The sound of music: on the top 100 running songs of all time

I guess I’ve always been a bit…er, off-beat, but a recent blog post I spotted on “The Top 100 Running Songs of All Time” just proves it.

Scanning this spurious list of musical travesties, I believe I saw two songs that – in desperation and if they were the only two songs on a malfunctioning iPod – I would actually consider listening to on my run.

(And that’s if I was to run with an iPod, which I very, rarely ever do anymore except in the depths of winter on the dreadmill. But that’s a whole other topic for a blog post.)

Now, granted, my musical taste obviously diverts heavily from that of the folks over at DailySpark (from “SparkPeople”).

But before I even get into the aesthetics – or lack thereof – of the SparkPeoples’ musical taste, I wonder just how they get the nerve to declare their list the definitive top 100 running songs of all times?

It went like this: Nicole Nichols, a breathless health and fitness writer at SparkPeople (“Outside of work, her dream day would include sleeping in, eating blueberry pancakes, running with her adorable pitbull Ginger and scoring a deal on vintage mid-century modern furniture”) polled “people” to share their favourite running songs and created a list  out of that.

Already, we can see some rigorous scientific methodology is at work.

But then a new layer of statistical analysis was added when Nichols went, “list in hand,” to ask members of SparkPeople.com, America’s #1 weight loss and fitness website, to vote on their favorites, too.”

Having drawn upon the knowledge of the music experts at, uh, SparkPeople, Nichols arrives at the top 100 running songs of ALL TIME.

By now, I know you’re dying to know what made number one.

And I know none of you will disagree with the choice of Pink’s Raise Your Glass.

Well, actually I did. But no matter. We already know my music tastes are bent and skewed.

Seriously, I’ve run to Pink in the past, but not that song. Rather, her Get This Party Started, Trouble, and especially, God is a DJ have all been on my iPod.

Number two on the list? Eye of the Tiger’s Survivor.

Number three: Adele’s Rolling in the Deep.

And it goes on. You can see the entire list here: http://bit.ly/NYHnIg

Overall, I found the music mainstream, predictable, and much of it drawn from recent radio hits. For me, it was very uninspiring.

But, hey, if that floats your boat and you like to run to it, I’m not going to fault you.

What I do take issue with is some self-styled musical expert polling a few pals and site followers and then declaring the whole list the top running songs ever, of all time, of all eternity.

Really.

Am I music expert? Probably not. I’ve written on the subject as a reviewer for a number of regional and national daily papers and the odd magazine (check Penguin Eggs – http://www.penguineggs.ab.ca/ – where I used to write, among others), but I’ve listened to my fair share of tunes and seen more concerts (as a critic) than most.

Still, I could put out a list and recognize that many, if not most, of you would take issue with it.

Not that that’s going to stop me. (Cue evil laughter.)

This list is not the top 10 running songs of ALL TIME. Rather, they are the songs I’ve listened to most frequently while working out. The statistics come from iTunes, which. of course, shows you just how many times you’ve played a song.

Here they are:

1. Running with the Devil – Van Halen. Do I really need to say anything? Classic Van Halen with David Lee Roth screaming out the lyrics, while Eddie Van Halen lets loose on the guitar. I find this one is fantastic during a tempo run and really lets me stretch out.

2. I Come Prepared – K’Naan. The Somali-Canadian rapper’s vocals carry the groove as much as the music on this song. It puts me in the zone on the dreadmill, especially.

3. Tomorrow Never Knows – 801. Fairly obscure super-group with Brian Eno, Phil Manzenera (Roxy Music’s guitarist), John Cale, and then-wonder kid Simon Phillips on drums. This one always sets me free and gets me loose and flying.

4. Vogue 2008 – Madonna. Another little-known singer. Okay, I jest. A live version of her hit with an irresistible pumping beat. Again, gets me loose, especially when she sings, “Let your body go with the flow.”

