Athletes are creatures of habit. Whether it’s Dwight Howard singing “Single Ladies” on the free throw line, or Bryce Harper showering seven times a day, or senior sprint football linebacker Quinn Karam wearing the same upper body garment (I don’t think it qualifies as a shirt anymore) under his pads for every game for seven years, most athletes tightly clutch these insane superstitions or routines and swear they are essential for peak performance.
One of the most ubiquitous of these routines is the pregame playlist. The pump-up songs that get the blood flowing and turn ordinary men into beast-like creatures of intensity, focus, and instinct (as long as these instincts include putting balls in hoops, goals, or end zones).
Michael Phelps listens to Jay-Z to get himself jacked up before getting in the pool. Reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant listens to Beyoncé to get himself loose and in the zone. Snowboarding wizard and the "flying tomato" Shaun White listens to Led Zeppelin as he’s visualizing himself shredding that fresh pow down the mountain. Peyton Manning used to listen to Billy Ray Cyrus in the locker room, because of course he did.
So, the question is, who is right? What are the greatest pump up songs of all time?
Despite the countless blog posts and think pieces on the topic, I say leave that question to the professionals. By professionals, of course, I mean myself and not the professional athletes who actually use these songs to reach peak physical performance.
1) Headstrong by Trapt
Have you ever played high school football? If you have, then you’ve heard this song. There is a decent chance that the game of high school football was actually based on this song. Only a group of dirty, sweaty, hormonal teenage boys hitting the crap out of each other for fun on Friday nights could possibly inspire the half-screaming, half-crying chorus of the song, and frenetic, changing pace that is sung by a guy whose voice is just a little bit too high.
The lyrics are appealing to anyone one who is trying to physically dominate the competition. Or anyone trying to tackle a giant cleaning project you’ve been putting off for months that your mom keeps telling you to take care of, and you keep saying you will but you were hoping that she would just keep reminding you, and you thought you’d keep deferring until you went back to school and she’d get your brother to do it at some point, but she notices that you’re doing nothing all day so she puts her foot down and makes you actually do the project and you’re not actually as sneaky as you thought.
2) Jesus Walks by Kanye West
This one is a no-brainer. This banger off of “College Dropout” has been proven to raise your heart rate by 100 beats per minute over the course of the 3 minutes and 14 seconds of the song. The song simultaneously convinces that you have superhuman powers to boost your confidence to a point of brazen arrogance, where you might, say, start wearing sunglasses in public that you can’t even see out of because they have strange bars across them, and make you think you’re not totally convinced Kanye can’t just walk across his infinity pool on top of the water going from his tiger cage to helipad in his backyard.
3) Lose Yourself by Eminem
This song reminds us that people can do anything if they set their mind to it. The lyrics were also part of the curriculum for every middle school in America in the 2000s so it’s a song that can be enjoyed by the whole team together.
There are very few cultural touchstones for this generation quite like knowing the lyrics to “Lose Yourself.” It’s kind of like our knowing where you were for the moon landing, or sharing your favorite Steely Dan concert experience.
The song itself, though, has impressive lyrics and tells an underdog story with impressive detail for just a four-minute song. Most importantly, it bangs. Eminem’s perpetual state of anger is only attainable by mere mortals by stubbing your toe twice on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
4) DNA by Kendrick Lamar
One listening to this song can only hope to come at the other team in the same way Kendrick comes at, well, everyone on DAMN. DNA will give you goosebumps and flood your brain with unbelievable flow, and before you know it, your head is bobbing and your adrenaline is pumping. Suddenly, you’re sprinting through campus with the hair on the back of your neck standing up and you feel like you are about to take the world by storm, as this song has just informed you that the throne of the Earth is your by birth, so you have to go take it. No? Well maybe that’s just me.
The only possible image this song can conjure in your head is a post-apocalyptic rag-tag gang of freedom fighters walking down a scorched New York City street wearing leather jackets and sunglasses on their head, led by Denzel Washington to fight a final battle against our new alien overlords. If that can’t get you jacked up and ready to win on the field, I don’t know what to tell you except go see a medical professional.
5) Hurrah for the Red and Blue
Just kidding, this isn’t an Odyssey article, but listen to it anyway.
Kernkraft 400, Zombie Nation - A stadium favorite, but unless I’m getting pumped up to watch a soccer game, I’m leaving this one off.
Black Skinhead, Kanye West - My editor told me this had to be an article with “words”, not just one big picture of Kanye.
Heart of a Champion, Nelly - Very few people have set out with the intention of recording a pump up song. Even fewer even do it. Heart of a Champion will always have a special place in my heart.
So Anxious, Ginuwine - If Russell Westbrook is listening to slow jams before games, we should all be considering it very seriously.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.