In the clichéd world of the American marathon, Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" reigns supreme and -- unfortunately for millions of innocent eardrums -- ubiquitous. Marching bands play it along courses. Cover bands butcher it incessantly. Those among us who believe in singing aloud to iPods squeal it with death-inducing gusto. In other words, it's friggin' everywhere.
"Ugh, do I hate that [expletive] song," says Charlie Engle, a famed adventure racer who earlier this year became the first man to run across the Sahara Desert (with two others). "I mean, hate it. It's a big, big [expletive] cliché, over and over and over. And the music is terrible."
Indeed, had Mr. T not signed on for "Rocky III," Survivor might still be playing Chicago-area bar mitzvahs, asking the parents of some 13-year-old whether they'd rather light the candles to "Celebration" or "Brick House."
Damn that Mr. T
Anyway, back in August, in anticipation of spending the next three months training for this weekend's Philadelphia Marathon, I made four conscious decisions:
A. I would floss regularly.
B. I would feed my copy of Survivor's "Greatest Hits" to Mookie, our neighbor's dog.
C. For the first time in my life, I would run while listening to music.
D. I would compile the greatest 26-song running playlist of all time.
Twelve weeks later, I present to you The List To End All Lists. It comes from hundreds of hours of research: digging through Internet sites; speaking with musicians and athletes; combing through songs ranging from Dio's "Holy Diver" (solid) to Jeff Beck's "Space for the Papa" (too long) to Hanson's "Where's the Love?" (surprisingly good). "The best songs to run and work out to give you a great scene with relevant words, but also have a beat that makes you want to push yourself past the comfort zone," says Justin Gimelstob, who won the 1998 Australian Open and French Open mixed doubles titles with Venus Williams. "You want music to help lift you to a higher level. Amazing songs do that."
"Eye of the Tiger" doesn't do that.
So, without further ado, here is the best 26-song playlist in the history of organized running.
Michael Caulfield Archive/WireImage.com
Nothing like a little Eminem to get the blood rushing at the beginning of a workout.
Album: "8 Mile" soundtrack
Defining line: "He's nervous/But on the surface he looks calm and ready/To drop bombs/But he keeps on forgetting/What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud/He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out."
Why: It's everything "Eye of the Tiger" is supposed to be -- times 1,000. "The greatest running song I've ever heard," Engle says. "First, it's the story of a kid trying to make it. The backbeat is fantastic and the words are clear and insightful. You listen to it and wanna kick ass. What more can you ask for?"
LISTEN UP!Minus a couple AC/DC tunes, here's the playlist Jeff Pearlman will be using to train for the Philadelphia Marathon.
If you're having trouble with the link, here's what you can do:
1. Go iTunes store and click on Music on the top left of the page
2. In More In Music, click on iMix
3. Do a search for Pearlman's Running iMix
If you can't find it after that, then you should stick to cassettes.
2. "JESUS WALKS"
Performer: Kanye West
Album: "The College Dropout"
Defining Line: "I ain't here to argue about his facial features/Or here to convert atheists into believers/I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers/The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that's the way I need Jesus."
Why: West at his absolute best -- a strong marching beat accompanied by lyrics damning the downfall of a once-moralistic society. "What I'm looking for is inspiration," Engle says. "That song has the church choir in the background, which really gets me going strong."
3. "KING OF THE NIGHTTIME WORLD"
Defining Line: "It's so sad you're not content/Far from the music and the neon glow/Ain't you glad we got the time/Far from our folks, they'll never ever know."
Why: Fast, hard, amazing drums by Peter Criss -- and (best of all, many would argue) the song wasn't written by lead singer Paul Stanley or bass player Gene Simmons. "King of the Nighttime World" was originally performed by a club band, who sold the rights to Kiss. An unappreciated classic.
4. "I TRY"
Performer: Talib Kweli with Mary J. Blige
Album: "The Beautiful Struggle"
Defining Line: "Although we speak in different languages/We all pretty familiar with what anger is/ Young and dangerous/Get up on some gangsta s---/Guns to bang ya wit'."
Why: Critics panned this album, unfortunately overlooking a song that makes sense of a young rapper's refusal to sell out. Boosted by Blige's soulful backing vocals, Kweli raps flawlessly over a beat that can keep legs moving for hours.
5. "LAYIN' IT ON THE LINE"
Performer: Jefferson Starship
Album: "Nuclear Furniture"
Defining Line: "Got U.S. boys on foreign soil/Spillin' their blood to keep the peace/Cities will vanish in turmoil/While the sheiks lay sleepin' on the beach."
Why: By this point Jefferson Starship (once Jefferson Airplane) had become a shell of its revolutionary self. But this song -- powerfully sung by Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas -- combined Aerosmith-esque gusto with a passionate anti-war message.
Performer: A Tribe Called Quest
Album: "The Low End Theory"
Defining Line: "Bo knows this (what?) and Bo knows that (what?)/But Bo don't know jack, cause Bo can't rap/Well whaddya know the Di-Dawg is first up to bat/No batteries included, and no strings attached."
