Theme Ride Thursday: The Name Game

This week’s Theme Ride Thursday is a buffet of options centered around one primary theme—names. And boy, do I have some fun ideas for your next immersive and fun theme ride! You can break this concept into three sub-themes (one of which can be broken into two separate themes or combined), or mix and match from all the playlists as desired. I’ve got four bucket playlists for you to choose from, comprising almost 1,000 songs in total. (Don’t worry if that number seems overwhelming…you can use the tips provided at the end of this article to narrow down your choices, making it much simpler to select your specific playlist for your theme ride, saving you potentially hours and hours of your time!)

Let’s take a look at how you can play the Name Game in your cycling classes.

Name Game #1: Names of Famous People

One of the things I find so attractive about theme rides in indoor cycling classes is the ability to intertwine our musical choices with pop culture—there’s nothing quite like a song that name-drops a famous person or celebrity to capture our attention. You’ll be surprised how many great tracks you’ll find in this category—our bucket playlist currently has about 225 songs (and growing). You’ll find songs about a wide range of famous and infamous people, both real and fictional, including actors, singers, politicians and world leaders, dictators and peacemakers, criminals and outlaws, scientists, explorers, superheroes and cartoon characters, and biblical personalities. Personalities include Marilyn Monroe to Joan Crawford, Uma Thurman to Jackie Chan, Mickey Mantle to Mohammed Ali, and Paul Revere to Galileo. 

Some of the name-dropping isn’t immediately obvious. In Spotify or Apple Music, you can read the lyrics as the song plays to make sure you know the famous person or people mentioned in the song.

For even more fun in your name game class, dig a little deeper into the meaning of the songs and use the information as trivia. A good source is, which posts the lyrics as well as the meaning of the songs. You might be quite surprised at the songwriter’s meaning behind the lyrics.

You can even narrow down your name-dropping theme class into all songs about historical people (who are long passed) or all references to celebrities (still living). I’ve added a few choices below from a number of these options.

Robert De Niro’s Waiting, Bananarama, 3:42, 130 bpm
Imagine how much fun you can have wondering if Robert De Niro’s waiting for you after class? Climb to this iconic track from the 1980s.

Barbra Streisand, Duck Sauce, 4:07, 128 bpm
There’s no ambiguity about who this song is about…the two words “Barbra Streisand” are the only lyrics in this version of the entire song! That’s what makes it so perfect for this particular theme, especially if you do an all-celebrity version. Since there really isn’t any chorus, per se, this dance track will have you pushing out of the saddle in rhythmic jumps, or whenever the energy inspires you to stand. (Note that you’ll find other versions of this song that have soundbites of—allegedly—Barbra speaking, but they also contain f-bombs which you may want to avoid.)

We Didn’t Start the Fire, Billy Joel, 4:47, 145
You’ll hit the name-game jackpot with this iconic song—there are 119 mentions of people, events, places, and historical and cultural references; 59 of those are names of famous or infamous people! The best part is everyone in your class will recognize it; the energy is ideal for a fast climb with standing surges on the chorus. Unless, of course, you want to try a little karaoke…then you might have to ride a little easier! (Kudos to anyone who can remember most of these lyrics correctly and in the right order—I try with a line or two but often mess them up…I’m sure I’m not alone.) Make sure you check out this song as well. 

Don Quixote, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, 3:03, 95 bpm
Not all famous people hail from pop culture—you can go way back to the 1700s if you want! “Don Quixote” is an upbeat ska-punk song about Miguel de Cervantes’s book The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de La Mancha. It details the comical misadventures of an insane man in the 1600s, who believes himself to be a knight errant in the style of King Arthur. [] This high-energy track is perfect for a hard push at a high cadence. 

Name Game #2: Boys’ Names and Girls’ Names

How about a theme ride based on songs of just names in general? You can do all boys’ names, all girls’ names, or mix it up. How about dueling intervals, alternating genders with each interval set? Another way to use these two bucket playlists is to search for songs with the name of one of your riders who is celebrating a birthday and put it into your playlist. Not really a theme class, but a fun surprise for a loyal rider on their special day. Our boys’ names bucket playlist has 225 songs and the girls’ names bucket playlist has a whopping 450 songs. (There’s a message in there somewhere!)

Here are a couple of songs to consider with male and female names.

Johnny Come Home, Fine Young Cannibals, 3:35, 133 bpm

Bruce, Rick Springfield, 3:36, 134 bpm
Rick Springfield laments about being mistaken for Bruce Springsteen when he introduces himself at parties! It’s a funny song from the 1980s that will have your riders laughing as you climb.

Jack & Diane, John Mellencamp, 4:14, 104 bpm
A double whammy with both a boy’s name and a girl’s name. This track works great as high-intensity surges with your leg speed chasing the beat on the chorus, up to 104 rpm. Start 10–20 rpm below that at an easy to moderate intensity and then drop back down to that in the verses.

Gloria, Them (feat. Van Morrison), 2:36, 129 bpm
If you have a rider named Gloria in your class, she’s a lucky girl! I think that’s the name that appears more often than almost any other in song lyrics (well, right up there with “Sally” and “Johnny”). This well-known song is a must-have for your name-game theme ride. Stand and push hard on the chorus—even those riders who might want to sing along only need to belt out a few “Gloria”s so even if they go anaerobic, they’ll still be able to do it!

