE. Don’t run on running machines, kids – that way madness lies.
So here it is: Best or RDIRM – Long Songs
This is turn of the ’80s prog rock, from the terminally unfashionable Canadian power trio, so I have to admit to myself that some of you aren’t going to love it. But I do. Rush make great running music, full of compelling riffs and rhythms, with epic scope and details that bear listening to over and over again. And the Camera Eye is lean – the very definition of a long song – not a rock opera, no goblins or greek gods in the lyrics; they knew the ’70s were gone. It’s an expansive drive around the city – two cities in fact, Toronto and London, so it’s the sound of a band trying to paint an aural picture of urban space. Succeeding, in my book.
But if it didn’t work for you, you’ll have flicked on to this. Goldie’s epic, despite being drum ‘n’ bass, is much more like the half-an-album opuses of earlier Rush, or Led Zeppelin, or Yes, in its scope and clear shifts from one movement to the next. I’ve joked in my act about running to drum ‘n’ bass being hard because of the syncopation, but the skittering, troubling beats here are an inspiration – just don’t try and match your stride to them. The big, spooky, voice-like synthesiser in the middle is famously sampled from John Woo’s classic Hong Kong action film The Killer, featuring Chow-Yun Fat – cool! But I noticed the other day that that music was used in Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer Red Heat before that. Less cool.
So, why did Goldie make this tune so long, and suitable for distance running?
Because Jungle is massive.
This, too, is electronic ’90s dance music, but we step from drum ‘n’ bass to trance; the kick drum on the beat just keeps on coming, there aren’t any vocals, and before long someone’s hammering a house piano fit to bust. If, like me, you see a link between dancing in the ’90s and running in the present day, then you’ll see why this tune works just as well for the latter as it did for the former. It’s long, relentless, euphoric, and the whole thing is a crescendo – quintessential running-too-fast-with-a-smile-on-your-face stuff.
Was that too cheery? This might help. I was surprised to find The Cure’s huge, angry, stream-of-consciousness break-up song so nice to run to – and, as with Rush, I can’t be confident you’ll agree, but I’ve put it after BT for a reason; like Nocturnal Transmission, Disintegration starts with a big, full sound, then builds and builds and builds – specifically, to the point where Robert Smith sings, really high: ‘I never said I would stay to the end / I knew I would leave you with babies and everything…’ His strangled, yet powerful voice sounds great when he sings angry. Cathartic, like any good run.
The electric piano on the beginning of Sheep is lush and mellow, a real tickle on the back of the neck, but before long the rest of the band roll in and bring the anger back. I’m only realising it now, but this is a similar package to the previous selection – a long-in-the-tooth guitar band rocking out with a bit of rage. Sheep has a different rhythm though, a propulsive, 6/8 chug; it’s no surprise that this song’s written by a bassist. Roger Waters also sings – strangled and angry, like Robert Smith – but the song has a melodic twist Disintegration doesn’t; the choruses raise an eyebrow, and in the end the tune finally resolves into a joyous, major-key, lead guitar cascade that, despite coming right at the end of a ten minute song, you wish would go on for longer. Pink Floyd made the catharsis audible.
Of course Blue Monday! If you’re not already running to this, you’re missing out. On its original release it was the best-selling twelve 12″ single ever, getting to number nine in the charts (and losing Factory Records money with every copy sold because its beautiful cover was so expensive to produce). It wasn’t immediately ideal to run to though – because it was a foot-wide piece of vinyl.
It’s got good beats, good bits, and the familiar, welcome sound of classic pop, but it’s also long, expansive and bleak – and I think it’s important to embrace bleakness on a run sometimes; we run in Britain, in all weathers and seasons, and, deeper than that, we’re using music and running to find some meditative blank space. Not necessarily sad, but not happy either – so the sound of a big grey sky is essential sometimes.
La Ritournelle – Sebastian Tellier
So here’s Sebastian Tellier, tying it all together – a long, expansive groove with the whiff of heartbreak, anchored by a house-ish piano figure, but very live sounding drums – drums that push beyond the rockish Pink Floyd and Cure towards jazz in fact. This is a short song masquerading as a long song in a way; the vocals – and some very frenetic live bass – wait until half way through to appear, then slip away again after one verse. It’s all very filmic and French. Tres bon. Run on.
You might’ve noticed that I tend to talk about music more often than lyrics – lyrics are very important to me, I just seem to come at my songs music first. Well, here’s a story song from Jarvis Cocker, one of the greatest lyricists of all – the verses are spoken, in that ironically cool way only Jarvis – well, Jarvis and fellow Sheffielder Phil Oakey from the Human League – can pull off. He catches the transience of Summer as deftly as Keats did Autumn. The music’s great too, of course – cheeky and lounge-y; when he says ‘we went driving’ you can virtually see the technicolor back projection and loosely-mimed steering of a ’60s film. And it swells to a massive, desperate finish – which, lets face it, is also like most long runs.
Sputnik – Public Service Broadcasting
Yes, these blogs and playlists are essentially a vehicle for Public Service Broadcasting evangelism – and I’m not ashamed. Sputnik – the actual bleep of the Russian satellite is on this tune – was one of the songs that set me down the running-plus-PSB road, on a long training run last year. The moment, more than four minutes in, when the steady groove blossoms into different chords for the first time is perfectly judged for maximum drama, and in turn leads – slowly but surely – to the explosive, choppy climax; boom boom boom! B-boom boom! When I first really listened to it that day I simply didn’t feel tired anymore; they had me thinking I was going to take off and orbit the world myself.
The Narcotic Suite – The Prodigy
These three tunes, which together make up the last act of The Prodigy’s Music For The Jilted Generation, show that whatever kind of music I’m listening to, I’ll find the scale, ambition and psychedelia of prog rock in it. I think I was born in the wrong era, or I’m the reincarnation of some long-haired, Tolkien-reading guitar-noodler who died of a drug overdose in the mid ’70s. Ok, early ’70s. Once again, we cast aside dancing and drugs and repurpose these songs for running, and once again it’s a perfect fit. All three tracks are fantastic, and complement each other, but they each hit a different note – 3 Kilos is rolling, mid-speed, let’s go to work music, only revealing its true might over time. Skylined takes the speed and energy up a notch, but has an open, breathy beauty to it’s big melodic reveal, the sound of coming round a corner and suddenly seeing the sun on the sea. And if those two tunes have had the desired effect and got you running harder and faster than you were before, Claustrophobic Sting is here to keep you there, the techno now at full-strength, with a mad, Joker’s grimace edge, that’ll keep you pushing it all the way to the finishing line – real, or imagined.
Good luck on those long runs – hope this helps. Let me know when you get back – and don’t forget to s-t-r-e-t-c-h.