Why: Pure bliss. "It's impossible not to love 'Scenario,'" says Bev Oden, a former U.S. Olympic volleyball player. "It comes on, your body moves. It's that simple."
7. "ENTER SANDMAN"
Defining Line: "Dreams of war/Dreams of liars/Dreams of dragon's fire/And of things that will bite."
Why: Granted, it's Metallica's most pop-friendly song. But it's also an instant blood pumper. "Metallica makes you want to lift 1,000 pounds off the bar," says Zakk Wylde, Ozzy Osborne's long-time guitarist. "That's the power."
Yes, we were able to obtain a picture of House of Pain.
Performer: House of Pain
Album: Fine Malt Lyrics
Defining Line: "I'm the cream of the crop/I rise to the top/I never eat a pig because a pig is a cop."
Why: Starting with DJ Muggs' deft production, the song is fast, furious and rowdy from beginning to end. Sadly, when it was finally played out, so was House of Pain.
9. "HIGHWAY TO HELL"
Album: "Highway to Hell"
Defining Line: "Hey Satan! Paid my dues/Playin' in a rockin' band/Hey Mama! Look at me/I'm on my way to the promised land."
Why: "The beat, the tempo the riff, the message -- and one of the most celebrated voices in rock history," says Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw. "You can hurt yourself if you're not careful."
10. "CRAZY IN LOVE"
Performer: Beyonce with Jay-Z
Album: "Dangerously in Love"
Defining Line: "Stick boney but the pockets are fat like Tony/ Soprano, the roc handle like van Exel/I shake phonies man, you can't get next to/A genuine article, I do not sing tho/I sling though, if anything I bling yo."
Why: Featuring a horn sample from the Chi-Lites' "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)," "Crazy in Love" comes alive when Jay-Z makes himself known with a simple muttering of, "I'm warmed up now" before -- whoosh! -- unleashing a fabulous few licks.
11. "HARDER TO BREATHE"
Performer: Maroon 5
Album: "Songs About Jane"
Defining Line: "Does it thrill?/Does it sting?/When you feel what I bring/And you wish that you had me to hold."
Why: Written by singer Adam Levine about the frustration of dealing with a record label. The result is a frenzied, angry, fast-paced masterpiece.
12. "TOO COLD"
Performer: Vanilla Ice
Album: "Hard To Swallow"
Defining Line: "Quick to the point and the point no faking/I'm cooking MCs like a pound of bacon."
Why: Stop laughing. Produced by Korn overlord Ross Robinson, this song -- a thrasher remake of "Ice, Ice Baby" -- oozes the anger Ice felt as he went from superstar to punching bag. To run angrily is to run successfully. Plus, the words are still catchy.
Performer: Van Halen
Defining Line: "Jump back, what's that sound?/Here she comes, full blast and top down/Hot shoe, burning down the avenue/Model citizen, zero discipline."
Why: Midway through the song, lead singer David Lee Roth coos, "I can barely see the road from the heat coming off it." At that point, guitarist Eddie Van Halen revs his Lamborghini in the background. A mike was even attached to the exhaust pipe. In other words, what's not to like?
14. "CRAZY TRAIN"
Performer: Ozzy Osbourne
Album: "Blizzard of Ozz"
Defining Line: "I've listened to preachers/I've listened to fools/I've watched all the dropouts/Who make their own rules."
Why: If it's good enough for Chipper Jones, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Glaus to hear as they approach the plate, it should be good enough for runners. "Everything about that song works," says Wylde, Osbourne's guitarist. "It's got a lot of power."
15. "HOT IN HERRE"
Defining Line: "Stop placin', time wastin'/I gotta a friend with a pole in the basement (What?)/I'm just kiddin' like Jason (Oh)/Unless you gon' do it."
Why: At his best, Nelly uses his St. Louis-bred rap styling to come up with fast beats mixed with incredible hooks. Here, he borrows from Chuck Brown's "Bustin' Loose," and it works to perfection.
16. "BLACK STEEL IN THE HOUR OF CHAOS"
Performer: Public Enemy
Album: "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back"
Defining Line: "I got a letter from the government, the other day/I opened and read it, it said they were suckers/They wanted me for their army or whatever/Picture me giving a damn/I said, 'Never.'"
Why: Simply the toughest, most poignant rap song ever written. Chuck D at his angriest, Flavor Flav at his most serious -- and a piano sample from Isaac Hayes' "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic."
Page 2 highly recommends getting tickets to see The Killers.
Performer: The Killers
Album: "Hot Fuss"
Defining Line: "I wanna shine on in the hearts of men/I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand."
Why: Has gone from being yet another great song on a loaded album to a political call for action. Most importantly (running-wise), it's bouncy from beginning to end.
18. "PRAISE YOU"
Performer: Fatboy Slim
Album: "You've Come a Long Way, Baby"
Defining Line: "We've come a long, long way together/Through the hard times and the good/I have to celebrate you baby/I have to praise you like I should."
Why: What's not to love? Uplifting, lightning-fast, and it features a bridge that subtly samples the theme from the cartoon "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids."