88 Lines About 44 Women, The Nails, 5:31, 148 bpm
First a warning…this song isn’t marked as explicit in Spotify, but it is. I can’t find another version, though I remember hearing this song on the radio way back when and it certainly wouldn’t have been allowed on the airwaves as is, so I’m sure there’s a “clean” version somewhere. But expletives aside…make sure the, um…topic is something your club (or you) will permit, it’s pretty blatant! That said, this is a super fun song, and this is truly paydirt from a name-game perspective—44 names! Some are typical like Joan, Mary, and Terry and some are unique, like Seattle, Zilla, Rowena, and Amaranta. I love this tempo; grab the beat at 74 rpm and climb a fast hill. Instead of standing on the chorus (there aren’t any), you can stand when he hums—this is frequent but only lasts for 12 seconds so it makes for short, standing surges intermittently throughout the song.

Name Game #3: What’s My Name? Call My Name! Say My Name! My Name Is…!

This is a unique theme in the name-game category. It’s not about someone’s name, but about their identity. These songs ask the following question or make the following statements: “What’s your name?” “Say my name!” “Call me by my name!” “(I want to) know your name!” or other versions of stating one’s identity. Surprisingly, this bucket playlist has over 230 songs. Here are a few options:

Say My Name, David Guetta, Bebe Rexha, J Balvin, 3:18, 95 bpm
I use this track as a second song or as a fast, somewhat easier effort between harder climbs.

Hall of Fame, The Script, 3:22, 85 rpm
I love this versatile song so much, I probably play it too often. The inspirational lyrics fit into so many different themes. You can use it for a great warm-up, a cool-down, or a longer recovery in between sets, but it also has enough energy to work for a moderate 85 rpm effort. Just remember that “the world’s gonna know your name!”

All in the Name of…, Mötley Crüe, 3:40, 82 bpm
For a little different twist on this theme, this one is in the name of rock. The high energy and tempo make for a great interval.

That’s Not My Name, The Ting Tings, 5:10, 145 bpm
Such a fun track! One review I read of this song said, “[the track is] brimming with sticky, yummy, fizzy goodness”! It’s perfect for this sub-theme—it’s NOT my name!—for fun, make sure to play this before or after a song that states this IS my name. You can also use it for a girls’ name theme; just count the number of girls’ names she emphatically declares are not hers. I use this song a lot for 5-minute threshold intervals. You can stand on the chorus if desired.

Call Out My Name, The Weeknd, 3:48, 89 bpm
Here is your cool-down for this theme.

Using the four bucket playlists below with over a thousand great songs, what will be your first Name Game theme ride? If you have any other ideas for games with names that you use in your cycling classes, let us know in the comments, and, as usual, if we’re missing any songs that should be added to our playlists, let us know those as well.

Tips for Working With Large Bucket Playlists in Spotify (DO THIS EVEN IF YOU DON’T TEACH WITH SPOTIFY!)

Here are some tips for working with large bucket playlists like these that will make your theme profile song selection much easier—it’s overwhelming to have too many songs to choose from. ICA theme bucket playlists are intentionally large because I want to include options for anything you will do in your classes, from the warm-up to the working segment, to recoveries, to the cool-down. I also include as many genres as possible—this may include some genres or songs that you personally don’t like. So what you will do is vet the songs and find the ones you prefer.

First, follow all these ICA playlists in your Spotify account. Even if you don’t teach with Spotify, and you only have a free Spotify account—you can still follow other playlists like mine. (If you teach with another music service like Apple Music, this is how you can use this amazing resource on ICA to find great songs for your playlists. After you’ve selected the songs you want for your profile in your free Spotify account, you can later find those songs in Apple and create your class playlist there. At that point, it’s not going to take very long to locate just the songs for your class profile.)

Second, narrow down your theme from the choices above. Do this by creating what I call a “dump file,” a separate new bucket playlist of your own, and give it a title such as “NAME GAME DUMP FILE” or “NAMES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE TEST PLAYLIST.” (Note: I always capitalize my bucket playlists—that way I can immediately tell them from my class playlists, which I do not capitalize.) This is your “holding tank,” if you will, that will contain the songs you like. Peruse the bucket playlist(s) of your chosen theme, listening to a short sample of the songs, then drag the songs that you like or you think might work for your theme into your dump file. Remember, you’re going to want a wide variety of tempos (slower and faster) and varied energy, as well as songs of different lengths, so you can find songs for warm-ups, cool-downs, recoveries, fast flats, gentle climbs, hard-driving climbs, intervals, perhaps some sprints, etc. (I sometimes take some notes on some of the songs as I do this to help me later when I’m creating my class playlist.) As you progress, you may develop an idea of what kind of profile objective you’ll choose but don’t be too specific yet.

When I go through this process, my dump files end up with anywhere from about 40 to 70 songs. You don’t want too many—remember, the goal is to not be overwhelmed. You can always go back to the large bucket playlist if you need another song or two of a certain length or energy.

Finally, now that you have your dump file, you can design your theme ride profile and select songs just like you would for your other profiles, but now, you have a vetted collection of songs to choose from that are all centered on your chosen theme. 

I hope you have fun with this theme!

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