What do the Ramones, Fifth Harmony and Xibalba have in common? No, not rotating memberships. (Stay strong, Xibalba!) Rather, they’re all artists that get our writers’ passionate hearts pumping with renewed fervor. Below, you’ll see an impressive range of genres represented: anarcho-punk, disco, hard rock, indie pop, southern rock, noise pop, art rock and a whole lot of other hard-hitting combos.
We’ve put our picks in an order intended to highlight wild juxtapositions, as well as some surprising links. Imagine the iPod of a family of polymaths on shuffle or an avant-garde fitness center where the point is to keep you guessing so that your booties keep on moving. Streaming service algorithms could never come up with this list.

Surge on, people!

Side A

1. The Ramones – “Blitzkrieg Bop”

Is there a better or more energetic way to start one’s day than by blasting Joey Ramone shouting “Hey, ho/ Let’s go!” at the loudest volume one can get away with? The Ramones established the punk formula of playing as loud and as fast as possible, so their inclusion in a list like this has to be a given. It’s also arguable that they wrote better songs than “Blitzkrieg Bop,” but nothing quite captures their lightning-fast ethos quite like this. Looking for meaning in the song is a fruitless endeavor, but that’d be missing the point. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, just do it with speed and gusto.

2. Xibalba – “En La Oscuridad”

This single established Xibalba’s latest album Años En Infierno, which dropped on May 29, as a honest-to-goodness death metal album. These Pomona ball-busters are still very much in favor of the crushing, lumbering variety of extreme metal and hardcore, but these riffs carry the most resemblance to the likes of Bolt Thrower and Morbid Angel. It’s music for razing cities to the ground, with each note hitting like a sledgehammer. The guitar tone and soul of doom metal, the primitive rage of hardcore and the angular intensity of death metal makes “En La Oscuridad” the ultimate adrenaline shot for any heavy lifter.

3. Britney Spears – “How I Roll”

If you’re looking for a missing link between the maximalist EDM sound popular in the early 2010s and the bubblegum glitch aesthetic of boundary-pushing PC Music gems from later in the same decade, look no further than “How I Roll.” Really, it leans more towards the latter, while the rest of Spears’ Femme Fatale is full-on mainstream dance-pop. The whole LP is damn fun (though exhausting) for dancing, but this one-off is the break that makes you want to put a whole bag of Major League Chew between your teeth and pop it to bits while you shake your hips.

Co-produced by a Swedish dream team of Bloodshy, Henrik Jonback and Magnus Lidehäll, it sounds like Red Bull fizz on the lips of a smiling clown who’s spent the afternoon reciting Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier.” Appropriately, Spears’ vocals are processed to hell, and this makes for a lovely, sugar-saturated nightmare. “I’m gonna do my thing if you want a taste,” she intones. And, oh, how we do! Time to stick out that tongue and sweeten the palate ‘til it burns.

4. David Bowie – “Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)”

“Crusher” Bennett’s precise, crackling drums keep David Bowie’s “Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)” hopping, and if you didn’t listen to the dark verse lyrics, you’d mistake this for the bit of bouncy, love-song fluff the chorus promises. The verses lean heavily on urban stereotypes, and the bridge rap (featuring Mickey Rourke) is a bit silly, but the beat will move your feet. And the sweetness of the chorus—accented by Bowie’s vocals at their lightest, a reputed attempt to emulate Smokey Robinson—will lift your spirits in spite of yourself.

5. Deerhoof – “Scream Team”

Deerhoof have a cartoonish air about them, a rubbery, pliable sound that is both playful and active but more grounded than something by, say, Dan Deacon. It’s like the difference between digital animation and cell animation. “Scream Team” from the band’s 2005 album, The Runners Four, feels like a combination of cartoon and gameshow music, an encouraging and fun soundtrack given a slightly manic edge. It begins with subtly ascending guitars, a steady snare drum, and singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki sweetly pushing you along until the song explodes in a burst of busy guitars and drums. It’s akin to a sugar high, a quick burst of energy to get you past the moments where you think you can’t push yourself any further.