19. "WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE"
Performer: Guns 'n' Roses
Album: "Appetite for Destruction"
Defining Line: "Welcome to the jungle/It gets worse here everyday/You learn to live like an animal/In the jungle where we play."
Why: While walking through New York City in the mid-1980s, lead singer Axl Rose encountered a homeless man who looked at him and said, "You know where you are? You're in the jungle, baby. You're gonna die!" Bam -- instant inspiration. A marvelous all-around pick-me-up.
20. "IT TAKES TWO"
Performer: Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock
Album: "It Takes Two"
Defining Line: "Ladies love me, girls adore me/I mean even the ones who never saw me/Like the way that I rhyme at a show/The reason why man, I don't know."
Why: Not the best rap song of all time, but surely the most fun. Dismissed as a one-hit wonder, Rob Base was as smooth an MC as any of his more respected contemporaries. "I hear that song and it makes me want to be one of those sexy backup singers," says Alison Cimmet, who recently starred in the award-winning "Unlock'd" at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. "It makes you feel alive."
21. "SON'S GONNA RISE"
Performer: Citizen Cope
Album: "The Clarence Greenwood Recordings"
Defining Line: "Got this woman in the back seat/Yeah, she's my wifey/In the middle of the delivery/Man she saves me/To this day I don't know why/She picked me up."
Why: Magical mixture of folk, blues, reggae and R&B, blending into one smooth sound. Big props to Jessica Guggenheimer of Ithaca, N.Y., who brought this gem to my attention.
22. "WALK THIS WAY"
Performer: Run DMC with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry
Album: "Raising Hell"
Defining Line: "School girl sleazy with a classy kinda sassy/Little skirt hangin' way up her knee/There were three young ladies in a school gym locker/And I find they were lookin' at D."
Why: Why?! Because this is an amazing, revolutionary, butt-kicking song that starts off strong with Perry's opening guitar riff and never lets up. Run DMC initially balked at the project, then wanted to change all the lyrics. Thank God they didn't.
23. "NEW SENSATION"
Defining Line: "Hate baby hate/When there's nothing left for you/You're only human/What can you do?/It'll soon be over/Don't let your pain take over you."
Why: For those who only know INXS from the insipid 2004 TV show "Rock Star," hit up the local CD store and buy the band's greatest hits album. The late Michael Hutchence had his issues, but his voice was a phonic cannon. "New Sensation" is INXS at its peak.
Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage.com
Gosh do we miss the old Michael.
Performer: Michael Jackson
Defining Line: "You're a vegetable/You're a vegetable/Still they hate you/You're a vegetable/You're just a buffet/You're a vegetable/They eat off you/You're a vegetable."
Why: Mock Jacko all you want, but no fewer than 10 of his songs ("Billie Jean," "PYT," "Smooth Criminal," "Scream," etc ) make for excellent running fare. Written by Mark Anthony Neal, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" peaks near the end, when the Cameroonian chant of "Mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-koo-sa" explodes through the ears.
25. "SPIN AROUND"
Performer: Kay Hanley
Album: "Josie and the Pussycats" soundtrack
Defining Line: "I've been starin' at the sun for some time/It gets dark inside but I don't mind/And if you're gone it's like I'm going blind/I can't get by this time."
Why: Hanley, the former lead singer of Letters To Cleo, takes lame lyrics of lame songs from a lame movie -- and absolutely, positively kills it. Letters To Cleo never earned the appreciation it deserved, but "Spin Around" and "Three Small Words" -- the best offerings on the Josie soundtrack -- show off Hanley's pipes and moxie and make for inspired running fare.
Performer: Edwin Starr
Album: "War and Peace"
Defining Line: "I said -- war!/Good God, y'all/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing."
Why: Though The Temptations are legendary, they butchered the original version of this song -- delivering a heartless, mellow rendition of what was penned as a Vietnam protest. Fortunately, Starr came along and added the needed furor. Before there was PE's "Black Steel," there was this.
"Back in Black" by AC/DC
"Smooth Criminal" by Alien Ant Farm
"Let's Begin (Shoot the S---)" by Bad Ronald
"Still Not a Player" by Big Pun with Joe
"The Choice is Yours" by Black Sheep
"Ugly" by Bubba Sparxxx
"December 4th" by Jay-Z (the DJ Danger Mouse version)
"Deep Cover" by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg
"I'm Not Afraid" by Fleming and John
"Stomp" by God's Property
"This Time Around" by Hanson
"Violet" by Hole
"Detroit Rock City" by Kiss
"Everything is Everything" by Lauryn Hill
"Cult of Personality" by Living Colour
"King Without a Crown" by Matisyahu
"O.P.P." by Naughty by Nature
"Given to Fly" by Pearl Jam
"Somebody to Shove" by Soul Asylum
"Plowed" by Sponge
"Wonda Why They Call U" by Tupac Shakur
"Where The Streets Have No Name" by U2
"Throwin' It All Away" by Zakk Wylde
Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and the author of "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero," now available in paperback. You can reach him at email@example.com.