Consider the conundrum that is climbing. You seek out the hill, knowing full well that it will hurt to go up it. As you climb, you look forward to nothing in the world quite so much as when the climb ends, even while you wilfully ignore the fact that nothing is keeping you from slowing down, or even from turning around and going the other direction.
And then — if you are me, at least — you add an additional layer to the complexity of being a climber: you listen to music to help you go faster up that hill, even though you know faster hurts more. Or, perhaps even more strangely, you listen to music to help you take your mind off the hill…you know, the one that you specifically sought out.
There’s probably a life lesson to be learned from all this. Some way in which climbing is a metaphor for life.
But to tell the truth, I don’t care. I just want to talk about the very best songs in the world to listen to while you’re climbing.
A Note About Methodology: I arrived at this list by going through my iPod’s “Ride” playlist and asking myself, “Is this an awesome song for climbing?” If the answer was yes, I put it in the preliminary list. I then stack-ranked the contenders by level of perfection. By the time I got to the final seven, the songs were all so perfect that I would not dare to call one better than the other (with one exception, which I will save for last, just to build suspense).
Beastie Boys: “Shadrach“
There are three things that make this a perfect climbing song: a beat that makes you pedal faster, awesome backing vocals, and exquisite lyrics you’d want to shout along to, if blood weren’t coming out of your ears (and if you could remember them). “We’re just three MCs and we’re on the go: Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego!”
Bonus Comment: Normally, I don’t care too much about videos, but this one’s a work of art. Watch it.
Kraftwerk: “Tour de France“
This is, objectively speaking, the best song for climbing ever made. The rhythm is scientifically designed for an optimal cadence. Ride while listening to this song and you will inevitably find yourself both pedaling and breathing in time. And you will be going 2.3 KpH faster than you would have otherwise. I have both a short version and a twelve-minute version of this song on my iPod.
Linkin Park: “One Step Closer“
Sometimes, the best way to climb is to climb angry. This song is plenty angry. When your heart rate’s at 187, the words “brings me one step closer to the edge, and I’m about to break” take on a whole new meaning.
Devo: “Uncontrollable Urge”
Some people think Devo was a bunch of highschool misfits in funny clothes playing beepy sounds on synthesizers. Turns out, though, they also had guitars. And this particular song drives you forward on your bike as mercilessly as if it were a whip (whip it good).
Joan Jett: “Bad Reputation“
You’re riding along, listening to Joan Jett, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Joan Jett creates some of the best straight-ahead, blunt-force rock and roll in the world.”
And then you realize that if Joan Jett ever found out you’re listening to her while you’re wearing spandex, she’d come beat the tar out of you with her bare fists. And she’d be within her rights.
This does not discourage you, because the music’s that good.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: ”Love Rollercoaster“ / “Parallel Universe“
True story. When Californication came out, I left it in my car’s CD player, playing over and over and over, for a period of about six months. Interesting musical fact: the baseline of “Parallel Universe” actually makes you 15 pounds lighter for the duration of the song — a phenomenon scientists are studying right this very second.
By sneaking in “Love Rollercoaster,” I’m cheating my list up to eight songs. My rationale is this: it’s my list, I’ll sneak it in if I want to. Besides, it really is a perfect climbing song, though it has the somewhat dangerous effect of making you want to sing and dance while on the bike. Well, it’s dangerous if you’re me, anyway. Which I am.
Social Distortion: “Reach for the Sky,” “Don’t Take Me for Granted,” “Nickels and Dimes,” “So Far Away,” “Let it Be Me,” “Sick Boys,” “Ring of Fire,” “She’s a Knockout,” “A Place in My Heart,” “Cold Feelings,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “King of Fools”
I have regrets in my life. One of my greatest regrets is that until last year, I did not own a single Social Distortion album, which means that I did not own anything by the group that has since risen into my Top 7 favorite groups, and is far and away my number one favorite cycling group. As for climbing music, no other group is even close.
Imagine that. This band has been around since I was in highschool, and I’m just now getting to know their music. It makes me think: what else have I missed?
You know what? I’m going to set up my iPod shuffle to play this set of songs, in this order, for my B7 time trial this weekend. I think this will help me drop 15 seconds off my time.
My “Ride” playlist — the playlist I always listen to when I’m on my bike — has 652 songs in it, every single one of which I’m happy to hear served up by the Shuffle. Here are a few extra songs I’m always extra-happy to have served up:
- Prince / Age of Chance: “Kiss” – I went ahead and chained these two versions of this song together. I love both, and like it best when I hear the Age of Chance version right after the original.
- Oingo Boingo: “Nothing to Fear (But Fear Itself)” – Imagine, if you can, the guilt I feel at my very favorite band in the whole world not making the 7 Perfect Climbing Songs list. It just goes to show how fairminded and objective I am.
- Duran Duran: “The Reflex” – The fact that I’m willing to admit to loving “The Reflex” just goes to show how unafraid I am to embarass myself. Still, great riding song. I stand by that.
- Falco: “Rock Me Amadeus” – Why do I like this song? I shouldn’t like this song. But I like this song. And when climbing, I really, really like this song.
- Nirvana: “You Know You’re Right” – You know, Cobain doesn’t sound particularly happy in this song. I’ve often said that if I could’ve gotten to Cobain, he would never have killed himself. I’d have introduced him to biking, and soon he would have found balance and peace. Or, at the very least, he’d have been considering killing himself and would have thought, “If I kill myself today, I won’t be able to ride tomorrow.”
- Steriogram: “Walkie Talkie Man,” “Fat and Proud” – I know, you Aussies and New Zealanders roll your eyes at this group. I don’t care. I love Walkie Talkie Man, and I love Fat and Proud. In fact, practically every song on Schmack! has enough energy in it to propel you up the steepest mountain, while riding a wheelie.
Hesitation to Publish
OK, I’ve put together my list. Now it’s time for me to publish it and see what everyone thinks. There’s a problem, though: Whereas I went into the Seven Perfect Foods list with plenty of confidence and bluster, I realize my taste in music is incredibly dated, and also that my taste in music may not have been all that great to begin with.
Ie, I fully expect to be made fun of a little bit.
Or a lot bit.
That’s fine, I can take it. But you’ve got to give me your own 7 Perfect Climbing Songs if you’re going to ridicule mine. Preferably with links to the music.
If you’ve got a good one, I’ll acknowledge it.
PS: Today’s weight: 161.0. Finally got my eating groove back, and I’m back to my lowest weight of the year. Time to start moving into the 150’s.