It’s the London Marathon tomorrow, so I’ve put aside my customary objections to songs that are on-the-nose; songs about running, songs to empower, songs that people have run or trained to in films. Sometimes you need a good solid slice of inspiration. Having said that, this isn’t The Eye Of The Tiger, Run To The Hills and the theme from Chariots of Fire – I’ve tried to come up with a few tracks you might not have thought of. Here’s Best of RDIRM – Alternative On The Nose:
We’ve had this song before – because there is no better get-up-and-go song in the history of rock. This is the best alarm call in the world, short of a live rooster. I *name drop* briefly met Pete Townshend the other day – ‘thank you for Baba O’Riley, my life would be poorer without it’… I should have said. Didn’t, obviously.
Race For The Prize – The Flaming Lips
‘Theirs is to win, if it kills them / they’re just humans, with wives and children’ – ok, so Race For The Prize is about scientists trying to cure a disease, but this has the triple; happiness, sadness, constant forward motion… plus the words ‘upwards to the vanguard’. Hopefully the marathon WON’T kill us, but hey, it will be quite difficult.
Gold Dust – Dj Fresh and Ms. Dynamite
This enormous song once did the elusive trick of getting me going like I was about to miss a bus when I’d already gone a good twenty miles, and when I hear it out running I quite often listen to it again the moment it’s finished. It’s FAST, it’s about Gold Dust, which catches the ephemeral pleasure of garnering a marathon medal, and it has just slightly sinister running-related lyrics to keep you on your toes; ‘I don’t care where you come from, or what you’re running from… you keep running, and you’re running, and you’re running, and you’re running away’ – yes! I am! I do!
Melting Pot – Booker T and the MGs
London, and the London Marathon, are such great levellers; people of every age, skill level, nationality, purpose and appearance coming together as one to create traffic chaos. This instrumental’s steady, hammond organ-led groove is the sound of an all-day trot, and the surprise, joyous melodic flowering in the middle is the last hundred metres to the finish line, arms held aloft. Except it’s in the middle. Other than that, perfection.
Not everyone likes Rush, so apologies if this doesn’t float your boat, but here lyricist (and superhuman drummer) Neil Peart – who has run a marathon himself – writes eloquently about them. He doesn’t shy away, again, from the transience of the experience – ‘one moment’s high, and glory rolls on by’ – but the music keeps things positive, with key changes and heavenly choirs to bring you to the finish. And while the words are about as direct as can be, Peart still works in a metaphor – that a marathon is life. ‘You can do a lot in your lifetime – if you don’t burn out too fast / you can make the most of the distance, but first you need the guts; first you’ve got to last.’
There’s an obvious reason why this song is here – but apart from the title, I love its sunny, mid-speed roll. Also, for me, the experience of training for months on end then trying to use it all up in a few short hours is summed up in the lyric ‘you work your way to the top of the world, then you break your life in two’.
Pretty dark, now I come to look at it. My inspirational playlist bears the whiff of doom! Ah well; running, music, life, marathons, they’re all riven-through with joy and despair – we’re just surfing the cusp, right?
Which is what the mighty Janelle Monae is singing about here – see, I don’t just throw these things together. Tightrope is the perfect song for that dangerous psychological cliff in a marathon, where if it doesn’t all go to plan, it all goes to pot. Plus the tune’s a propulsive cracker, with the kind of bassline that can virtually run 26.2 miles on its own.
Go! – Public Service Broadcasting
As anyone who’s read any of these blogs will know, PSB are my absolute favourite. But how could I not include Go!, their musical recreation of the original Apollo Moon Landing. ‘We’re off to a good start – play it cool’. I think for me the drums fading back in just before three minutes is the high point in a pop song full of them; I really hope this tune pops up some time in the last few miles tomorrow.
Well, this song isn’t about running.
Missy E is using enormous loops and profane whoops to get you going, however, and if you can resist you’re a stronger man – or woman – than I. So whatever you get up to when you listen to Can’t Stop, you’re unlikely to want to, er, stop, which is why it helps with the running. Or your chosen activity, whatever that might be.
Here, The Smiths are particularly noisy and speedy as Morrissey questions the wisdom of coming to London. You’re welcome.
Once In A Lifetime – Talking Heads
Like Baba O’Riley, this one of my songs-for-all-time. Yes, it’s as perfect for running as it’s possible for a song to be – relentless, repetitive, blank-but-positive, meaningful, meaningless, but I think it runs deeper than that – this is the reductive, expansive sound of LIFE. And the London Marathon is probably something you should think about doing once in your life time.
Maybe not five times, mind.
Running Up That Hill – Kate Bush
When BBC 6 Music listeners chose this as their favourite running song, I was disappointed – mainly because it beat out Born Slippy – but this song IS perfect. Like the Talking Heads song, it musically represents not just running but running on and on and on. And the lyric catches that whiff of desperation I seem to crave. I think there will be a few people trying to make a deal with god out there on the streets of London tomorrow.
Streets of London? That gives me an idea…