With a big summer of sport coming up – well, ok, the World Cup, as well as the usual stuff like Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix, etc – let’s have a look at the musical world of sports. Not all have been good, mind – all too often songs about one sport or the other are written specifically for the event, which doesn’t always end up with a track that is any good. Those songs that just happen to be about one sport or another are frequently better and certainly more interesting, but it’s surprising, in some respects, just how few tracks there are to choose from. As the title suggests, by the way, this is a Three Lions-free zone.
And if you want something appropriate to watch while listening to these ten, you could do worse than the twelve contenders for The Guardian’s goal of the season (my vote, by the way, goes for the Xavi-created Messi goal).
World In Motion
The best song about sport, ever. And even if you disagree with that, in terms of football songs it is utterly peerless. From the classic sample of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary of England’s one and only World Cup win in 1996, to the New-Order-by-numbers of the music, to the football-chant-friendly-chorus, to the Wembley-sized, chanting refrain that helps close the song, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Oh, and along with that goal against Brazil [YouTube link], it remains the best thing John Barnes ever contributed to. Is there even an official England football song this year? I hope not.
Eat My Goal
How terribly British – an indie-rock-rap bounceathon about…football. It’s suffered a little from overplaying over the years – it’s been re-released at least twice, appeared in god knows how many adverts, TV shows, football highlight reels – yet it still raises a smile when I hear it. I’m pretty damned certain this is the only track I can think of that raps about football – or maybe any sport – in this much deliciously zany detail. The fact that the chorus is basically a glorified football chant is the icing on the cake, of course. What else was it going to be?
Despite their long-held status as post-rock geniuses and provocateurs, they’ve also found time along the way to soundtrack a film depicting one of the towering footballing figures of the last decade. This isn’t as unexpected a marriage as you might think – they have long been known as big Celtic fans, and I suspect isn’t wasn’t too hard a decision to agree to soundtrack this film. As for the music, well, it’s the more mellow side of Mogwai, essentially, but then that makes perfect sense for what is a film score. I really should watch the film sometime, too…
World At Your Feet
Can I also remind readers of how not to do a football song? I used to love Embrace – their first album, and early EPs, were an utter joy – but even I will admit that these lads from Huddersfield were an unlikely choice to become the official song of England’s 2006 World Cup bid. After all, they looked like the shambling indie kids that the football hooligans would pick fights with outside the pub (I should know – sadly it was hardly an uncommon sight growing up in a town like Huddersfield). The song was rather more of a success than England were that year, though – going to number 3 in the charts, while England were knocked out on penalties by Portugal, of course – but how was it ever picked as a track to rouse the fans? It’s a bit slow, a bit ponderous, and if they wanted a terrace anthem, they could have done worse than pick Embrace’s real anthem, the still bulletproof All You Good Good People.
Apparently inspired by Ben Folds’ father’s love of boxing, this is a touching ballad that I in the past have perhaps have been guilty of skipping from this album. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so fast with the skip button – it’s actually a well-observed re-imagining of a boxer (Muhammed Ali) asking himself and others whether he should quit, or keep on taking the punishment for that little longer.
A rather grittier, and much, much sadder, take on the boxer comes from Morrissey’s elegantly crafted take on the failing, ageing hometown fighter whose own loved ones can’t watch his decline. You can almost picture the scene, in a northern hall somewhere, as the bell rings, the fighter out for the count. I’ve not listened to Morrissey’s older solo stuff for ages, and this gem is a reminder that I ought to dig back through his back catalogue again sometime.
Another song about a competitor who just won’t give up, this transposes the obsession to the racetrack. The opening bassline even simulates the rumble of the engines on the starting line, guitars stutter and fire like a failing engine, and the chorus races off into the sunset – even if that riff was nicked from somewhere else. To continue the racing analogies, Cake started well, took a commanding lead with The Distance, and then suffered engine failure with an atrocious cover of I Will Survive. Against all the odds, though, they continue to survive into 2010.
Heaven Is A Halfpipe
I should perhaps apologise for including this. I fucking hate most punk-ska, and this certainly fits that bill, although sadly I guess it fits this subject well – being a song about a devotion to a particular sport (skateboarding, obviously), and adding in how much “the man” keeps stopping [the singer] from indulging in his beloved sport. Somehow, this never made it onto the soundtrack of a Tony Hawks skateboarding game – and a good thing, too, as the Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 soundtrack was bulletproof, and this would have sullied it.
No California glamour here – Lauren Laverne takes her skateboard “down the local car park”, and is going to “practice ’til I’m good”. Like all the great Kenickie songs, it’s rooted in the minutae of the lives of a gang of teenagers growing up, making fools of themselves, brushing themselves down and getting on with things. Life’s too short to worry about how you look, it’s all about having fun, and if others laugh at your mistakes, so what? Although she does admit the expensive mistake of shelling out “ninety five fucking quid” on that skateboard…or maybe that was just falling on her arse one too many times…
Back to California, I can’t believe that I actually forgot about including this until my girlfriend suddenly reminded me to include it yesterday. One of the most influential, and at points experimental, of the big names of the sixties, their earlier material could only have come from the coastal cities of California – songs about sunshine, girls, cars, and surfing. This song isn’t complicated, it’s just two-minutes-and-thirty-seconds of incredible vocal harmonies, refrains anyone could remember, and of course, a deep love of surfing and those that get involved in it. And in songs about a sport, surely that’s all you need.