In search of a winning score

As published by the The Footy Almanac, 1 March 2012  and MX (8/3/12)

It’s fair to say the rocky relationship between sport and music is an obvious yet strangely elusive one.  Venture into any changeroom and protagonists will be plugged in, psyching themselves for battle.  Perhaps too the more fanatical supporters.  What are they listening to?  Doubtless nothing actually relevant to sport.   

Sure, rousing abstract tunes made for TV montages and kitschy pre matches abound… Simply the Best, Holy Grail, Playing to Win et al.  Sadly these overexposed ditties date back to cassette tapes and Brashs music stores.

We love Up There Cazaly and it’ll endure as long as Mike Brady turns up on Grand Final day hoping for a gig, but where’s the contemporary Beyonce tribute to Serena’s searing serve and cocksure way?  Or the Ballad of Ricky Nixon per chance?  Surely all this on and off field drama is perfect fodder for bereft musos searching for a creative twist on the staples of sex, drugs and the awful trials of wealth and fame?

Sport’s agony and ecstasy translates so well to canvas, literary tomes and celluloid yet somehow struggles for worthy sonic adaptation.   Clunking made-for-major-sporting-event anthems are typically as memorable as last year’s Eurovision winner and bawdy rugby drinking songs don’t count.  Similarly, commercially driven team sing-alongs are best kept within the confines of the changerooms.  They might be having a blast – pity our bleeding ears!  The only conceivable use for anything performed by an Australian Olympic team is as aural torture designed to extract terrorists’ confessions.

England’s 1990 World Cup soccer squad’s World in Motion was an exception, only thanks to New Order’s stamp of credibility.  Even then it barely scrapes into their ‘best of.’  Interestingly, the London Olympics is seconding a BritPop tour de force featuring Blur, among others.  Perhaps Damon Albarn can sing Modern Pentathlon is Rubbish.  There may yet be reason to tune in.

Tragic tales of the pugilistic arts inspire the most fruitful marriage.   Bob Dylan’s Hurricane about Rubin Carter is a knockout tune (as much as a racial protest song).  Song for Sonny Liston by Mark Knopfler and Springsteen’s The Hitter are worthy contenders that explore the fate of poor sods entrapped by boxing’s murkiness and brutality.  Another eclectic wordsmith, Morrissey, laments ‘losing in your home town’ in Boxers.  ‘You wish the ground would open up and take you down’ croons music’s unofficial spokesman for the downtrodden.  For something a little more upbeat, there’s always Survivor’s ubiquitous Eye of the Tiger.

You wouldn’t pick cricket as a popular songwriter’s muse, but C’mon Aussie C’mon and 10CC’s Dreadlock Holiday could make solid openers on a concept album.  In Mr Carbohydrate, Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire would mysteriously rather watch England’s Matthew Maynard bat (4 tests, batting average 10.87) than play his guitar!  Ironically, as assistant coach of the national side, party boy Maynard enlisted lyricists to draft a team song.  Although a perfect fit for Punter and Huss, it’s doubtful the Aussies will bump dressing room fave Khe Sanh for Roy Harper’s When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease.   TISM’s The Parable of Glenn McGrath’s Haircut cleverly sticks it to yobbos who mocked the bowl cut nerds at school but the eponymous Bradman by Paul Kelly stands apart.  ‘More than just a batsman, he was something like a tide, more than just one man, he could take on any side.’  Equally catchy and inspiring, it sparks visions of a sepia toned Adelaide Oval, Larwood thundering in and the evil Jardine plotting in the shadows.

As the archetypical storyteller, Kelly is intrinsically suited to the genre.  Leaps and Bounds also hits the target, recalling his wide eyed youth  ‘high on the hill looking over the bridge to the MCG’.  From the opening refrain it sends tingles.  Surprisingly, Morrissey also kicks goals with Munich Air Disaster, the tale of ‘the unlucky boys of red…their faces fixed in our head’, and the sinister We’ll Let You Know about loathsome British soccer hooligans. These moody tracks illustrate the best aren’t necessarily the obvious rah-rah crash through walls variety.

John Fogerty’s Centerfield is a worthy finalist, despite the burden of being George Dubya’s favourite song.  It’s a pretty good B-side to Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  Queen’s Bicycle Race is one of few commercial hits with a sporting connotation although claims are tenuous given the peloton of nude models in the vid. We’re clutching at straws now but Billy Bragg’s work habitually reveals his passion for soccer. Meatloaf epic Paradise by the Dashboard Light incongruously yet effectively incorporates a lengthy baseball interlude, although apparently there’s now a Marvin exclusion zone within warbling distance of any major sporting event.

It’s uphill skiing from here.  Unlike the race, Kraftwerk’s Tour de France goes absolutely nowhere.  The Chili Peppers’ rapid fire ode to Magic Johnson is OK lyrically but sounds like crap.  Take the Skinheads Bowling by Camper Van Beethoven is something else again, the intriguing title and band name is all you want to know.  At least Black Box Recorder can be commended on their humorous mention of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski who ‘like true British heroes, they let the whole nation down.’

Alas, 35 years on and We are the Champions continues to thunder across stadiums all over the globe, still undefeated.  A bombastic encapsulation of the winning feeling, be it World Series baseball or World Series hopscotch.

The challenge is clearly apparent to achieve sporting glory; no athletic prowess required.


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