No Earbuds Allowed: 5 Songs For Commuting By Bicycle

By Ari Shapiro  |  NPR

NPR's soon-to-be London correspondent Ari Shapiro on his trusty steed.
NPR's soon-to-be London correspondent Ari Shapiro on his trusty steed. Denise DeBelius, NPR

Ari Shapiro is wrapping up his tenure covering the White House for NPR and is about to make the transition to a new role as NPR’s London correspondent. To distract him from readying himself for the big move, NPR Music asked him for this playlist.

I ride my bike to work every morning, and one of the scariest things I see is people with earbuds in their ears, but no helmet in sight. That’s not me, I swear. I always wear a helmet, and I never wear headphones or earbuds. Cars are unpredictable! Bicyclists need to be aware of their surroundings!

But I confess that I sometimes tuck my iPhone into the inside pocket of my suit jacket and turn on the volume just loud enough for me to hear it as I ride. I love Morning Edition, but it doesn’t carry over the sound of traffic. And I want to listen to something that will make me start the workday feeling happy. So here are five songs that make me pick up the pace and gird myself for a day of battles at the White House.

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5 Songs For Commuting By Bicycle

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Dance Apocalyptic
Artist: Janelle Monáe
Album: The Electric Lady
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Janelle Monae
Artist: Janelle Monáe
Title: Dance Apocalyptic
Album: The Electric Lady

This was my theme song for the government shutdown. If the American economy were to actually collapse, this is how I'd want it to sound.

Avan Lava
Artist: Avan Lava
Title: Feels Good
Album: Flex Fantasy

"Feels Good" includes the highly appropriate line, "What does it mean when you work in your dreams?" — a sentiment with which many Washington worker bees can empathize. If you ask me, it means you need to go to an Avan Lava concert and watch the singer crowd-surf on an inflatable raft.

Artist: Robyn
Title: Indestructible
Album: Body Talk

This is the kind of pounding electro-pop cotton candy that makes you think you could smash your bicycle head-on into a car and the car would be the one to crumple. I have not tried this move, and neither should you, but still.

Shirley Bassey
Artist: Shirley Bassey
Title: Apartment
Album: Performance

Written by Rufus Wainwright for Shirley Bassey, "Apartment" is a trans-Atlantic collaboration that captures my life right now, as I prepare to move from Washington to London for a job on NPR's international desk. This flamenco-tinged product of a North American songwriter and a European singer speaks directly to my needs. As Dame Shirley belts, "If you've any leads on an apartment / Tell me please." Seriously. Tell me please, in the comments section.

Pet Shop Boys
Artist: Pet Shop Boys
Title: Vocal
Album: Electric

"Vocal" is a song best suited for the ride home. I made it! The day is over! For the 15 minutes I spend in the bike lane, whizzing by cars as they inch through rush-hour traffic, this song lets me imagine that the night will be an epic adventure — as long as the iPhone doesn't interrupt the music, buzzing with a late-breaking news story.