6. PJ Harvey – “50ft Queenie”

Most of PJ Harvey’s songs inch too subtly or don’t have the drive to keep a workout going strong. But “50ft Queenie” is a fantastic exception. There’s an ebb and flow to the snarling guitar that can match the pace of your training. If you need an extra kick to get through a tough set, Harvey’s distorted, breakneck solo will give you that boost. Plus, her confident, kiss-off lyrics will make anyone feel powerful. As you exercise, you’ll want to shout through gritted teeth, “Tell you my name/ F U and C K” as you push yourself to your limits. (Shouting lyrics is only advised for home sessions—do so at the gym at your own risk.) When you start to fade during your workout and need to get back on track, the quick blast of punk from “50ft Queenie” works every time.

7. Prince – “Let’s Go Crazy”

The buildup for this song is the stuff of pop legend. Prince begins with his sermon over a single organ tone, but you already know that this song has higher heights to reach. His impassioned preaching eventually gives way to that drum beat, and then things really get going. There’s a manic desperation to “Let’s Go Crazy,” the kind that pops up in Prince’s best work and the best funk and soul songs. Movement is like that sometimes; it’s instinctual, the natural response we have to a number of situations. To go further, Prince frames this as an act of defiance: we won’t be broken down. We’re too busy going crazy.

8. MARINA – “Enjoy Your Life”

It can be so hard sometimes to just enjoy ourselves. Work, deadlines, commitments, chronic anxiety, a global freaking pandemic—take your pick. Something is always getting in the way and dragging us down, making us feel bad about ourselves. Nothing is ever right in the universe all at once, and as MARINA says, you shouldn’t have to wait for that to happen in order to enjoy your life. Of course, enjoying ourselves is so much easier when we can manage to put our worries to rest, but that, too, is hard. So sit right back and enjoy your problems—you don’t always have to solve them. Take one breath, and your worries start to disappear. Nothing is ever as bad as the voices in our heads tell us it is. When we can manage to find the time for some therapeutic exercise, “Enjoy Your Life” is one way to release some tension and get moving.

9. Front Line Assembly – “Dopamine”

Sometimes there’s no avoiding the hard yards, the steady grind, the solid-state accumulation of miles on the treadmill or in the saddle. The up-and-down tempo-spanning tracks you might usually find during a workout are all well and good, but there’s something to be said for a track that grinds on, steadily, the metronomic 120bpm pulsing as an unrelenting guide to how the next six and a half minutes will play out. Like many Front Line Assembly songs, there’s a preamble, a full minute-and-45 of build-up, which is time to get the cadence right, settle into the rhythm before the drums fully resolve and we’re away. For an added variation, should this be required as the minutes suck the oxygen from the overtaxed muscles, at the 3:45 mark the song kicks up a key, the perfect point to push it up a gear or ramp up the treadmill a couple of degrees. At 4:30, the mid-song drop slices through, a chance to pause or settle back to half-speed, catch your breath, before, 45 seconds later, the drums kick in and we’re back grinding in time while imagining how close the top of the imaginary hill might be. And then, at exactly six minutes, it stops, playing out 30 seconds of classic post-industrial noise as a time to wind down and shake it off.

10. New Order – “Bizarre Love Triangle (Shep Pettibone Remix)”

It’s all about the drums with “Bizarre Love Triangle.” Sure, songs like “Blue Monday” have a more insistent, club-friendly beat, but the percussive elements of “Triangle” are insistent, manic movement personified in digital drum form. The time signature doesn’t change much, but the percussive mix infers constant nervy motion, the kind that fueled so much of ‘80s dance music. Bernard Sumner’s typical themes of insecurity and a lost identity pop up, but as with so much music on this list, the lyrics are a little secondary. In fact, there’s no lyrical call to get on one’s feet. The music just compels you to start moving and get active, such is the power of what was concocted here.

