Ed's Note: Interested in EMS-related tunes? Down Time is a collection of EMS-inspired songs produced in Nashville by music-industry insiders. Down Time boasts poignant and energetic pop tracks with street themes familiar to EMS providers everywhere. Order here.
We all know the critical role that music plays in our everyday working lives as EMS providers. Often, the radio is our only constant link to the world outside of our ambulance. The Internet is abound with lists of songs that make great EMS playlists (spoiler alert: those songs are not on this list). Some are obvious (“The Artist in the Ambulance,” by Thrice), some are hilarious (“Achy Breaky Heart,” by Billy Ray Cyrus) and some are sad (“Last Kiss,” by Pearl Jam).
My favorite EMS songs are the ones that are not about anything related to EMS at all on the surface, but just happen to have lyrics that are absolutely perfect for some aspect of our profession. Finding the personal connection buried in a song elevates it from a catchy tune to an essential expression of some emotion.
“Hold My Hand,” by Hootie & the Blowfish
Favorite lyric: “With a little love and some tenderness, we'll walk upon the water. We'll rise above this mess... 'Cause I've got a hand for you, and I wanna run with you.”
True meaning: Whether we admit it or not, it's undeniable that there is love between good EMS partners. We take on the world together and rise above the most unbelievable messes.
“Lose Yourself,” by Eminem
Favorite lyric: “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment you own it. You better never let it go. You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”
True meaning: This is the intubation song. Listen to the whole thing and think about the way you feel en route to a cardiac arrest call. Perfect.
“Tonight,” by Charlie Robison
Favorite lyric: “Can't come home now Mom, 'cause anything might happen tonight.”
True meaning: This song hits home for volunteer EMTs, especially for high school kids who are fortunate enough to be part of an exploration programs (as I was). No way I'm going home and missing “The Big One” that everyone will be talking about for months.
“What I Learned Out On the Road,” by Kid Rock
Favorite lyric: “All them late nights and early mornings. Let me show you what I learned out on the road.”
True meaning: There is so much EMS in this song— fatigue, lessons learned and resilient pride. Especially for those of us who have moved on to other careers, this is a great anthem to celebrate all we gained from our time on the road.
“Utha Side,” by Nelly
Favorite lyric: “You don't really want to go, I can tell. But I'm gonna take you anyway, what the hell. So come on get on in the ride, and let me take you to the other side.”
True meaning: No refusal for you, buddy. You can get on the stretcher or we can put you on it. Those are your remaining options.
“On the Grind,” by Nelly
Favorite lyric: “If you're going to ride, get inside, let's roll. If you're running your mouth then shut my door.”
True meaning: Trying to get off a scene with responders, family, supervisors or police officers swarming the ambulance or just gawking can be aggravating. In or out, people. This bus is leaving!
“Night Rider's Lament,” by Jerry Jeff Walker
Favorite lyric: “Why do you ride for your money? Tell me why do you rope for short pay? You ain't getting nowhere and you're losing your share. Boy you must have gone crazy out there.”
True meaning: You just have to listen to this entire song. A cowboy working the graveyard shift gets a letter from home asking why he passed up a chance at a suburban life with a successful girl to go waste his time with horses and cows. It ends with a list of all the beautiful things he has experienced that the people back home can't understand and a little-knowing commiseration with a fellow cowboy. Get out the tissue and turn off your phone, because this one will make you want to sign up for some overtime.
“Superman,” by Five for Fighting
Favorite lyric: “I'm only a man in a funny red sheet, and it's not easy to be me.”
True meaning: We try to be superheroes, but behind the equipment and underneath the uniform we're just human beings like everyone else. It's a hard job, whether other or not other people understand.
“Race Against Time,” by Ja Rule
Favorite lyric: “Race against time, I can't stop running through the red lights, living my life. Even if I'm getting too hot, still I can't stop riding.”
True meaning: This one is self-explanatory, but there's also an underlying message about self-preservation here. We know this job is not always good for us and that we could make the same money doing something safer and easier. It's just who we are—for better or for worse.
“Night Train,” by Amos Lee
Favorite lyric: “I’m out here on a night train, trying to get us safely home.”
True meaning: Sometimes in the middle of the night, when the world is asleep but you are wide awake at work, the cab of the ambulance is a very lonely place. The tone of this song captures that solitary, bone-tired feeling that often creeps in during pre-dawn hours.
“100 in a 55,” by Pop Evil
Favorite lyric: “Ten years, I’ve been doing this forever. It’s all I know. Baby please don’t turn away. Doing 100 in a 55, and I don’t know why I’m still alive.”
True meaning: If I had to pick my absolute favorite EMS song, this would be it. It perfectly describes the EMS lifestyle— high speed, dedicated and tired.
“Downfall” by Matchbox 20
Favorite lyric: “Come on and lay it down. I’ve always been with you. Here and now, give all that’s within you. Be my savior, and I’ll be your downfall.”
True meaning: This song describes the relationship between EMS providers and patients eerily accurately. The first half of the song could be a patient addressing a paramedic, and the second half could be the paramedic responding to the patient. It’s spooky and moving.
“So Right,” by Dave Matthews Band
Favorite lyric: “Roll hard ‘til midnight. Roll ‘til it’s light, come on now, stay up and make some memories with us.”
True meaning: Night shift on the ambulance. Also, the intro sounds a lot like a siren and air horn.
“The Road,” by Sister Hazel
Favorite lyric: “And I look back on all the choices that I made, with so many exits off this highway. When the weight of the world can be a heavy load, I’ll stay with you here on the road.”
True meaning: This one has it all: Dedication to the job, loyalty to a good partner and support from the family at home. This happens to be my favorite band —a “one hit wonder” group that continued to put out wonderful music for over 20 years. Talk about dedication to the job.
“Circus,” by Britney Spears
Favorite lyric: “All eyes on me in the center of the ring just like a circus. Don’t stand there watching me, follow me, show me what you can do.”
True meaning: We often find ourselves in charge of some pretty crazy scenes, whether or not we want to be in that spotlight. Sometimes the pressure of playing ringmaster is much greater than that of simply caring for a patient. Hopefully, you are surrounded by people who will follow you when you need them to instead of just watching the show.
Music is a great way to lighten the mood and incorporate an element of fun into work that cannot always be described that way. Stay safe out there and rock on!