I noticed last week that I was describing many of my running-est tunes as spacy or spacious – so this week I’ve been imbuing the Infinite Running Music playlist with more literally space-related tunes.
The highlights – Best of RDIRM – Space (and Robots) – are as follows:
We start VERY literally with Gagarin, from Public Service Broadcasting’s Race for Space – a stupendous album that charts the Cold War space race between the USA and the USSR, using genuine archive footage from the era instead of vocals – plus the occasional choir. Written down like this that sounds dry, but this is joyous, dynamic music – from a running point of view it straddles the two camps of a) good grooves and beats and b) music that makes you feel like you’re in a movie. It’s a superb album all round, and this track, which I actually heard for the first time whilst running, is a high point, funky and exciting, with a shift into soaring, slightly sad strings that’s positively transcendent.
So have another. Go is actually about the original moon landing, but it’s still pretty on-the-nose as a running track – I heard it in Victoria Park, miles into a long training run last Spring, and at the moment where it all drops down, and a voice says ‘we’re off to a good start – play it cool’ I got goosebumps, and grinned frighteningly at a couple of strangers. As if that weren’t enough, it also sounds like Tangerine Dream’s title music from Streethawk, the totally rubbish, speedy-motorbike Knight Rider rip-off ’80s TV show. Perfection.
Of course, Public Service Broadcasting lose points for being so factual and earthbound; as everyone knows, the very best music can always be found on concept albums about robots. And the Flaming Lips are the world’s foremost providers of the stuff. I’ve chosen a less pacy song here, but the combination of psychedelic detail and relentless bass and drums in the music make this, like so many of their tracks, perfect for keeping your head in that meditative space just as it keeps your lungs and legs a-pumpin’. And the words? ‘These evil natured robots / are programmed to destroy us / she’s got to be strong to fight them / so she’s taking lots of vitamins’. Robot war-based pop is my favourite music.
As I say, it’s not pacy, but despite that this second part of the song is pretty RAAARRRGH, for want of a better word. It’s the aural depiction of the actual fight between Yoshimi and the aforementioned robots, and as such it’s wonderful accompaniment to any battle – the fight to get to the top of the hill, or the 10 mile mark, or the 5k, or whatever. For me, the energy here sums things up, running-wise – wild and aggressive, for sure, but altogether more positive than the grinding darkness of rock and metal. What’s that? A correlation between the highs of running and the highs of drugs that some of these songs neatly encapsulate? I don’t know what you’re talking about…
I’m not joking about robot pop and sci-fi concept albums being my jam; you get all the mind-expanding hippydom of prog rock, combined with the immediacy and melodies of upbeat pop. So when Janelle Monae’s Electric Lady album came along I was excited… and not disappointed. The whole thing’s great – inventive and ridiculous – with loads of excellent songs, but I’ve chosen this one as an Infinite Running Music highlight because if there’s one tune to jump you out of whatever funk you might’ve got your head into on a run, it’s this one, with its shalakalaka ukelele groove and twisted-but-catchy lyrics.
My son – coming up twelve – loves Public Service Broadcasting, so I told him about this list; he immediately made this inspired, classy suggestion. Mars is full of drama and tension – it’s music for overtaking people, and it sounds like the BBC London Marathon theme’s evil twin.
That theme is The Trap by Ron Goodwin, by the way. I hope that information wins you a pub quiz some time.
I’m sure George Lucas had Mars on all the Death Star scenes of Star Wars at the rough cut stage; lots of musical moments prefigure John Williams’ classic score.
Having said all that, you’ve got to be in the mood for it; it’s stressful and bombastic.
Here’s another one you’d have to be in the mood for, although I’ll wager this cheesy, soft rock anthem will hit the spot more often than you’d think. A song that puts a smile on your face when you’re out and about is a wonderful thing; just wait for Shatner week. Besides, this song is downright excellent, it’s histrionic end-of-the-world lyrics bolstered with that enormously satisfying synth riff. Give yourself up to its guilty pleasures – let an imaginary permed mullet rhythmically pat the back of your neck as you stride along.
Alright, back to crispy, dance-y, er, non-rubbish tunes. Todd Terje’s Delorean Dynamite’s track sounds like the soundtrack to a non-existent, day-glo sci-fi movie from our youth. It’s perfect running music; upbeat, propulsive, steady, relentless and accessible. It’s even a couple of minutes longer than most songs; it goes the extra distance, helping you to do the same. Whether it completely fits my theme depends on whether a) you think time travel comes under the space and robots banner, and b) whether Todd Terje meant any old Delorean or THAT Delorean. But it’s a banger – the tune, not the car – so who cares?
Lemon Jelly share a lot of DNA with PSB. What is it that makes this such great stuff to run to? I think the way these bands use samples instead of singing over considered, post-dance instrumentals result in music that sets your mind free to meditate, without then filling it with drama and words; it’s music for half listening to. Space Walk is very gentle – a Lemon Jelly tune for a long, steady run, not a sprint up a slope I’m reminded of Asha Puthli’s Space Talk, which explicitly plays on the link between going to space, and getting some space. But that’s a bit late-night for this list – soporific and sexy, neither of which will help you on your run – so instead, let’s make the next selection…
Cosmic chat – check. Steady groove – check. Sitar hook – ah, go on then. This has a lovely, riffy bassline that’ll oil your motor. It’s a very ’90s, ‘chillout’ selection, but hey, that works for me, as you may already have noticed.
This tune was actually ON last week’s ’90s Repetitive Beats selection, but it simply has to be on this list too; it’s not just about robots – it sounds shiny. Listen to this and Delorean Dynamite and you could be thinking your involved in an android car chase rather than a run. And while we’re on last week’s list, Leftfield’s Space Shanty, running tune to beat all running tunes, could also be here. So here it is.
I’ve started cheating and throwing in tunes left right and centre, so let’s wrap this up. As you’ll probably have noticed, I’m hoping you’ll go after PSB’s entire Race for Space album, but should you not, here’s another track from it that’s really helped me in the past. The long, slow build of Sputnik is so perfect for running, it’s basically the musical representation of a long old trot. The steady bleep that underpins the whole tune is the real satellite’s signal, by the way. And it really puts the ‘travel’ into space travel – nudging you towards thinking you’re going thousands of miles through space, rather than a couple of miles round the park. Actually, if your local park’s as rough as some of the spots I trot through, stick on The Other Side instead, and imagine you’ve just popped round the dark side of the moon.
I’m going for a run in the falling snow right now – here’s hoping my music player plays me something that turns North London into Hoth from Empire Strikes Back, or the towpath to Primrose Hill into Clark Kent’s arctic trek to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. And I don’t get eaten by robots.