1. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run
No man has ever been as adept as The Boss at capturing the feeling of escape in rock music. Propelled by the ace rhythm section of the E-Street Band, “Born to Run” is Springsteen’s most enduring anthem, a call to arms (and legs) for tramps like us with an instinctual need to put our motors to use and flee.
2. Eminem: Lose Yourself
Marshall Mathers penned “Lose Yourself” to motivate aspiring rappers like the one he portrayed in 8 Mile, but his rousing words ring just as true for athletes hoping to achieve greatness. Eminem’s take on the classic message of giving 110 percent sticks because of his undeniable conviction, and that aggressive beat, of course.
3. Bill Conti: Gonna Fly Now (Rockys Theme)
Conti’s iconic, trumpet-laden Rocky theme may be coated with several layers of cheese, but the song is no less effective at doing its job, instigating its listeners to rise above adversity and kick some ass, because of it. If there’s a song better suited for an inspirational montage, we haven’t heard it.
4. Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream
Petty has roughly 371 songs in his repertoire that espouse the virtues of chasing your dreams, but none hammer the point home as well as “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and that’s largely due to its simple lyrics and no-frills chorus. And with a bluesy guitar riff that constantly sounds like it’s racing toward the finish line, the song acts as a de-facto running buddy.
5. Kanye West: Stronger
Undeniably huge with industrial-sized synthesizers and a vocal sample lifted from techno titans Daft Punk, “Stronger” is relentless. With a credo for a chorus that every competitor can get behind. “That that don’t kill me can only make me stronger.” West crafted a song to help us push through pain and complete that last, toughest mile.
6. Cake: The Distance
Cake’s 90s hit is ostensibly about a lonely racecar driver, but its lyrics freakishly describe what every runner who’s ever churned through a marathon has felt by the midway point: They deftly maneuver and muscle for rank, fuel burning fast on an empty tank. Reckless and wild, they pour through the turns, their prowess is potent and secretly stern.
7. Outkast: B.O.B.
B.O.B. blasts off at 154 beats per minute and never lets up, twisting through an amalgam of styles (from hip-hop to jungle to metal to gospel) while MCs Andre 3000 and Big Boi try to fit in as many words as they can before they self-combust. A song about the end of the world that sounds like the end of the world, is there any other track more appropriate for one last sweat session on Earth?
8. U2: Beautiful Day
Filled with equal moments of early-morning tenderness (for your dash at dawn) and emotional triumph (for your victory lap), U2’s stirring song is the perfect soundtrack for a jog outside on, you guessed it, a beautiful day. Bonus points for this Bono line, in which the singer acknowledges that sometimes we just need to run: “You’re on the road, but you’ve got no destination.”
9. Elvis Costello: Pump It Up
Driven by a steady, albeit frenzied backbeat that veers from awesome into straight-up nauseating territory by the final coda, “Pump It Up” is the pub-rock equivalent of an alarm clock: It keeps going and going, employing the same repetitive organ hook until you’re prompted to get the hell up and hit the pavement. If only every song could be so motivational.
10. The Darkness: I Believe in a Thing Called Love
The Darkness’ lone U.S. hit is unabashedly corny, showcasing cringe-worthy falsetto vocals, glam guitars, and at least 10 too many mentions of the word “touching” but no one can deny how hard it rocks. Crank it at parties and it’s impossible not to bust a move; crank it to start your afternoon run and it’s impossible not to break a sweat.
11. Dropkick Murphys: I’m Shipping Up to Boston
Somewhere between The Departed and the 2007 Red Sox World Series, “I”m Shipping Up to Boston” became a battle cry for athletes, sports fans, and film scorers everywhere. And it’s not hard to see why: Few songs incite the kind of passion and grit as well as the Dropkick Murphys punk-rock song about finding a wooden leg. Need an extra boost of adrenaline before your big race? Those bagpipes will do the trick.
12. Rolling Stones: Start Me Up
If you’re looking for a little fuel, the first note of Keith Richards iconic guitar riff should do it and a few seconds later, by the time Mick Jagger’s distinctive yelp kicks in, your engine will be revved up and ready to burn. “Start Me Up” finds the Stones at their sleaziest, teetering between straightforward rock and hints of disco for three-and-a-half minutes of nonstop motion.
13. The Rapture: House of Jealous Lovers
Filled to the brim with unbridled oomph, “House of Jealous Lovers” uses every trick in the book, raucous guitars (check), an endless drum groove (check) meandering cowbell (check) and repetitive chanting (check) to keep you moving at a high intensity for its entirety. And when the song is over, queue it up again until your legs can’t take it anymore.
14. Rage Against the Machine: Sleep Now in the Fire
Nothing pumps you up like a little controlled chaos, and practically every track in the Rage playbook has that concept down to a science. But the band is at its best on “Sleep Now in the Fire,” pushed by a Tom Morello guitar riff so massive and so messy it may keep your heart rate rising several hours after it’s over.
15. OK Go: Here It Goes Again
Forever synonymous with running in place, “Here It Goes Again” honors the treadmill with inspired choreography in a genius video. As for the song itself, it’s an alt-rock barnburner, subsisting on crunchy power chords and bratty vocals, care of Damian Kulash. The next time you find yourself blasting fat like a hamster on a wheel, you’d be foolish not to put this on.
16. Beastie Boys: Sabotage
The Beasties boast plenty of hits, but none as high-octane as their classic, “Sabotage”. Intense, syncopated drums underneath the tandem of panicked raps and jarring turntable scratches make the song a perfect pick for all escape playlists.
17. Flock of Seagulls: I Ran (So Far Away)
A Flock of Seagulls are an eternal pop-culture punch line, thanks in no small part to that hair, but we’ll give them a pass on account of 1980s fashion in general, and because “I Ran” still rips. Sure, it’s bloated with the hackneyed sounds of the Reagan years, but its pulsating beat and universal chorus (“I ran so far away”) warrant automatic inclusion on this list.
18. Franz Ferdinand: Take Me Out
The dance-rock smash reaches dizzying heights on the strength of a start-and-stop rhythm and herky-jerky guitars. Plus, Franz front man Alex Kapranos oozes equal parts confidence and desperation with his repeated plea in the chorus, a mix of emotions that all athletes have felt repeatedly during training.
19. Florence and the Machine: Dog Days Are Over
Who or what motivates you to run? If you’re stuck, Florence Welch offers a few personal suggestions after unlocking newfound liberation in her epic, moving hit: “Run fast for your mother, run fast for your father. Run for your children, for your sisters and brothers.”
20. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Can’t Stop
RHCP’s giddy ode to loving life’s small details is half funky and half frothy, but it’s all energy, as evidenced by the song’s title. And if Anthony Kiedis hasn’t stopped after almost three decades of tribulation, surely you can log a few more minutes on the trail.
ANDREW DANIELS – Men’s Health