It’s a common sight: people walking through a forest trail or around the lake with headphones clamped to head. Nominally, you can walk to anything, but if you’re interested in soundtracking your journey with something that will help you pace yourself, try this 14-song selection—sequenced for listening as well as moving.
1. Fleetwood Mac: “Second Hand News”
A jittery acoustic guitar sidesteps into a brisk tempo, as Lindsey Buckingham’s voice darts in and out of the mix—there are times when Stevie Nicks’ background vocal is louder than his lead. He’s leaving the relationship, and he’s pissed, so chances are he’s walking at least as fast as you.
2. Freda Payne: “Band of Gold”
This is a more specific relationship-dissolution song, and maybe the greatest ever written about wedding-night impotence. (Key line: “Hoping soon that you walk back through that door/And love me like you tried before.”) But the high-stepping, almost marchlike beat makes it excellent exercise fodder.
3–4. The Supremes: “You Can’t Hurry Love” + the Jam: “Town Called Malice”
Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland, who helmed “Band of Gold,” were the writer-producer team behind many of Motown’s greatest hits, including most of the Supremes’. “You Can’t Hurry Love” is one of their jauntiest records, and James Jamerson’s bass line has been copied by dozens of artists (suggested bonus track: Hall and Oates’ “Maneater”), nowhere better than on the Jam’s poppiest and most emotionally charged single.
5. T. Rex: “Mambo Sun”
Marc Bolan may well be the most overrated figure in all of rock, but the best parts of 1971’s Electric Warrior made the glam-rock strut into English rock’s most potent rhythmic force, until the pogo-ready forcebeats of punk came along. Everybody knows “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” but this opening track is just as playful.
6. Quarks: “I Walk (Superpitcher Schaffel Mix)”
The glam-stomp heir is the schaffel sound—a strolling 4/4 stomp dragging its left foot—of German minimalist techno artists like Superpitcher, who here reworks a minor dance 12-inch into something sinister and sexy.
7. Nellie McKay: “The Dog Song”
The precocious 19-year-old singer- songwriter evokes Doris Day singing Randy Newman—sweet on the surface, but with teeth. This is included partly because of subject matter (“I’m just walkin’ my dog/Strollin’ along/Singing my song”) and partly for its jaunty gait.
8. Chubby Parker: “King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O “
A bouncy, but not saccharine, kids’ song, also sung as “Froggie Went a-Courtin’,” from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.
9–10. Bo Diddley: “Who Do You Love?” + Bow Wow Wow: “I Want Candy”
The greatest rhythm masters have beats named after them, and none save perhaps James Brown’s is more recognizable than Bo’s. Diddley’s greatest record was this snaking incantation with lashing guitar. Millions have copied it since, but Bow Wow Wow’s remake of a 1965 Strangeloves hit made it sound as atomic as Bo himself.
11. Moby: “Honey”
Not the shave-and-a-haircut, two-bits rhythm, but the galloping hip-hop breakbeat Moby puts under the blues vocal on the opening track of his mega-selling Play comes close enough. It’s ecstatic enough to follow “I Want Candy,” but with enough melancholy right under the surface to throw some shade over the upbeat mood.
12–14. Gang Starr: “Words I Manifest (Remix)” + Main Source: “Atom” + A Tribe Called Quest: “Check the Rhime”
Since we started jittery, it’s only right that we end this journey (har har) with something luxuriantly exultant. So here are three good songs: the first single to make Gang Starr into serious hip-hop heroes, with jazzy horns atop clattering drums and notoriously monotone MC Guru still varying his voice a little; a hard-swinging, guitar-led number from a cult classic (and the B-side of one of the best two-sided hip-hop hits ever); and the signature tune from one of the best singles artists of the genre and/or the ’90s. “Check the Rhime” also fulfills my standard for any mix CD—it has to end with a song that would segue seamlessly into the disc’s opening track.