Music to run to. Rawk or Rap? Or should I listen to Nike?

skreamRegular readers will know that I’m a die-hard iPod wearer with a taste for rock music of the most unfashionable ilk imaginable. Perfect Strangers by Deep Purple anyone? Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks? Classics, the pair of them, and just the things to match your pace to if you’re a slightly greying plodder like my good self.

However, times and fashions change; and I have been told many times that Rap beats Rock when it comes to keeping you motivated while running. So, always being willing to ‘get down with the kids’ (though not in a Wacko Jacko sort of way, obviously), I’ve recently borrowed a couple of CDs by such luminaries of the modern music scene as Eminem and 50 Cent (or Arfur Dollar as he’s known round here) with a view to testing modern music against classic rock as an aid to recreational running.

Well, first off, I couldn’t quite get my head around rappers’ obsession with, I presume, dog obedience classes and gardening respectively. It’s all bitches and hoes and I really couldn’t see the point.

Secondly, I run for a bit of feel-good factor…you know, the wind in your hair, that sweet rush of endorphins, the blessed relief when it stops…and I just couldn’t get my running mojo to go to its happy place with ‘Many Men (Wish Death)’ assaulting my delicate sensibilities. So, sorry rap fans, but that was the end of that experiment.

And then, those nice people at Nike+ sent me a voucher for one of 1,000 free tracks featuring someone called Skream. It was billed as ‘over 30 minutes of bespoke motivational music’ and that sounded just great. And it was a free download from iTunes, and that sounded even better. And then I put it on my iPod nano, and it sounded just awful!

No, really. When did making music simply become a matter of turning on the drum machine and going off for a lie-down? Can’t read music? No need. If you’ve got a drum machine, a keyboard with some annoying sounds on it, a pan lid to clank with a rusty fork and an absolute hatred of all things harmonic or rhythmic, you can now have a music career. So, cutting to the chase for a second, ‘Galassia’ by Skream fails utterly as a piece of music.

Is it any good as a motivational tool though? Well, kinda sorta. Once I’d run through the slow and aimless ‘warmup’ section of the track, then worked out that the 140 beats per minute was just that bit too quick to follow on a six mile run, I was able to tune it out slightly and not let it bother me too much. In fact, If I’d been running 4 miles instead of 6, this might even have been a useful ‘tool’ to run to, in much the same way that a metronome helps learners to play the piano.

What it certainly wasn’t was musical, far less enjoyable. In fact, the only bit of the track that sticks in my head is about 20 minutes in, when the annoying clanking sound alternates between your ears for a few seconds. But as that’s the kind of thing my 13-year-old does when he’s composing tracks on Garageband, I wasn’t exactly lost in admiration for the musicality of it all.

The long and the short of it is that the classic rock of my youth delivers roughly the kind of BPM I can run too, along with pretty high standards of musicality. Oh, and dreadful lyrics too, if I’m honest.

So look, if you really want great music to run to, start with Edge of Seventeen, Perfect Strangers, Long Live Rock ‘n Roll, Dreams I’ll Never See and Ride Like the Wind. Hell, with your headphones on, no-one will ever know.

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Now That’s What I Call Running Songs, Dude…

Having recently thrown the gauntlet down to all those non-believers who not only run without the mighty iPod ringing in their ears, but also dare to bitch and whine at those of us who are in thrall to Steve Jobs’ meisterwork, I felt myself compelled this evening to mentally compile a ‘greatest hits for runners’ as I plodded along the sea wall.

Admittedly, this wasn’t one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever undertaken, as I’ve been honing and refining my ‘running’ playlist for several years now. While some tracks fall off every now and then, and the very occasional newbie makes it onto the iPod, there are some tracks that just make great running companions, no matter how many years go by.

And so, without any apology for the ageing nerdiness of my fave running tunes, here’s my all time Top 10 To Run To.

1. Edge of 17 – Stevie Nicks. That driving beat. Those soaring vocals. The dreadful association with ‘School of Rock’s’ most cringe-worthy scene (and let’s face it, there’s a bunch of them to choose from).

2. Life is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back – Meat Loaf. Superb, repetitive rock riff. Pounding drums. And it’s also the only rock song ever with a defining philosophical ethos that I’m totally in accord with.

3. Monster – The Automatic. Great intro. Great driving riff. And this was also the song that my son loaded onto my iPod when I last ran the GNR and which totally got me over the hill at mile 7. “What’s that coming over the hill?” Er, me, actually.

4. Into the Night – BB King. Another great pounding riff. Especially good for those of us so ungainly we do most of our running under cover of darkness.

5. Ride Like the Wind – Christopher Cross. OK. so this may make you speed up for a minute, but it’s still one of the great plodder’s anthems.

6. Burnin’ For You – Blue Oyster Cult. Another great pavement-pounding beat for those slightly faster parts of your tempo run.

7. Hollywood Nights (LIve) – Bob Seger. A great driving beat, uplifting vocals, and several nods to my state of mind when I’m on a 10-miler (“He knew right then he was too far from home”). What more could you ask?

8. Jump – Van Halen. Yes, it’s that pounding beat again. Can you see a theme emerging here? The most shamelessly uplifting running track since Eye of the Tiger (which even I’m not unhip enough to include here).

9. Kashmir – Led Zeppelin. Oh alright, so some rap bozo hijacked this once upon a never mind. But who cares, this is a brooding, relentless track that’s kept me going through mile 20 more than once or twice.

10. Dreams I’ll Never See – Molly Hatchet. Yes, I know that the Allman Brothers’ original is far more hip. But the brooding, staccato riff really does the job when fatigue kicks in.

And there we have it. Not just a bunch of great songs to stick on your running playlist, but also a damning indictment of my dreadful old-fartiness.

But there is just one other thing I have to admit – beyond the fact that for me, music reached a zenith in the early 80s and that it’s been mainly downhill since then. I have, in fact, in recent years, acquired another playlist that I embarrassingly think of as my ‘ignition sequence.’ It’s a couple of ‘get your heart started’ songs that I am wont to play in the, well, in the 7 minutes and 59 seconds before the gun goes.

‘Start Me Up’, by the Stones, followed by ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ by Thin Lizzy…

Trust me, if you can get your heart started with these two, you’re going to be more fired up at gun time than a caffeine-sensitive psychotic after 15 double espressos. The only downside of which is that most races feature inevitable delays which will invariably leave you feeling all revved up with no place to go, should something cause a pre-start hiatus.

All revved up with no place to go? Hmm. Might give that one a try tomorrow night…