NOTE: This post is rated R for mild strong language.
A couple friends asked me for recommendations for music to listen to while riding the stationary bike or indoor trainer. I’ve been crafting the all-time #1 ultimate Workout Megamix for about two decades. My quest began back in the mid-‘90s when I tried to ride the trainer while listening to The Cranberries. Nothing against them, but it wasn’t helping me get that heart rate up.
Around this time I e-mailed all my friends for recommendations and was shocked at the dearth of fast, hard, rockin’ good stuff. People were suggesting albums like “Buena Vista Social Club” and Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” As you can see, I really needed to find some cool friends, but that’s hard to do, so I started experimenting with different music and I think that’s gone pretty well.
So in compiling my Workout Megamix, I thought to myself, Why stop at a mere list when I could be describing the song and/or the band and/or the reason I think it belongs in the list? And so my Liner Notes idea was born. Because this is a lot of work, I’m extending the distribution of these notes from 2 persons to 3.17 billion (the number of souls on this planet with Internet access).
The full list comprises 165 tracks, which at roughly 4 minutes per track gives about 11 hours of music, which should last for about 15 indoor workouts. If you do 3 workouts a week this will last you 5 weeks before you get your first rerun. That ain’t so bad. These tracks are in alphabetical order by title because that’s the order they play on my MP3 player. This post covers A-G and I’ll get to the rest in subsequent posts.
Before I begin, a quick caveat: I’m not saying I know anything about music. Whenever I find myself in the position of expounding in detail on a thorny subject (i.e., most of the time), I find myself winging it. I hope that’s good enough for you.
One last thing: particularly if your trainer is on the loud side (or even your rollers—mine have aluminum drums that tend to “sing” at high speed), please do yourself a favor and spring for noise-canceling headphones. Indoor cycling is supposed to be good for you—don’t slowly deafen yourself in the process!
Liner Notes – Dana’s Ultimate Superfly Workout Megamix
'Till I Collapse – Eminem
This is a perfect one for the trainer, thematically. It even talks about your legs getting tired: “Till the roof comes off, till the lights go out, Till my legs give out, can’t shut my mouth.” And you can’t ride the trainer with your mouth shut, either. How true that is.
8 Miles & Runnin' - Freeway/Jay-Z
This is from the soundtrack to “8 Mile,” which was the movie that got me back into rap after more than a decade of nothing … the wilderness years, if you will. “The New Yorker” gave “8 Mile” a good review, which I hadn’t expected. When that movie came out I knew almost nothing about Eminem, other than what I’d gleaned from an outraged editorial quoting some of his crude lyrics. I remember thinking, “Man, this guy is really foul ... for him to be popular, he must have talent or something.” The movie convinced me. Go see it if you haven’t, or even if you have.
911 Is a Joke - Public Enemy
Public Enemy was one of the first rap groups I ever got into. I kind of burned out on them eventually, but that’s not their fault. Chuck D is the main guy, with Flavor Flav kind of his court jester. Nice combo.
A Punchup at a Wedding – Radiohead
This is the only song I know of that’s about a fistfight breaking out at a wedding. Fortunately, my wedding was free of fisticuffs, though I did consider beating down an attendee. It was an outdoor wedding in an amphitheater, and some douchebag college kid took the liberty of sitting down to watch. It would be one thing if it were a giant wedding, but I only had like 12 or 13 guests—plus him. Meanwhile, the guy’s dog was getting a bit too close to the wedding cake. Lucky for him I didn’t want to fight while wearing my nice suit.
A.K.A. I-D-I-O-T - The Hives
The Hives is a band I discovered through the music review section of “The New Yorker.” They hail from the Swedish industrial city of Fagersta. As the magazine described it, “The Hives quickly became huge in Sweden, which is sort of like being the strongest person in your house.” They have a fast, angry sound perfect for the indoor trainer.
Adrenaline Rush - Obie Trice
I was introduced to Obie Trice by the “8 Mile” soundtrack. Like Eminem, he’s from Detroit. Here’s a crazy biographical detail: he was shot in the head back in 2005 and is still carrying around the bullet in his skull. This doesn’t seem to affect his brain—his rap is kickass. “Adrenaline Rush” is not actually one of his best songs, but it’s a good one for the trainer. I call it as “the motherfucka song” because he says “motherfucka” about 3 dozen times. It’ll grow on you, trust me.