SIDE B

1. Queens of the Stone Age – “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire”

There are few better ways to begin your exercise than with “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire.” The Queens of the Stone Age track is the perfect way to start some cardio and get into a good workout zone. The first minute of the song, with its faux-DJ and muffled, kinetic drumbeat, makes for a great warm-up to get your blood flowing. Once the band roars in and Nick Oliveri starts screaming in your ear, it’s an instant jolt of lightning in your veins and muscles. The rhythm is ideal to match with a run, treadmill or bike too. Best of all, you feel invincible when this track is playing. It leaves you feeling energized and ready for more. Plus, if one Queens of the Stone Age song isn’t enough for you, just leave on Songs for the Deaf. With only a couple of exceptions, the entire tracklist offers a surplus of power to keep you moving.

2. The Ex – “Frenzy”

The music of Dutch anarchist punk band The Ex is the perfect accompaniment to that moment where your mind screams, “What the fuck are you doing to yourself?” In particular, the lead track on their 1998 album Starters and Alternators, “Frenzy,” is the kind of barely controlled intensity present just before something explodes into a million pieces. It begins with dry, aggressive, pulsing bass, the sound of tread on pavement, followed by a sharp intake of breath. Agitated guitars scrape, accompanied by a tambourine passionately shaking in an odd time signature until G.W. Sok’s sharp bark comes into focus. By the time the drums kick in, it’s a full on melee. “Frenzy” barely contains its energy, the sound lashing out in all directions. It is anger, it is passion, it is a driving need to just MOVE no matter the destination. Of course, The Ex’s “Frenzy” is no mere workout song. It is about the power of Karl Marx, particularly his sense of humor when faced with the tyranny of the ruling class. So get fit, get pumped up, and get ready to do some of the metaphorical heavy lifting required of you at this time in history.

3. The Libertines – “Death on the Stairs”

Every workout needs a burst of energy, a sugar rush of rhythm and lyrics to force a beginning or alleviate a lull. “Death on the Stairs” by the Libertines provides that auditory momentum when the last thing you want to do is go on. The role of music in a workout is not only to fill space but to drown out the internal monologue that says you don’t want to do it or that you can’t go any further. Front men Carl Barât and Pete Doherty created a song to remove all cares from its opening chords, a three and a half minute classic designed to involuntarily cause movement of the head and feet. The Libertines burned too brightly, as their name would suggest, but this is song is their anthem.

4. Fifth Harmony – “Sledgehammer”

It’s impossible to not get your blood flowing to this banger—the opening lines of the chorus, “If you could take my pulse right now/ It would feel just like a sledgehammer,” literally beg you to get up and moving. This song is also infinitely better than any of Fifth Harmony’s other singles that saw more commercial success, e.g. “Worth It” or “Work From Home,” but it tends to fall off the radar. It’s also amusing to listen to the group’s songs before Camila Cabello’s dramatic exit at the end of 2016, when five equally talented girls were all fighting for airtime. Nevertheless, “Sledgehammer” is the ultimate workout song and should be your next pick to lead your group in a circuit (when it’s safe for gyms to be open again, of course).

5. Musique – “Love Massage (Extended Mix)”

Any song that begins with “make it hot and juicy” is sure to be either a banger or a fast food ditty. “Love Massage” is solidly the former, but I’d love to see McDonald’s throw this joint on and just let Mayor McCheese dance for nine minutes and 53 seconds. This disco groove is perfect for the dancefloor, but its lyrics are all about the bedroom, a fantasy space oozing with apocalyptic expressions of sexiness. Just listen to those frantic screams of passion and try not to run for cover(s). It’s not raining men, it’s pouring “warm juices” with a side of “a thousand little stingers.” This is a song of pure sensation, which hits at some wonderfully visceral level. There, the dancing grows to laughter, and laughter to bigger dancing. Step, step, step, clap! Rub, rub, rub, scratch! You’ll be dizzy with pleasure before you know it.