5. It’s a Beautiful Day – U2 – When you’re running down a hill in late evening in the summer and the sun is setting and you can see the land beyond turning blue as night arrives, it’s not to hard to feel this song in the marrow of your being.

6. Back in Black – AC/DC but as done by Carlos Santana – When I hear this song, I feel as if I could run forever “because I am back.” The snarling guitar just affirms that.

7. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana. Pure rage. It drives me through tempo runs.

8. Sick – Bif Naked – Heavy, heavy, heavy. Bif lays all out on the line and it makes you want to fight and live all that much more. Beyond that, any number of Bif’s songs would top this list. She writes like a runner.

9. Porquito Mas – Infected Mushroom – Another song that makes me want to run endlessly. It might have something to do with that little voice singing: “I’m going to push you and then you’re going to get it,” behind the massive, slugging drum beat.

10. Life is a Highway – Tom Cochrane – Classic Canadian rock. Works as a cool-down, mid-tempo pace rocker.

Honestly, I could have replaced many of these with any number of songs. Tunes from The Specials, Stone Temple Pilots, Motley Crew, Tommy Lee, and many, many more are played as much as the ones above. My taste, for running at least, leans toward anything with a heavy beat – most likely alternative or metal.

Bottom line?

Run.

(Disclaimer: since Canadian Running Magazine cited Sub-three as an “inspirational blog,” I have to try and add some motivational shit.)

Seriously: run with or without music and pick what you like.

Just don’t grab a few friends, post it up and then tell me the songs are the top 100 of all time.

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About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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8 Responses to The sound of music: on the top 100 running songs of all time

  1. Rob Jackson says:

    You like songs with “a heavy beat”, so I’m guessing you like “heavy” shoes as well?? I find those pulsating-beat, stereotypically-hardcore songs actually make me feel heavy. They weigh on my ears, my head, my shoulders and my feet. They truly make me feel physically heavy.
    There are plenty of songs with a beat, but with a beat that lifts you up, not “beats” you down. New Order’s “True Faith” is an example of a song with a wonderfully light, pursuit beat, combined with lyrics like: “I feel so extraordinary. Something’s got a hold on me. I get the feeling I’m in motion. A certain sense of liberty.” What could be better than THAT! Any number of Moby’s ethereal songs will make your feet float across the ground.
    Please! No thumping beat songs! They make me feel as though I should be in a marching band.

    • subthree says:

      I gain the same sense of liberty from my music, Rob. And, no, not everything I listen to has a thudding beat: U2 and Gotye (not on my list) case in point. The real thesis behind this post wasn’t what music you or I like – or Nichols, but rather an annoyance at the arrogance of putting a post that purports to list the top 100 songs of all time when it’s based on nothing but gab with a few friends.

  2. SeeAlliRun says:

    You are clearly missing “Ramblin Rover”

  3. krichard says:

    I’ll offer up a few tunes and some context around them. For a heavy beat thumper (sorry Rob) try Headlong by Queen. For running on a tropical beach, try Desert Rose by Sting. When you need inspiration finishing the last few kms of that marathon, perhaps Move Along by the All American Rejects. If the marathon is beyond salvation, then perhaps Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day. When you’re so zoned out, you don’t register what’s rushing by you, there is Where the Streets have no name – U2. Best overall running theme song? Born to run – Bruce Springsteen. When you haven’t fueled enough there’s Running on Empty – Jackson Browne. If you run too much, Always on the Run – Lenny Kravitz. Finally, for next saturday morning when I run with you I’ll bring along Running with the Devil – Van Halen on my iPod. 😉

    • subthree says:

      And, see, there’s the rub: I think these kinds of lists are always very subjective, unless they’re polled over thousands of people and put to a panel of expert judges – and even then, everyone is going to argue about them. Honestly, I like Adele. She’s got a beautiful voice. Is her music great to run to, though? I don’t think so. I’d be dragging my feet. On a different note – not to pun about it – your mention of the All American Rejects reminds me that I really like their new song, The Beekeeper’s Daughter for an easy run song. Thanks for reading.

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