Airbag – Radiohead
This song was inspired by a British insurance company magazine (like what you might get from AAA here) and the headline, “An airbag saved my life.” The lead singer gave this commentary on the song: “Has an airbag saved my life? Nah…but I tell you something, every time you have a near accident, instead of just sighing and carrying on, you should pull over, get out of the car and run down the street screaming, ‘I’m BACK! I’m ALIVE! My life has started again today!’ In fact, you should do that every time you get out of a car.” Awesome guitar on this track. Actually I think it’s two dueling guitars, but as I said I’m not very knowledgeable about music.
Ass Like That – Eminem
This song has an unfortunate chorus: “I ain't never seen an ass like that/ The way you move it, you make my pee pee go / Doing, doing, doing.” (The “doing” rhymes with “boing,” not with the gerund form of “to do.” I have just realized this is a heteronym I never noticed before ... but I digress.) This song is from the weakest of Eminem’s albums, “Encore,” and I really had to ask myself, “Can I listen to, much less enjoy, a song that includes “make my pee pee go doing, doing, doing?” After much deliberation, the answer is yes, I can and do. If you can get past this bit, it’s really a great track ... very funny. It has held up well. Listen for Eminem’s impersonation of Triumph, the puppet dog, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Average Man - Obie Trice
This one is badass. Lots of gun-related sounds, which can so often be embarrassing, like in action flicks where cocking the gun is almost as loud as shooting it. But Obie Trice pulls it off.
Bad Girls - M.I.A.
I stumbled on M.I.A. quite by accident. M.I.A. stands for “Missing In Acton” (not “Action” as Wikipedia erroneously reports). Acton is a part of London I know about from taking the Underground. M.I.A. (full name Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam) is British/Sri Lankan and I’d say her genre is a hybrid of dance, grime, hip-hop, and world music. I first learned of her through a magazine I randomly started getting in the mail called “Complex.” I never did gather whether this was COM-plex, like the psychological conflict, or com-PLEX, as in complicated. (Another heteronym!) It was a weird magazine. Not quite white, not quite black, not quite about music, just a hodgepodge. I kind of liked it because it was so random, and featured babes. “Complex” did a profile of M.I.A., and I bought a disc on a whim, and it turns out she’s tot’ly wicked. This song has become one of my favorites, though I didn’t much like it at first. Be sure to check out the YouTube video too.
Bad Guy – Eminem
This song is fricking brilliant. But you have to listen to “Stan” first or it won’t make much sense. If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be a rapper, and he’d envy Eminem. I know that sounds crazy but trust me on this ... I was an English major.
Be Somebody - Kings of Leon
Way back in like 2002, a friend randomly sent me a Kings of Leon a disc in the hope that I’d like it. I did, and do. I like their newer stuff better; originally the lead singer kind of mumbled because he was afraid his mom would hear the lyrics and be offended. Nowadays I hear Kings of Leon on the radio, which makes me think I’m cool because I knew [of] them back in the day, man.
Beautiful – Eminem
This song, though quite good, is admittedly just a little cheesy. But, as the father of daughters, I can’t help but admire it, and hope that if anybody ever insults my daughter’s looks, she can remember this song and say, “You can go get f*cked.”
Beautiful Pain - Eminem w/ Sia
This song follows what’s becoming a pretty established motif for Eminem: he does the rapping, but the chorus is sung by some popular female singer with a great voice. I guess there are purists who don’t like the obvious commercial motivation behind this format, but why the hell would I care? Is it really a problem if Eminem or someone like him has more money than some robber baron or advertising exec? I think the snarling rapper and great singer go well together.
Best Rapper Alive - Lil Wayne
I’m not very familiar with all the hip-hop acts out there, much less pop, but at some point I became vaguely aware there was a rapper called Lil Wayne, so on a lark I bought a CD of his at Target. Turns out he’s rather good and occasionally brilliant. This isn’t his best song but it’s got the driving beat, and sometimes you gotta bulk out the megamix or those crème-de-la-crème tracks will get old.
Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
I thought the video for this was mind-blowing back in 1994. I watched it more recently and it hasn’t aged well. The song, though, is still great. These guys are from Seattle which means they probably drink a lot of coffee and like to take the elevator up inside the Space Needle. (Can you tell I did extensive research for these liner notes?)
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos - Public Enemy
One of the best PE tracks they is. Sing along! Perform it for your kids!
