I bliss out to my running playlists. Seriously, my cheeks ache from smiling, like I’ve just blown up 100 balloons. A few songs in, I’ll be awestruck that Madonna and Bright Eyes and Foo Fighters and House of Pain work so seamlessly and with such purpose on the same playlist. It seems improbable, but I hear the miracle. Wanting to share my magical pop/rock set with the world, I vow to go straight home to write about it, to share the good news that is my playlist with everyone. I stretch, shower and, after, it always seems like a super dumb idea.
Until today. My spring season starts in a few weeks and I’ve been overdue to start running outside. Problem is, I dislike running unless there’s ball to chase. Plus, our disorderly spring weather has gotten to me: heat and humidity on Sunday, cold and rain the next three days straight. One day last week was glorious, sunny, cool, a light breeze, a breeze that would be at my back the entire return. I needed to get my booty outside.
So naturally, I stalled, did some dishes. I changed into running clothes, then returned a few calls, folded socks. I finally laced up my shoes, but as I inserted my ear buds, I remembered I was sick to death of my playlists, “running” and “coley running 2.” Indeed, I might roll into a ball on the pavement if I heard “I Got A Feeling” one more time.
I unlaced my shoes, sat on the steps and killed some more time searching Spotify. I downloaded about 15 songs and headed out the door, not wanting to go, but going nonetheless.
When In Rome’s “The Promise” played as I jogged down my front walk. Grouchy as I felt, those first few piano bars forced my face into a humongous grin. By the time I hit Lee Street and Sheridan, I was elated, my endorphins streaming full bore. The day was perfection: Lake Michigan shone pearlescent and seven parks and three beaches stretched along my route. My mongrel playlist sent me straight over the top. This is why, even though the endorphins have waned and it’s starting to feel sketchy, I’m finally writing about my running/workout playlists.
I don’t have the time or energy to know or follow cutting edge music — my friend Jeremy handles that for me. At this stage in my life, I will put any song that pleases me on a playlist, including really old songs and cheesy music my kids play in the car. Also, lunatics, misogynists, criminals and generally bad people I would avoid in real life may be included on my playlist. Some pretty screwed up human beings have recorded some outstanding tunes, think MJ — may his soul finally rest.
That doesn’t mean all music works on a workout playlist. Awesome as they are, the Shins will not do for running. And metal’s all wrong for me. Too arhythmic. So many people work out to it, yet Rap doesn’t work for me either. I get hung up by the backbeat, which is often slow, which makes me want to slow down, which is not the point. Same with some funk. I recently added the Terrence Trent Darby song “Wishing Well” to a list. Remember that one? So funky, right? Bad call. Great for dancing, for driving. A grind to run to it.
For a running playlist I have only two requirements:
1) I need music that won’t give me an excuse to stop.
2) I need to be able to sing along.
• REM’s “Superman” is on every running playlist I’ve ever made.
• So too, are the first ladies of R&B, Beyonce and Rihanna. There’s no way to stop moving when “Crazy In Love” or “Pon de Replay” blasts in your ears. Just. Not. Possible.
• And I need radio Nirvana. Give me their most commercial songs, Teen Spirit, “Come As You Are,” “Heart-Shaped Box.” There’s rage and power in them, but also a rhythm line. Ever try moving to their more obscure songs “About A Girl” or “Dumb?” Don’t bother.
• For the reason stated above, I dig most 80’s radio metal, Def Leppard circa High and Dry and Pyromania or any hits from Van Halen’s first four albums.
• Kurt Cobain would spit from his his grave if he knew he’s included on playlists with three the Three K’s: Kelly, Katy and Kesha. The uplift in Kelly Clarkson songs moves me faster, that way she shout/sings. And you can go ahead and make fun, but the chorus of Katy Perry’s “Firework” actually chokes me up. Okay, the song’s first line about being a plastic bag is really weak, but then she sings, “You just gotta ignite the light/ and let it shine/ just own the night/ like the Fourth of July” and, oh, I am off.
I can’t make excuses for pre-lawsuit, abuse-era Kesha. Seems she’s gotten more thoughtful nowadays, but nothing can replace her old lyrics. They are vapid, terrible, and kind of hilarious: “I’m telling you 'bout the shit we do/ We're sellin' our clothes, sleepin’ in cars/ Dressin’ it down, hittin’ on dudes…HARD!” These songs are my hands down favorites! I couldn’t listen to them over dinner, but they make me irrationally happy when I run. Maybe it’s the endorphins again, but no matter, Kesha’s old music is great for moving.
• One of my favorite running songs featuring Kesha is “Timber” by Pitbull. Pitbull is a god, a runner’s mejor amigo. His duets alone would make a fantastic workout playlist. The man has recorded hits with Shakira, Enrique, J Lo, Christina, Usher, Neo, Austin Mahone, Gloria Estefan and so many more. Lo adoro.
• Some of my favorite workout songs hail from my teen dance club days — Orlando’s EA, Visage and Beach Club, all long shuttered. These oldies probably sound about as danceable to kids as The Supremes did to me when I was sixteen. That said, tunes by these bands move me still. Some favorites include The Cure, Erasure, The Cult, Siouxie and The Banshees. I positively crank when New Order’s “Temptation” plays.
This random sample from my lists feels like a weird confession, like admitting I paint dollhouse furniture or play competitive Scrabble — which I don’t. Still, I’ve risked telling you to prove it doesn’t matter what you play as long as you play. Make a list. The songs don’t need to be masterful or current or cool. They only need to keep us moving, whether running or walking or bowling or performing Tai Chi.
We have got to keep moving.