6. Pete Townshend – “Crashing by Design”

What makes a bleak story such a toe-tapper? Part of Townshend’s epic White City: A Novel, “Crashing by Design” traces a man’s life from childhood “discussed, debated, and offered for adoption” to present loneliness, “sit[ting] alone just like a broken toy,” counselling him that his fate is all his doing. “Everything that’s ever befallen you/ Happened simply ‘cause it crossed your mind./ You’re crashing by design.” Well, that’s a cheer-up. But never mind: you’re already bopping around your kitchen floor. Is it the pulsing synthesized bass and tight drums? The chunky keys? No, it’s Townshend’s elastic vocal delivery, choppy and bouncy on the verses, his voice becoming another percussion instrument, leading you through the story he’s telling. And, in the bargain, leading you — unexpectedly — to dance.

7. The Black Crowes – “My Morning Song”

“My Morning Song” is the perfect jam to lift weights to. Over six minutes long, you can potentially finish three sets as this rock blues anthem pushes you through fatigue and your desire to quit. It is the crescendo of the band’s second album The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, one of the perfect albums of the ‘90s that is rarely mentioned in decade retrospectives as if its perfection blinded music critics to its existence, representing a rougher, more expansive work of art than the band’s debut album. “My Morning Song” is a song about renewal, grace and hope, perfect themes for those of us in the habit of exercising but hate the entire process, and, with its propulsive guitar riffs and wide ranging vocals from front man Chris Robinson and the gospel choir that backs him, epitomizes everything that was good about the band, an apex they would never reach again.

8. Ministry – “Jesus Built My Hotrod ((Redline/Whiteline Version)”

At heart, all exercise is a mixture of sadism and fantasy, the desire to punish the body that one has to realize the body that might just be forced into being. Sometimes, exercise tips closer to the possibility of fantasy but now and then it’s time to recognize, perhaps even celebrate, the fact that there are moments where the most satisfying workouts are the ones that hurt. Hence not just this song, but the version that’s over eight minutes long, clocking in at between 240bpm and 250bpm. This is a song for sprinting and it’s going to hurt and that’s the whole furious fevered joy of it. There’s a few seconds of Gibby Haynes’ intro at the start before the meat-and-potatoes drum beat thuds into place, rattling along and giving a few moments to settle in, work on the cadence, start to pedal or stride in time until, at one minute thirty-one, the guitars shred open the lungs and we’re off. We must keep pace with no slacking, and it doesn’t matter how light the resistance is because by the time there’s the first slight moment to catch a breath, at three minutes 13 when everything stops for a second or two and Haynes’ tells us “I wanna love ya,” everything’s on fire regardless. At four minutes, we ramp up into the second guitar solo and if there’s anything left in the body, throw that on the flames as well, pausing at five minutes for a sampled voice to tell us, over a temporary silence “Let’s hit the fuckin’ road,” before the beat and guitars roar off, a red mist that carries us with it. By this time we’re not even thinking about why we chose this, we’re just hanging on until we hit six minutes thirty and the half-speed outro, two minutes of recovery, gulping air and processing lactic acid. This is the song that finishes one off and which satisfies every sadistic urge, not for every workout but there in the back pocket for those moments when it’s time for a little punishment.

9. Kruelty – “Ancient Words”

If Xibalba formed in Japan as a new-school beatdown hardcore band, you’d more or less get Kruelty. Why include two bands of a similar genre on one list? Because heavy hardcore, beatdown hardcore—whatever you want to call it—should absolutely make up a good portion of any respectable pump-up playlist. The genre has expanded quite a bit in recent years, which has led to a glut of embarrassing trend-chasers. What separates Kruelty from the pack is their penchant for actual riffs, not generic slams and breakdowns. Their respect for ‘90s metal and hardcore is evident in their sound, but those ski masks are pure beatdown steez.

Contributors: Jeffrey Davies, Max Heilman, Jeff Heinzl, Don Kelly, Kevin Korber, Joe Marvilli, Eric Mellor, Valerie Polichar, Scott Wilson

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