Blow Up the Outside World – Soundgarden
This is the best song Soundgarden ever recorded. I’ll confess it seemed pointless at first, but at some point its brilliance dawned on me, and I’ve now adopted it as my credo, my mantra, and my mission statement. If you’re riding hard enough on the trainer or the rollers, and the music is doing its job, you’ll feel something kind of like excitement, kind of like fight-or-flight, and kind of like anger, as you thrash away, ensconced in your headphones and your private pain cave. In this state it seems completely reasonable to blow up the outside world.
Born Free - M.I.A
A workout megamix needs to include either this song or the John Barry song written for the 1966 movie, about lions, called “Born Free.” In the end this one won out, because a) the other one sucks, and b) if I get the other one in my head, I always substitute my brother’s lyrics, which went, “Born dead/ The baby had no head.”
Brain Stew - Green Day
I saw these guys in concert at one of those music festivals in Golden Gate Park (WOMAD, I think) and didn’t think they were that good. Over the next two decades my wife kept asking me to get her an album by these guys and finally I relented. Turns out plenty of the songs I’d enjoyed on our local alternative (i.e., mainstream) rock station are by Green Day. (I didn’t realize this because modern deejays are far too cool to ever provide the name of a song or whom it’s by, and they never use the word “whom” either.) Green Day is not a great band—one song sounds too much like another IMHO—but the two guys who started it are from Rodeo, a godforsaken little cow town I have to ride through on some bike rides, and I applaud them for transcending such humble roots. Plus they got their start playing at a little punk club that’s walking distance from my house (though I’m not cool enough to go there). “Brain Stew” has a very simple but thrashable guitar line. Can I say “guitar line”? Does that even mean anything?
Bucky Done Gun - M.I.A.
“Done” and “Gun” don’t look like they should rhyme, but they do. I don’t really know what (if anything) this song is “about,” and I don’t care.
Burden in My Hand – Soundgarden
“Burden in my hand” is just one of those phrases that sound cool. Don’t overthink it. That’s my advice for lots of this music. Riding the trainer isn’t like going to a poetry reading, okay?
Cash Money Millionaires - Lil Wayne
This song is pretty dumb, in the best possible way. Go Weezy!
Cha Ching (Cheq 1-2 Remix) - Lady Sovereign
This is off “Run the Road,” a grime compilation. Grime is kind of like hip-hop, but British, and maybe a bit faster. Lady Sovereign is a very short person and has one of those ponytails that sticks out of the side of her head like the girl in “Napoleon Dynamite.” I wish Lady Sovereign would come to a party at my house. If she turned out to be a smoker, I’d even let her smoke in the house—that’s how cool she is. I hope she doesn’t smoke, though. It’s gross and bad for you.
Charmer - Kings of Leon
Everyone I know hates this song. What’s wrong with everybody? If you hate it, I don’t want to hear about it. I like it. Obviously.
Cheers - Obie Trice
This is a great track. I sometimes sing along, though that gets awkward because he uses the n-word. He’s allowed to, of course. It’s okay because I’m usually too out of breath to sing anyway.
Closer - Kings of Leon
You know how with some bands all the songs sound alike? Not so with Kings of Leon. This one is way cool and a good track to hammer to as you fight to become a King of Lean.
Come As You Are – Nirvana
I’m not actually sure Nirvana is a good band for working out to … the tempo might be a bit wrong. But you can set your brakes to drag and stand up. I kind of feel like supporting this band since as everybody knows their lead singer killed himself. It would be such a shame if he were forgotten, like Men At Work. At least those guys are still alive and kicking, as far as I know.
Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Clearly this song needs no introduction. By the way, I’m sick of people saying “Dark Side of the Moon” is Pink Floyd’s best album. Of course that’s a great album but “The Wall” is better. This Roman Meal bakery thought you’d like to know.
Cool Cats - Obie Trice
My favorite part? When Obie says “blaow!”
Creep – Radiohead
Of course you heard this on the radio all the time back in the ‘90s. This isn’t quite as strong as the other stuff on this list, but you might as well re-familiarize yourself with it so you can sing it in the shower.
Cry Now - Obie Trice
Desperation - Eminem
Diamonds From Sierra Leone - Kanye West
I don’t know what to make of Kanye West. On the one hand, several of his songs, such as this one, seem pretty cool. On the other hand, somebody showed me the video of “Bound 2” and I almost vomited into my soup. And I wasn’t even eating soup! That video would be a crime against humanity even without Kim Kardashian in it. But I liked “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” before I saw the “Bound 2” video; why should that change?
