The Key to Exercise: Shamelessness

Free yourself from shame over your body or your taste in music. Noah Brand shares his exercise playlist.

A new year is upon us, and a great many of us have resolved that this year we’re going to exercise regularly, and this time we mean it. It’s hard to maintain that resolve, though, as so many of us know, and one of the emotional barriers that gets in our way is embarrassment. It’s certainly been a problem for me personally. When I’d be all set to go for a run or hit the gym, I’d think of all the jokes about the pasty, fat, sweaty guy looking gross when he tries to exercise, and suddenly working out seemed like a less attractive prospect.

When I posed nude in May 2012, it was startlingly liberating. Suddenly tens of thousands of people had seen me in the altogether, so the idea of a few of my neighbors seeing me sweat through a T-shirt was much less intimidating. That, combined with my discovery of a great exercise game for my phone, helped me get going on the most regular exercise program I’ve done in years.

(The game, by the way is Zombies, Run!, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It helps give me that extra push of motivation to keep running when I might want to quit, by hooking me with the one thing I can’t resist: a good story. Also zombies chasing me. That’s not how everyone’s motivation works, but if you think you’d enjoy it, I recommend giving it a try.)

Over the past few months I’ve put in hundreds of miles of running, and seen enormous improvement in my stamina, which is gratifying. I’ve also dumped more and more songs into my running playlist, the tunes I rock out to in between evading the undead. In the interest of continuing shamelessness, I present that playlist in its entirety here, alphabetized by title and bearing my personal guarantee: no matter what your taste in music, you will find at least one or two of the songs on here hilariously embarrassing choices. Go ahead, have a laugh; I probably would.

  • Another One Bites The Dust—Queen
  • Ave Mary A—Pink
  • The Ballad of Barry Allen—Jim’s Big Ego
  • Bohemian Like You—The Dandy Warhols
  • Bottle of Smoke—The Pogues
  • Bright Future In Sales—Fountains of Wayne
  • Building A Religion—Cake
  • Children of the Revolution—T-Rex
  • Dance or Die—Janelle Monae
  • Don’t Fence Me In—David Byrne
  • Don’t Stop Me Now—Queen
  • Downtown Train—Tom Waits
  • End of the Innocence—Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby
  • Enjoy Yourself—The Specials
  • Everybody Knows—Concrete Blonde
  • Everything Looks Beautiful On Video—The Epoxies
  • Fight With Tools—The Flobots
  • Get the Party Started—Pink
  • Girls—Beastie Boys
  • Give the Drummer Some—Bomani Armah
  • Happy Birthday—The Birthday Massacre
  • High Fidelity—Elvis Costello
  • I Think We’re Alone Now—The Birthday Massacre
  • I Wanna Be Sedated—The Ramones
  • I Want You—Concrete Blonde
  • If I Can’t Dance—Sophie Ellis-Bextor
  • If You’re Wondering If I Want You To—Weezer
  • Iko Iko—The Dixie Cups
  • I’m On Fire—Bruce Springsteen
  • Innocent When You Dream—Tom Waits
  • It’s All Been Done Before—Barenaked Ladies
  • It’s All Right With Me—Tom Waits
  • It’s Tricky–Run DMC
  • I’ve Been Everywhere—Johnny Cash
  • I’ve Just Seen A Face—The Beatles
  • Maria—Blondie
  • Me and Bobby McGee—Janis Joplin
  • Mexico—That Handsome Devil
  • Nemeses—Jonathan Coulton featuring John Roderick
  • Nobody’s Side—Chess
  • Oliver’s Army—Elvis Costello
  • Once In A Lifetime—Talking Heads
  • Our Last Summer—ABBA
  • Pancho and Lefty—Townes Van Zandt
  • Pump It Up—Elvis Costello
  • Radio, Radio—Elvis Costello
  • Raise Your Glass—Pink
  • Right Now—Van Halen
  • The Road To Hell—Leonard Cohen
  • Rob the Prez-O-Dent—That Handsome Devil
  • Robot Hell—Futurama
  • Seventeen Again—Annie Lennox
  • Seventeen Forever—Metro Station
  • The Sky Is a Poisonous Garden—Concrete Blonde
  • Sing—The Dresden Dolls
  • Spin Around—Josie and the Pussycats
  • Stacy’s Mom—Fountains of Wayne
  • Still Alive—Jonathan Coulton
  • Stroller Town—Jonathan Coulton
  • A Talk With George—Jonathan Coulton
  • Tango ‘Til They’re Sore—Tom Waits
  • Theme To St. Trinian’s—Cast of St. Trinian’s
  • Thunder Road—Bruce Springsteen
  • Tomorrow, Wendy—Concrete Blonde
  • Uprising—Muse
  • Veronica—Elvis Costello
  • Viva Discordia—That Handsome Devil
  • Wanted Man—Johnny Cash
  • We Care A Lot—Faith No More
  • When You Were Young—The Killers
  • Wild, Wild Life—Talking Heads

There you have it, the section of my musical id that best relates to outrunning the zombie apocalypse. When using it to mock my masculinity, be sure to take note of the two Cole Porter covers, the two tracks off the soundtrack to a movie about a girls’ school, and the overrepresentation of Jonathan Coulton and Pink. Bonus points for wondering who gets so into the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats movie that he buys the soundtrack.

Immunizing oneself against embarrassment can be an invaluable aid to setting and keeping goals. Free yourself from shame; it’s just one more way you trip yourself up. In comments, tell us about your current fitness goals, whether or not they’re New Year’s resolutions, and especially if they involve numbers you’re reluctant to admit to publicly. If you want, share your own exercise playlist; it can’t be any goofier than mine. Lay down your burden of shame and start off the new year free from the spectre of embarrassment. If there’s one thing 2012 taught me, it’s that it’s a lot easier to run when you’re not carrying so much baggage around.


Photo—RoundKid Photography/Flickr

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. FlyingKal says:

    For all my love of Bruce Springsteen, I find it a bit odd that anyone would select “Thunder road” and “I’m on fire” for a running/exercise playlist 🙂

    Anyway, excellent article! Keep up the good work please.

  2. WOW~! I totally agree. I started shooting hoops to be outside, take advantage of my neighborhood park, and avoid a gym membership. Like you, I have earphones and listen to all my favorite songs. Which is where shameless enters the scene. Naturally, I began playing to the beat! As my shooting improved, so did my moves. My game has evolved into a form of dance. My favorite time to play is after dark, under the streetlamp. It’s cooler and the night breeze enhances sensations–feels amazing on my skin, my face. Gentle gusts rearrange my hair, and rustle the leaves of big trees: applause-applause. The ball is my drum, the stars my fans, and the moon—my most ardent admirer. Shameless, right? Yeah, and the best part is, my whole neighborhood has been totally respectful of my shall we say, unique style? In fact, I think I’ve inspired a lot more people to come out and play. And I’ve even seen quite a few guys shooting solitaire with phones in. So there you have it: a new genre of exercise incorporating basketball and dance. You should see my spin shot! (for real , hahaha)

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    I find “Mille Regretz” covered by Paula bar Giese–available on Youtube, excellent for isometrics.

  4. Michael Philp says:

    Excellent article, and I love much of your list.
    I tend to stick to electronica or techno for my exercise, I find the regular, simple beats to be quite useful. I haven’t exercised in a while though, so the only example I can remember is “Don’t F*****g Tell Me What To Do” by Robyn

Speak Your Mind