I don’t hold with my running music being too ‘on the nose’; I’m not that jazzed to be running listening to songs about running, and I REALLY don’t want to pick a song based on its BPM. If you’re going to let an external device govern your pace, you might as well run on a… a… TREADMILL! *shudder* I am not a HAMSTER!
Having said all that, of course I want to take inspiration directly from the music I listen to – I’m hypocritical that way. So this week I’ve put together a run-shaped list, in four acts – songs to get you started, songs to roll along to, songs to keep you going and songs to bring you home. I’ve done three of each, but take songs out if you’re not running that far, or find more in my Infinite Running Music playlist if you’re going further.
Here’s my Beginning, Middle, Bit before the End, End selection:
If there is a better getting-going-in-the-morning song than this – for all aspects of life, not just running – I’ve never heard it; it’s the sound of a sunny, optimistic dawn, created in rock. The build, the propulsive, three chord loop, and then the final speed-build solo… it’s even got an old-school, pastoral work ethic thing running through it, starting with the farmer ‘out here in the fields / I farm for my meals / I put my back into my living…’ and ending with that solo – on a fiddle! This is a song to make you run like me – by which I mean slightly too fast, with a grin plastered across your face at all times.
‘I want to run…’ As someone who is ever-resistant to the obvious, I feel quite mature for getting over myself enough to recognise this song as the running anthem it most certainly is. But in terms of lyrical on-the-noseyness, it catches something wonderful, what my Australian running friends call a ‘dog run’, where you don’t know how far, how fast, or where you’re running; you just go – an important mode serious runners need to be reminded of sometimes. This song’s hugely evocative opening once played for me on a run at the exact moment huge snowflakes began to fall. I felt like I was in a film.
And talking of films – see what I did? – this is on the nose in an altogether different way; a tune to drop if you want to run like you’ve been shoplifting, on drugs. I talked about the mighty Trainspotting soundtrack in Week One, but that was all about dance music’s repetitive beats. Not that Lust for Life doesn’t have beats that repeat – or, indeed, that other perfect musical move straight from dance music: the build that just keeps on building. Iggy Pop’s relentless wonders probably bring us to the point where we’ve had enough songs that build – and put a manic smile on your face.
Now we’re out on the open road and going strong, with plenty of fuel in the tank. In my head, that means under amber street lights on an otherwise-empty elevated dual carriageway. In a car, obviously – you got that, right? Synthesisers with a whiff of the ’80s about them catch the spirit of that best – like this epic from Ulrich Schnauss. Yes, it’s a twenty-first century track, with dance-y instrumentation, but the big sound is not dissimilar to Where The Streets Have No Name, and that era’s pre-Coldplay version of the stadium rock sound. Oo look – you’ve just run another mile without even noticing.
Todd Terje – with his silly-to-the-point-of-apologetic name and title; he’s not just riffing on Inspector Morse, but legendary dance DJ Todd Terry – carries on that groove with this superb, not-too-fast track, one of those tunes that sounds like a classic on first listen. For electronic music, this is so jazzy; the way the lead synth just drifts into the main melodic hook, as if stumbling on it, rather than just getting to it. If this works for you, don’t miss his Delorean Dynamite.
It’s clear that I lean on electronica for my keep-on-keeping-on tunes, but you certainly don’t have to; essentially, for this part of the run, we take an energetic musical style, then damp it down a bit – so where the last couple of tracks are like dance music, only less so, the Foo Fighters’ Times Like These takes the awesome power of a rock riff and holds it back – just a little bit – to keep it sunny and steady. Musically, in the instrumental break, this track also does the compelling trick of dropping a beat at the end of a loop to drag you forwards into the next one. If you can’t hear that, it doesn’t matter – it’s still doing it to you.
If you’re flagging, an enormous, angry tune can make all the difference – and if you’re not, you can enjoy the energy boost all the same. This is a great gear-change after the last few tunes – it’s not steady and smooth, it’s chunky and agitated. Resistance is futile; just don’t lose your temper with any strangers whilst listening to it. Plus it’s got a cowbell on it to die for. Coming soon – Cowbell Week!
After invoking the concept of ‘the awesome power of a rock riff’ just now, it seems only fair that we indulge in a maximum-strength one here. During my first half marathon, this song showed me why, in some contexts, music is classified as a performance-enhancing drug. I was exhausted, the music wasn’t helping, I flicked on a track, flicked on another… and suddenly I was hooning through Hyde Park like a good’un. The guitar riff is incredible – drawing you on, again, like the best ones do – but it’s the muscular minimalism of the whole track that makes it really special – a feeling of controlled rage. Which is sort of what running’s for, eh. Sometimes, at least.
Having said that, Missy E’s track has all of that, but instead of being angry it’s SEXY. Brilliantly rude – which I think is why it’s not more famous – this track isn’t romantic at all; it’s about getting busy. To paraphrase Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, ‘get busy runnin’, or get busy bonkin” – just don’t get confused about which. It’s nice to note that the ‘RAAAARGH!’ running music sometimes needs can be found in electro, rock, hip-hop… any genre you like. Classical, Metal, Swing… ok, maybe not Swing.
But can a sexy, slow jam bring us to a climax?
Of course it can!
On that same half marathon that Muse knocked a few minutes off my time and catapulted me into the final miles, this huge tune came on as I got into the last few hundred yards; I laughed out loud – so appropriate and inappropriate all at once. I really appreciated being encouraged to ‘hang on in there baby’ – but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Johnny had in mind. No matter – the musical effect is the same; the massive, orgasmic key change in this song sounds like a finish line to me.
That’s the essence of these last few tunes – a sense that the relentlessness is finally going somewhere. Eclipse isn’t really a song at all, it’s the coda to the last proper song on Dark Side of the Moon, Brain Damage, and as such, the punchline to the whole album – but I think on a run we can justify cutting to the chase, as it were. Lyrically, it might help put some of that rage to bed too.
If you want the whole journey – soup to nuts, as it were – in one tune, however, keyboard player Deodato’s got you covered, with this jazz-funk take on Strauss’s climax to end all climaxes. Nine minutes, which just gives him time to go round twice.
This piece is in the film Being There, and I’ll definitely come back to it in Film Music Week, but its combination of everything here – beginnings, builds, positivity, long, steady grooves and enormous climaxes – means it has to be here too. But that filmic feel is what we’re talking about, eh; films are stories – this song is a story – this playlist is a story – and, of course, every run, from the shortest to the longest, is a story.