Don't Shoot (I'm a Man) - Devo
It was a little frightening buying Devo’s first album in two decades. I really liked Devo back in the day and didn’t want to hear them embarrass themselves. But this album, “Something for Everybody,” is great! As is this song!
Drive Slow - Kanye West
I like this song a lot. More than it deserves, probably. It always reminds me of a “New Yorker” story from July 10, 2000 called “The Saturday Morning Car Wash Club” by James Ellis Thomas. Somehow I get the pleasure of that story just by hearing this song … all while training indoors! It’s like alchemy or something!
Déjà Vu – Eminem deja
This song is about overdosing in front of your kids. Pretty heavy. But it’s a kickass song and the only rap song I know with two different French accent marks in its title.
Easy to Crash – Cake
Cake is from Sacramento and used to play the coffeehouse circuit there. Did you know Sacramento had a coffeehouse circuit? Me neither. This song is not about crashing while riding rollers, but I did do that the other day. I was riding out of the saddle and made the mistake of shifting up and accelerating. I rode right off the front of the rollers, hit the carpet, went flying (surfing my bike at this point), hit the fan, knocked it ass-over-teakettle right into my main road bike (which was leaning against the wall), tipping it over. I managed to dismount my rain bike and catch my other bike by the handlebar just before it would have hit the floor. Alexa saw the whole thing and was duly impressed.
Enter Sandman – Metallica
I became aware of Metallica all the way back in high school when this stoner kid used to talk about them. He had super long fluffy white hair and puffy red eyes and was oddly chummy with me. “Dude, it’s my birthday and my dad’s throwin’ me a party. I’m not talkin’ no birthday cake and candles either … we’re gonna get drunk!” This dialogue didn’t involve Metallica per se, but I always associated them with that kid. Anyhow, fast forward a few decades to when I watched “Some Kind of Monster,” a documentary about Metallica hiring a consultant to help them get along while cutting an album. Fascinated, and dimly aware that Metallica had made music with the SF symphony, I bought their eponymous album and guess what? It R4WKs! It’s kind of silly as well, I have to say. These guys are a bit on the earnest side, but heavy metal shouldn’t be tongue in cheek or ironic. Just roll with it. Belt out “We’re off to never never land” in front of your kids and watch them cringe.
Fell In Love With a Girl - The White Stripes
I didn’t expect to like the White Stripes because so many people bagged on them. But oddly, the biggest complaint I heard was that they’re overrated. How can they be overrated when everybody bags on them? And anyway, who cares? They’re quite good, if a bit sloppy. This song has a video with cats playing guitars, which I showed to my kids when they were tiny, and to this day they love this song. Since I love them, it’s just a big love-in whenever I hear this.
Fell On Black Days - Soundgarden
Fight the Power - Public Enemy
Follow My Life - Obie Trice
Fresh - Devo
Galang - M.I.A.
Girls LGBNAF - Ice-T
You absolutely mustn’t play this song on the hi-fi when your kids are around. The lyrics are filthy, at least by ‘80s standards. Also, don’t play it on your boom box out in the driveway unless you’re ready to silence it very quickly. I was working on my bike, playing this, and a famous writer/illustrator of children’s books came walking down the sidewalk with her dog. I had to scramble to prevent an embarrassing episode! Ice-T is from L.A. and was one of my early favorites. He’s held up well!
Give It Away - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Another band from L.A. One of my college roommates, a rich kid with over 400 CDs in his collection (yes, I counted them once) used to play this song almost constantly, along with “Down In It” by Nine Inch Nails. They were the only two songs I ever heard him play. I didn’t realize I liked this song (and band) until years later when I’d recovered from that roommate. A colleague of mine once encountered this band’s bass player, Flea, on an airplane. They were both flying first class to Europe. Flea seemed to be on drugs and decided to climb up into the overhead bin to sleep. (He’s not a very big guy.) This caused a major altercation with the flight attendant.
Got Hungry - Obie Trice
Obie hit a long dry spell (from 2006 to 2012) between his second and third studio albums. I started anticipating his third album in 2008 and was getting mighty impatient when in 2009 he decided, probably just to pay the bills, to release a compilation of old stuff, which he called “Special Reserve.” It was kind of unpolished, but full of highly energetic stuff like this song. Perfect with a lactic acid chaser!
Obviously I still have H thru Z to go. I hope you like this topic because it'll be the next 4 or 5 posts at this rate. Click here for Part II.
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