Thursday, 21 July 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 106 (Top Ten): AAA Sports Songs

So, anyone for tennis? The Beach Boys actually – and they weren’t the only AAA musicians with sport on the brain. So this week, to celebrate sports season, here are ten songs related to sports of all shapes and sizes, in strict chronological order. What a racket! (in the song about tennis we mean, of course!) Oh and an interesting fact for you – there are no spice girls songs about sports. Even those sung by sporty spice. I always said that band wasn’t fit!

1)    Karate! (a song from the Beach Boys demo tape 1961, later issued as ‘Lost and Found’ in the late 1990s): As far as I know none of the Beach Boys were karate experts, which might make the choice of this inoffensive instrumental number seem an odd choice – until you remember that only one of them actually liked surfing anyway! The Beach Boys sound pretty mature for a bunch of 14-20 year olds on most of the other ‘Lost and Found’ recordings – but not here; Brian’s shrieks of the title aren’t that convincing and even younger brother Carl sounds like he’s just borrowed his copy of the sheet music from someone rather than a song he’s used to playing. Still, in common with the other recordings, this is pretty darn impressive for the pre-Beatles era and delivers a few kung-fu kicks to what else was around in the early 1960s! Does it sound like people doing karate? Err no, it sounds like a bunch of young dudes surfing!

2)    The Boxer (a song by Simon and Garfunkel, included on their ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ album, 1970): Is boxing really a sport? Not here – it’s a way of life Paul Simon seems to be saying – with the title character pretending he can throw off everything life has to throw at him, whilst revealing glimpses of how hurt he really is every time something goes wrong. One of S and G’s greatest songs, this hymn to overcoming obstacles was recorded in various different places on umpteen different sessions and how they got the whole thing to work so seamlessly together I’ll never know. Every ‘thwack!’ on the drums really does sound like being in a boxing ring, but two people whacking great lumps out of each other was never as artful or meaningful than here.  

3)    Cricket (a song  by The Kinks, sung by ‘The Vicar’, from their rock opera ‘Preservation Act One’ 1973): This is a curious song by The Kinks which really interrupts their tale of corruption and politics in the village green. It’s sung by the ‘vicar’, a character we never hear of again and who isn’t one of Ray Davies’ more successful characterisations. His very English song is here to remind us that life is like a game of cricket, that we should always play by the rules and beware the spin-bowling given by the ‘devil’ and his followers (‘Beware the demon bowler!) Actually there’s quite a good extended metaphor to be had here, what with life and temptation trying to knock us off our safe perches, but it’s a puzzling song in the context of the rock opera and is something of an irritant seeing as the ‘rock opera’ has only just started getting into its stride. Does it sound like cricket? Yes, but only the most leisurely paced drizzling three-day event type! 

4)    Channel Swimmer (a song by 10cc, the B-side to their ‘***’ single, 1976): 10cc man Graham Gouldmann will go on to spell his end with the band working on a solo spin off album all about a bunch of cartoon animals at the Olympics, so it’s no surprise that even early in his stint with the band he’s delivering a song about the sport of swimming. This song, which like all the early 10cc B-sides never appeared on album, is a typical number of the time with the narrator moaning about all the awful little things happening to him – the solitude, cold water and uncomfortableness – before ending with the slightly bigger factor that he can’t actually swim. With it’s regular beat and fluid guitar lines, this song does sound a bit like the art of swimming – but it’s the early heats of a steady stately marathon rather than a frantic 50m race.

5)    Night Game ( a song by Paul Simon, from his 1975 album ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’): When asked what he most wanted to be if not a musician, Paul Simon once said he’s like to be a baseball star. It’s been a passion that’s run across much of his life (the musician in his ‘One Trick Pony’ film bonds with his son by playing baseball with him) but only once in song, with this curiously sombre piece about death. In the song a baseball team seems to be facing a rout, until you realise that the ‘two men down’ aren’t just poor players but actually dead, with the pitcher reverently given his uniform and shoes while in the grave. The idea is that the ‘in the moment’ feel of being involved in a sport happening in front of you is juxtaposed against time passing and the oldness of the stadiums in which the sport is played, which will outlast even the heroes who play inside it. Does it sound like baseball? Erm, not unless the grim reaper is playing the game!

