You’re heading out to the mountains for some climbing or skiing, skyscrapers and sprawl in your rearview, and you reach for the stereo. What do you play? What will get you psyched for those sensual, snow-kissed peaks? We got you covered. Here are five songs that will get your blood running hot for the hills.
My Proud Mountains
Townes Van Zandt
This wistful ballad by country music master Townes Van Zandt has mountains on its mind. The narrator forsakes his beloved Colorado home, “With their proud mountains tall,” in favor of hard living city life. Like most nature lovers, the narrator realizes that urban living will never completely satisfy himself — he needs the solitude of his craggy home. In the end, he wants only mountains, not skyscrapers, “Tween me and the sun.”
Zandt spent some of his childhood in Colorado, the rocky landscape of which served as inspiration for some of his songs. And speaking of Colorado…
Rocky Mountain High
John Denver has long been associated with his adopted state of Colorado. Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., he took as his stage name Colorado’s capital, and his most lasting song, Rocky Mountain High, is now one of the official songs of the Rocky Mountain State.
The subject of the song is the mountain as a religious experience. It tells of a young man’s mountain-induced epiphany — “You might say he was born again”. It’s a feeling that any outdoor lover can identify with. “Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams / Seeking grace in every step he takes.”
Denver spent much of his life advocating for conservation and environmental protection. The last verse appeals to all listeners to preserve this land for future generations. The young man can’t understand “Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more / More people, more scars upon the land”
Blue Ridge Mountain Blues
The Blue Ridge was my blues… An archetypal song, in the vein of Zandt’s My Proud Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountain Blues is about a young person who yearns for the mountainous landscape of his childhood, the Blue Ridge Mountains. Whether the Rockies or the Appalachians, if you have ever spent time time living in the shadows of mountains, it’s tough to live anywhere else.
Climb Ev’ry Mountain
Rodgers and Hammerstein
Climb Ev’ry Mountain, sung by the Abbess in the musical The Sound of Music, is supposed to be inspirational advice to the free spirited Maria, but for me its always touched on the darker, obsessive side of climbing. The never-satisfied wanderlust that drives people to spend all of their time and money pursuing the next peak. “Climb ev’ry mountain… / ‘Til you find your dream” — a tall order.
The Fleet Foxes
The Seattle-based Fleet Foxes wisely chose to record their ode to their local mountains without vocals — the sublime heights of the Cascades often beggar words. This is a good song to space to while driving. It lets your imagination float along, high above the mountains you intend to climb.
Whoa, whoa, whoa — hold on, let me explain. Putting America’s most half-baked pop-tart on a list about mountain song classics might seem like poor taste — but let me explain! The Climb, written for Hannah Montana: The Movie, is one of the greatest statements about mountaineering EVER. It’s intent is to use mountaineering as a metaphor for life’s struggles, not unlike a platitudinous poster you might find in your dentist’s office. But if taken literally, it is a forceful and poignant message about the sport’s frustrations and exultation.
- “There’s always going to be another mountain” — Brilliant. For serious mountaineers, one summit will never be enough.
- “Always going to be an uphill battle” — In just seven words, the song’s writers (Jesse Alexander and Jon Mabe — pop stars have better things to do than write songs) accurately succinctly summarize the nature of the sport!
- “Sometimes you’re going to have to lose” — Mother nature is intractable. Weather, avalanches etc. get in the way of climbing, no matter how prepared you are.
- “Ain’t about how fast I get there” — (Unless you’re a speed climber.)
- “Keep on moving / Keep climbing” — Sage advice if you want to gain the summit.
- “Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side” — A chilling allusion to the dark side of the sport. Great death is always present with you on a climb, but let’s follow Cyrus the Younger’s advice and leave it out of our minds.
- “It’s the CCCCCLLLLLLLLLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMMMMMBBBBB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” — Shit yeah! An apocalyptic yawp that sums up everything you need to know about climbing and life.