24 great running songs that don’t show up on lists of great running songs

A good running song is about as close to a legal performance enhancing drug as it gets, which is why I take my running music very seriously. But sometimes my playlist can get stale, which is why I regularly go in search of new songs to add to my iPod.

Sadly, though, I’ve found most of the internet to not be of much help here.  Every time I google “running songs” I find myself bombarded with a thousand lists, all of which feature the same ten songs.

I mean, I get it, “Born to Run” is a great song. And it even has “run” in the title.  But does it really have to appear on every flipping list of running songs that has ever been put together?

So I decided to take matters into my own hands and create a list of songs that have been scientifically proven by me and my sample size of n=1 to be perfectly suited for bumpin’ while you’re hitting the trails or the dreadmill. Even if these songs aren’t really your jam, I hope you’re inspired to find some jam-worthy songs in unconventional places.

Bonus: none of them have the word “run” anywhere in the title.

“Party Hard” – Andrew WK

I’m an unapologetic Andrew WK fangirl.  The guy is the philosopher of partying and I love him for it.

“212” – Azealia Banks (feat. Lazy Jay)

When it comes to running music, the more profanity, the better, I say.

“Work Bitch” – Britney Spears

I once saw someone describe this song as Britney basically saying “if you work hard, you can achieve your dreams.” Yep, which is why it rules for running.

“Sinnerman” – Nina Simone and Felix da Housecat

It has to be the Felix da Housecat remix.  Nothing else will suffice.

“Sorcerary” – Future Funk Squad

I heard this song on the 2004 FIFA soundtrack and immediately loved it.  The FIFA soundtracks are consistently full of great songs that rarely make their way to the U.S.

“Search and Destroy” – The Stooges

I mean, duh. Also good for hard lifting workouts that involve things like pull-ups and squats.

“Panama” – Van Halen

This was the song that played at the swim start of Ironman Florida the year Brian did it, and ever since then I can’t help but get hyped up whenever I hear it.  Which reminds me – I don’t know what song WTC played at the beginning of Ironman Florida in 2015, but they really need to change it back, because it was far inferior to “Panama.”

“GO!” – Santigold (feat. Karen O)

These ladies are like a match in weirdo indie rock/pop heaven.  They should probably do an entire album together.

“Yoga” – Janelle Monae

Worth it if only for the lyric “You cannot police me so get off my areola,” but fortunately the whole song is amazing.

“Maniac” – Michael Sembello

This song got me through mile 19 of my BQ-pace marathon.  It goes on the list.

“Deceptacon” – Le Tigre

Le Tigre has put out several albums of great dance-punk music but for my money, it doesn’t get much better than the first track off their first album.

“Cult of Personality” – Living Colour

This song is like an adrenaline shot straight in my heart every time I hear it.

“Smooth Criminal” – Michael Jackson

“Annie, are you okay? Are you okay, Annie?” I am now that this song is on!

“Don’t Give Up” – The Noisettes

Everything from the title to the guitar to the vocals make it a perfect song for when shit gets hard and you’ve got to dig deep.

“Kyrie” – Mr. Mister

Trust me on this one. This song makes me feel like a damn eagle whenever it comes on during a run.

“Don’t Stop the Party” – Pitbull

Pitbull is totally a little Cuban grandpa who happens to make great, sexy party music.

“Renegades of Funk” – Rage Against the Machine

Rage Against the Machine makes great music for when you need to get fired up. I went with this one because the heavy, funky bass line also makes me want to dance, which is a key element of a good running song.

“Young Turks” – Rod Stewart

Trust me on this, part 2.

“Sexy and I Know It” – LMFAO

I know the LMFAO guys are goofy but damn if this song doesn’t make me want to dance whenever I hear it.  Bonus: the video is amazing.

“Stronger” – Kanye West

I listened to this song before HITS Naples last month, and when things started to go south on the bike, I sang the chorus to myself.  It got me through.  It always gets me through.

