Monday, July 26, 2021

Essential running tracks to get you into the Olympic spirit

There are surprisingly few good songs about sports (excepting the classic tennis anthem ‘What is love’). However, when it comes to running, the well runs far deeper. 

We humans are fascinated with running – symbolically, allegorically, but also literally. Two billion people will watch the Olympic 100m final; the same cannot be said of the synchronised swimming. 

And while the likes of Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen probably weren’t thinking about international athletics when they penned their respective running-related hits, it’s curious to see how prevalent the theme is within songwriting.

So, in a tribute to the start of the Olympic track and field events on July 30th, we thought we’d share some other fun examples of songwriters who have taken the concept of running and… err, run with it.


Iron Maiden – ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’

Let’s start with a song that is definitely about the physical act of running.

Okay, so some have claimed that Iron Maiden classic ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ uses the marathon concept as a metaphor for life, while others have suggested that the song provides a commentary on Maiden’s notoriously long tours. But if legendary British long distance runner Paula Radcliffe thinks that it’s a song about running, that’s good enough for me.

In their heyday, Iron Maiden were a heavy metal band of Olympic-sized proportions. Sound, image, on-stage theatrics, they had everything. While the style of music is of its time, this is nevertheless an epic running track with a belter of an intro.


Foals – ‘The Runner’

Over the past decade, Foals have proven themselves to be consistent performers on the festival circuit, and their 2019 effort, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost - Part 2, is an appropriately big-sounding record for the big stage.

On ‘The Runner’, singer Yannis Philippakis expertly captures the plight of the tiring runner with lines such as, “And if it hurts don’t let it show / Step by step I’ll keep it up, I won’t slow I gotta go.” Admittedly, his context is a burnt-out, environmentally devastated landscape rather than a packed-out sporting stadium. But let’s face it, judging from the International Olympic Committee’s cloth-eared response to the current pandemic, it’s entirely conceivable that the Olympics will remain a quadrennial feature of any post-apocalyptic future.


David Guetta & Alesso feat Tegan & Sara – ‘Every Chance We Get We Run’

Does David Guetta’s 2012 dancefloor banger offer us profound insight into the athlete’s psyche? Is its inclusion in this list simply an excuse to mention legendary Canadian indie duo Tegan & Sara?

Every Chance We Get We Run’ is a track that leaves us searching for answers, mainly because the lyrics are so head-scratchingly oblique. Maybe the song is about embracing risk. Perhaps it’s about the perpetual fear of commitment. Or it could just be about running.

Whatever the case, taking every chance you get to run will improve your athletic prowess no end, providing you do a six-minute warm-up beforehand and keep yourself hydrated.


The Flaming Lips – ‘Race For The Prize’

Technically, ‘Race For The Prize’ has nothing to do with running. However, according to Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne, the song was inspired by watching Olympics long distance runners with his siblings when he was a child, inspiration that’s very much display in the song’s music video.

Moreover, the subject matter – two scientists engaged in a high-stakes race to find a cure for a dangerous disease – feels entirely appropriate right now. The only reason Tokyo 2020 can go ahead is that scientists across the world have surpassed all expectations to develop effective Covid tests, treatments, and vaccines.

Add to this the band’s unique attempt to keep live music going during the pandemic, coupled with the fact their biggest selling album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, is loosely themed around the travails of an imaginary Japanese warrior, and one starts to wonder if The Flaming Lips could yet be a surprise addition to the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony.


Pink Floyd – ‘Run Like Hell’

With its propulsive delay-heavy guitar, pounding rhythm track and opening refrain of “Run, run, run, run, run, run, run”‘Run Like Hell’ could be perfect training montage fodder, were it not for a set of incredibly threatening lyrics that directly target the listener.

In fairness to Pink Floyd, inspiring athletes was probably not their priority, given that ‘Run Like Hell’ appears near the end of The Wall, the band’s traumatic and disturbing 1979 concept album. On the track, Roger Waters and co. tell a story of their increasingly deranged and isolated rock star Pink entertaining visions of life as a fascist dictator. It’s a far cry from ‘Chariots of Fire’.

Like every track on The Wall, there’s a tendency to over-analyse ‘Run Like Hell’ (is the decision to pan the crowd chants to the left of the mix really a political statement??). But with its multiple allusions to the atrocities of pre-war Nazi Germany, the track reminds us that there is always a political context to the Olympics. Most notably, the 1936 Berlin Olympics is often referred to as Hitler’s Games and is perhaps best known for the track and field achievements of Jesse Owens, an astonishing story still relevant to this day.


Neil Young – ‘Long May You Run’

Motor racing hasn’t been a feature of the Olympics since 1900, so it may seem bizarre to include a light-hearted ditty about a clapped out car (a hearse, no less) in our list of already tenuous running songs. But Long May You Run’, which first surfaced in 1976 on the Neil Young and Stephen Stills collaboration of the same name, is imbued with the same sense of nostalgic delight we get when casting our minds back to magical track and field moments of Olympics past.

Young’s song conjures up warm memories while reminding us to value our loved ones while they’re around. It’s especially poignant when we think about beloved athletes such as Sir Mo Farah failing to qualify for this year’s event, or more generally, the inevitability of physical ‘break down’ as age and injuries take their toll on our Olympic heroes. And if that isn’t enough to convince you of the song’s relevance, check out this performance from the closing ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010. It’s the perfect way to conclude a major sporting event.


Tom Kirkham / @finestworktom

Image: David Guetta, courtesy of TNS Sofres

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