I asked. You answered.
If this gets 2,000 RTs I’ll write a post entitled “The 10 Alice In Chains Tracks Every High School Harrier NEEDS On Their Pre-Meet Playlist” for @CitiusMag
— Paul Snyder (@DanielDingus) September 21, 2018
The response—while over 1,950 re-tweets shy of my stated goal—was overwhelming. It was clear. You want… No, you need to know which songs by Lane Staley and the boys you should crank at maximum volume in the waning moments before the starting pistol sounds.
So here they are.
- “Would?” (Dirt, 1992)
This brooding ode to the futility of existing in a long-term depressive state kicks off with an ominous bassline, laid on thick by Mike Starr, before being joined by a tom- and bass drum heavy backbeat, courtesy of Sean Kinney. It’s a haunting opening to the album’s closing track, but it’s made all the more ghastly by Staley’s melodically croaking vocals. He doesn’t sing, so much as emit lyrics like “down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved / see my heart I decorate it like a grave.” It’s the perfect track to jumpstart this playlist. Let it ride as you assume your spot in the rear of the school bus and carve your 5K PR into the pleather back of the seat in front of you.
- “Nutshell” (Jar of Flies, 1994)
Whoa, buddy. The race isn’t for a bit. You’ve got a long school bus ride ahead of you, and plenty of time to ruminate on the impending hurt you’ll be subjecting yourself to. So let’s slow things down with a couple of ballads. First up, “Nutshell.” In it, Staley laments the pitfalls of stardom. It offers a unique perspective—that of a man who desperately wants solitude and to quietly give in to his demons, out of the public eye. Just stay relaxed and envision taking the first mile out conservatively.
- “I Stay Away” (Jar of Flies, 1994)
We’re still keeping things vaguely acoustic at number eight, with perhaps the best known song from AIC’s most polarizing album. “I Stay Away” starts off gently, before assuming the form of a Guns N’ Roses style, heavily string-backed power ballad. Harmonizing darkly, beautifully, Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell belt out “your weakness builds me / so someday you’ll see.” Think about all the times you have been ripped on for wearing shorts that show off your boney knees. Then think about channeling that rage into a blistering kick, sending up clumps of sod and mud as you sprint past your conference rival and into the finish chute.
- “Rooster” (Dirt, 1992)
If war is hell, then surely, a 5,000 meter cross country race can be considered heck. “Rooster” was written by Cantrell about his Vietnam War veteran father, who was nicknamed “Rooster.” Cantrell’s old man was notoriously tight-lipped about his service, but was understandably sour on the US’s involvement in Vietnam. The titular Rooster “ain’t gonna die,” and neither are you, thanks to an aggressive but measured push you really ought to consider making during the race’s second mile.
- “Heaven Beside You” (Alice In Chains, 1995)
The sole representative on this playlist from the final Alice In Chains album before the band’s first break-up and Staley’s heroin-induced death, “Heaven Beside You” lowers the volume but escalates the possibility for introspection. Cantrell takes lead vocals on this track, and recalls a tale of his own relationship-severing infidelity. You probably have regrets of your own. Just don’t leave any room for more of them on the course!
- “Them Bones” (Dirt, 1992)
This three-minute long gutpunch of contemplation on mortality ought to instill a shot of adrenaline straight through your body. Staley screams “I believe them bones are me / some say we’re born into the grave,” over a sludgy, rolling wall of guitar, before hitting a chorus that serves as the band’s thesis statement: “I feel so alone / gonna end up a big old pile of them bones.” Aim for this high-octane rocker to re-enter your brain as you stand on the starting line, not blinking, breathing heavily, and anticipating the starter’s commands.
- “No Excuses” (Jar of Flies, 1994)
“No excuses.” – Steve Prefontaine, 1969, probably
- “Got Me Wrong” (Sap, 1992)
Breaking out of the general thematic elements of yearning for death and feelings of intense misery and depression, AIC takes aim at unrequited love in this late-onset smash hit from their 1992 EP, Sap. In a Nirvana-esque display of soft-loud dynamics, Alice In Chains errs on the side of sensitivity for the song’s verses, bombards listeners with the usual gritty cries of the chorus, and wraps things up on an uncharacteristically optimistic note: “that don’t last forever / something’s gotta turn out right.” Remember that the first quarter mile sprint of the race is just about positioning—work just as hard as necessary to find a spot you feel comfortable attacking from, and don’t get buried!
- “Rain When I Die” (Dirt, 1992)
Even for a band that routinely went dark, “Rain When I Die” stands out as a particularly ominous track. Try listening to it without the lingering thought of Staley’s withering, creeping in. You can’t. The man and the song are inextricable, and his untimely passing colors every grimey riff and squawked reminder that it will in fact “rain when [he dies.]” Tuck your arms and head fully within your oversized, team-issued sweatshirt and growl a little bit.
- “Man in the Box” (Facelift, 1990)
There’s no other way to close out this pre-race playlist than with “Man in the Box.” When you sat down, notepad in hand, to absorb this listicle, you knew this moment was coming, didn’t you? Well here it is. The heroin not yet fully ravaging his slender frame, a healthier-sounding Staley absolutely carries this powerhouse of a track, as he tears through the song’s hair-raising chorus: “Feed my eyes, can you sew them shut?” As the song concludes, toss your headphones out of your ears, roll your eyes back in your skull for a minute, crack your most Joker-esque smile, and leap off the bus and into your warmup.