“North American Scum” – LCD Soundsystem

Is LCD Soundsystem considered electroclash?  Anyways I really enjoyed electroclash when it was a thing for a second back in the early 2000s, and this song by LCD Soundsystem is one of the few whose appeal has endured for me.  (See also: anything by Felix da Housecat.)

“Black Betty” – Ram Jam

Got me through mile 24 of my last marathon. God bless 70s hard rock.

“Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” – US3

This song is great for slower runs, because it makes you want to dance but in a more relaxed way. Plus I love that Herbie Hancock sample – good stuff.

“50 Ft Queenie” – PJ Harvey

All hail Queen Polly Jean.


22 responses to “24 great running songs that don’t show up on lists of great running songs

  1. Yes! Some great ones. I would also add that the Alien Ant Farm version of Smooth Criminal is even better – a little more rocking. This is spoken as a person old enough to have had the cassette of the Flashdance cassette with Maniac on it.

  2. YESSSSS. You are one of my sisters in appreciating 70s soft rock so I shouldn’t be surprised you included Young Turks, but I still almost yelled out loud.

    Also, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re not running to Deceptacon, you’re not even running.

    • Yeah! Someone else who appreciates the greatness of “Young Turks”! I told Brian I had it on my running playlist and he gave me SUCH a look, but it’s so good for running!

  3. Oh yeeeeeaaahhh.
    Not a runner but music is super important to me when prep’ing for my track cycling events (I’m a sprinter so it’s all about getting amp’d up)
    I was doing some motorpacing behind the motorbike last night and the last 70m were killer. I totally gritted my teeth and had Beast from the Southpaw soundtrack running through my head.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pj-CptpQPu4 (caution: contains lots of swears)

  4. Such a great post! My running list is somewhat constrained by my audiological memory and audiology technology — songs need to have a beat I can hear using my bluetooth streamer as I’m running, so that means booming bass and brass. If I already know the songs from when I was a hard of hearing kid growing up, that’s a plus. Turns out old school Soul works pretty well for my pace — and songs from these genres are often overlooked for running song lists. Lately Nina Simone’s Sinnerman, Mississippi Goddam, and Revolution have been on my playlist — especially for those fartlek days when I’m varying my pace.

    • It’s so good and also very underrated. Is it because it’s Rod Stewart and it has synthesizers? I don’t know but I agree that it is a great song.

  5. Great list! Kyrie brought me back. *adds it to all playlists ever* I used to love a lot of these and I burned myself out on them. SAD FACE. One I will never get tired of is The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” It’s like one giant crescendo. I also love 50 Cent – If I Can’t Do It and The Killers – Human and most of Robyn’s Body Talk album. Also, the inner musical theatre nerd in me loves Defying Gravity from Wicked… because I’m a cliche and proud of it.

  6. Yay for unorthodox running music! I maintain multiple Spotify playlists for my runs—including an 80s-90s mix, an indie pop mix and (yes) a Weird Al mix.

    Based on the number of Spotify plays it got last year, I think my overall favorite must be “The Cure,” Tegan and Sara:

    Oh, and I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that Britney’s “Work, Bitch” pumped me up as I was preparing for a job interview last spring. (I got the job!)

  7. “Pitbull is totally a little Cuban grandpa” lmao, I will forever more think of him like this. Love 212. I’d add White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, it plays in my head when running or cycling hills. Looking forward to listening to this playlist. Thank you.

  8. Thanks! Just added some great suggestions to my running playlist. Some recent additions I’m enjoying.. “Work This Body” by Walk the Moon: “I will work this body, I will burn this flame, in the dead of night or in the pouring rain” and it’s upbeat enough for a run. “Running Beyond” by HOLYCHILD. “Best Day of My Life” Gazzo remix.

  9. Thank you! I’ve been in a running rut since my job took over my life, and so it’s gotten to that point where it’s un-fun again and I don’t want to do it. I just added a bunch of these to my playlist and am excited to get out this weekend!

  10. That’s a great collection of songs.
    I played all songs and I think Michael Sembello is good than others.
    Gustavo Woltmann

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