The Best Songs You Won’t Hear in Spin Class

January 17, 2015
Energy, anger, humor, disdain, resignation. A driving beat. Guitar, bass, drums. Raw and sparse. A recipe for punk rock. It cannot be pulled together like the ingredients in a cake. It forms naturally, holistically. And at times, it’s art. It’s not for everyone. Many don’t like it. Or they don’t understand it. I’ve tried to change this. A little education, exposure in my very small corner of the world.

In my rural town, there is a ‘community center’. It is much bigger than our population would suggest. And truly one of the centers of our community. In a region where three out of four people are overweight, this is the place where the exercise crowd congregates. This is the place where I instruct spin classes.

I’m an introvert. I thrive in one-on-one situations. Not at the front of a room, performing. But music and exercise are important to me. I know a bit about each. Enough about music to pull together a clever playlist – multiple decades, various genres. Enough about exercise to coach a challenging workout – a mix of drills to improve strength, endurance and fitness. It’s not surprising that I’ve put this all together, for pay. Although at my wage, it’s more of a hobby than a job.

I hoped to be a DJ at my college radio station. This was thirty-five years ago. Freshmen were not permitted to do this. A year of academics before such large distractions. By my sophomore year, the station was closed, funding concerns. It later reopened, but I had graduated. I missed my chance to spin tunes for the masses – until now.

 I branded my class Punk*Cycle. The other classes were mostly pop, country, and classic rock. But not classic rock like the Stones and the Who. Not T-Rex, the Kinks, or even the Doors. They were Foreigner, Journey, Manfred Mann and Yes. I wanted a cycle class that rocked. The Clash, the Pixies, Social Distortion, the Offspring, Green Day, X. High-energy, beginning to end. The oldies that helped shape the musical revolution of the seventies. Louie Louie, Paint it Black, Surfin’ Bird, Break on Through. The bands that predated the punk title – New York Dolls, Blondie, Patti Smith Group, the Stooges. I thought I would draw out the closet-punks. That repressed group of spinners who endured the radio mix they heard in the rest of the classes – like me.

This is not a city. It’s small-town Pennsylvania. The people President Obama accused of clinging to guns or religion – people afraid of change. He’s partially right. Folks around here aren’t edgy. There weren’t any closeted fans of punk rock. Not a single person said they were attracted to my class for the music. But over time, I started hearing people say how much they liked the music. I doubt they consider it punk, pre-punk, post-punk, neo-punk. They just hear it as a rocking set of music in an exercise class. And now some sing along.

My all-punk-all-the-time playlist became dull, at least for me. Two classes per week, every week. I needed more variety, and longer songs. (Good) classic rock, reggae, new wave, blues, even some contemporary pop. It has all found its way into the class. Show tunes when I want to be ironic. The mix is defiantly counterculture. Not a radio mix. An adult mix. Almost everything is old, decades old. But much of it is new to the people who come to my class. And they still enjoy the music, most of it. Musically, it’s as varied a class as you’ll find. Every genre is considered. But the class still skews towards punk.

Punk is the music that speaks to me. Motivates me. Gives me my edge. Makes me laugh. So I play punk. I play it for myself, and I’m happy that others seem to enjoy it. At times, I go too far, and I’ll do it again and again. Suicidal Tendencies’ Institutionalized. Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams are Made of This. Master of the Puppets by Metallica. When these songs start, there’s a collective groan. A sense that the class will indulge me this one time, but let’s not do it again for a month or two. But there are twelve songs that are off-limits. A dozen phenomenal  songs. Banned by decorum, by expectations. These are the best songs I won’t play — unless I’m sure it’s my last class – ever. They are just too rough for polite society. Profane, divisive, shocking. And if I can’t play them in class, at least I can post them on my blog.

Caution all of these songs contain profane, raunchy and/or offensive language, but oh, what a playlist they would make. (Please contact me if any links are broken).
  • Body Count — Ice-T’s 1992 masterpiece about violence in the ‘hood. Get past the interview at the start of the video – this is must see TV. The dude is pissed.
  • Don’t F*** Me Up (with Peace and Love) — Rocking and funny. Unfortunately, Cracker uses too many F-bombs to avoid.
  • Star Star — A Rolling Stones classic from 1973. If you don’t know why it’s banned, just listen. Initially, this song was thought to be in response to Carly Simon’s You’re  so Vain (this song is not banned, but I don’t like it), often presumed to be written about Mick Jagger.
  • Killing in the Name Of — I actually have used this song, part of it. Up to the four-minute mark. Then the song completely falls apart in a way designed to give a teenager’s parents a heart attack.
  • Bad Habit — From The Offspring’s “coming out” album, Smash. An energetic driving-song with an attitude problem — and an exceptionally profane road-rage release. Oh, and Smash, the album’s finale, its title cut. Not so nice either.
  • Orgasm Addict — Forty years old. Early, early punk. And as inappropriate as any song since.
  • Repo Man — Iggy Pop’s theme song for the kooky and brilliant movie by the same name. I actually use this one from time to time, but I need to be very aware. If I miss my volume cue, the back-to-back F-bombs leave half the class red-faced and the others falling off their bikes laughing.
  • Dark Center of the Universe — Even NPR’s Linda Wertheimer loves this one. She is the person who introduced me to Modest Mouse. Unfortunately the frequent refrain of “F*** you over” makes it unplayable.
  • Gigantic — A love (lust?) song by the Pixies. Sexually charged and perpetuating stereotypes. Nothing good can come from playing this song in a family gym.
  • Look! No Strings! — My favorite cut on Chumbawamba’s best album. Multi-layered as a parfait, both musically and lyrically, But… it is easy to misread it as disrespectful to Jesus. Bummer. I love this song: Susej em kcuf ho!
  • Not Now James, We’re Busy — I use almost all of the songs from Pop Will Eat Itself’s “This Is The Day… This Is The Hour… This Is This”. Great, fast songs for a variety of drills. But this one about James Brown goes too far.
  • Scrap — Girl-group metal-core rockers L7 compare Christianity to being high on inhalants. I doubt anyone would catch the meaning of the lyrics during a workout. But these are my friends, they get up at 5AM to take my class. I don’t want to offend anyone.

7 thoughts on “The Best Songs You Won’t Hear in Spin Class

  1. Not that’s a song I do use in class – a lot. I try my best to shout something over the F-Bombs, but often, I just let them go. My 13 and 10 year old kids don’t seem phased by it, I’m not sure why a bunch of adults should be. Phenomenal Song. Thx.


  2. Pingback: Spinning, Running, Bikes, Bikes, Bikes | Jeff Cann

  3. Pingback: My Day Off | Jeff Cann

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