6)    Roller Skatin’ Child (a song by The Beach Boys, from their 1977 album ‘The Beach Boys Love You’): From the sublime to the ridiculous, this is the fun side of the Beach Boys, with a stomp that mimics their earlier surfing records and the Brian Wilson-written Jan and Dean ode to skateboarding ‘Sidewalk Surfin’. The chorus line of ‘well oh my oh gosh oh gee, she really sets chills inside of me’ says where this song is going, as the narrator falls in love with a girl on skates. Dire Straits, of course, did their own hymn to skateboarding with ‘Skateaway’ – who’d have thought rollerblading would have been so popular in music? Does the Beach Boys effort sound like roller skating? Erm, sort of, at a rollerskating party perhaps! 

7)    The Matchpoint Of Our Love (a song by The Beach Boys, from their 1978 album ‘MIU’): The ultimate AAA sports song – a whole song about how the end of a romance is like a tennis match! Brian Wilson was on something of a health kick at the time, forced on him by the band’s ‘minders’ in order to bring his weight down – something which might explain this and the last track – although quite why he chose to make tennis his latest metaphor for dying love is anyone’s guess. Brian takes a rare lead vocal on this track, suggesting he was quite close to it, but sings it so so straight – is this a joke a la ‘A Day In The Life Of A Tree?’ or ‘HELP Is On The Way?’ (as in ‘you broke me just like a serve’). Or a heartfelt admission that his marriage to wife Marilyn was falling apart? (as in ‘No one could ever love me like you do?’) Does it sound like tennis? Well, not really, but there is a regular rhythm and lyrics about the two lovers responding to what each other does which could be heard in tennis terms. Really, though, music this slow makes it sound more like a chess game! See also the 10cc video for ‘Oomachasdooma (Feel The Love)’ which plays out the tennis match/romance scenario for real (the pun in the video is that the players ‘feel’ the ‘love’ score – ie they haven’t got anything on the board yet! And if you think that’s confusing, wait till you actually see the video...)

8)    Faster (a song by George Harrison, from the 1979 album ‘George Harrison’): Is it a bird? Is it a wasp? No, that funny buzzing sound you hear at the start of the song is George Harrison’s big extracurricular passion (no not gardening, the other one!) formula one. What a sport, as your AAA scribes can tell you, full of daring, intelligence, interesting characters, man with machines – and that’s just in the mechanics garages! Like many of the songs on this list, the sport is used as a metaphor for something bigger, with the bravery of the driver going out and driving fast whilst ‘living life in circuses’ juxtaposed against the bravery of his loved ones, helplessly watching events unfold onscreen. George, a real fan of the sport, is seen in the promo video being driven around Brands Hatch (back then the home of the British GP) by multiple champion Jackie Stewart, said to be George’s main inspiration for this track. One other little known fact is that George helped pay for Damon Hill to become an F1 driver, after his multiple champion dad Graham’s death left a financial hole – a fact the 1996 world champion Damon only revealed after George’s death.

9)    Stars of Track and Field (a song by Belle and Sebastian from their 1996 album ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’): There he was, playing discuss ‘for Liverpool and Widnes’ (poor bloke), with the starstruck weak-kneed narrator calling him and other athletes ‘beautiful people’. He thinks that that much commitment must take real talent – the hours of ‘empty training’, literally running nowhere – but is disappointed when he speaks to his idol and finds he only became famous in order to win sponsorship money and wear ‘Terry underwear’ for free as part of the deal. Yet another hero dies young because of all the extra exhaustion she puts her body through, ‘she had the moves, she had the speed, it went to her head’. But her head, too, is empty, her only qualifications coming from sleeping with the head of the college. As the chorus re-asserts, are these athletes really ‘beautiful people?’ Or are they only beautiful on the outsides, not on the inside? A fade in, a short burst of adrenalin and then a rather painful-sounding ending where all hell breaks this loose, this is pretty close to what running used to be like for me, although the song fades before the panting and wheezing finale. 

10) I Don’t Want To Play Football (a song by Belle and Sebastian from their 2002 film soundtrack ‘Storytelling’): That Stuart Murdoch really didn’t like sports did he? To be fair, though, he was quite a successful boxer when he was at school so can’t have been that out of condition and in this case at least this song isn’t from the heart but written to accompany a film. Sung to the sweetest tune possible, Murdoch tells us ‘I don’t understand the rules of the game, catching, throwing, taking orders from a moron, I’d rather play a different kind of game...’ Hmm, blue army! Does it sound like football  - again yes, but only the way I play it, slowly, haphazardly and with a tendency to fall aprt just when things are getting interesting. We also have to add here the presence of a real live footballer, Paul Gascoigne, on a remake of Lindisfarne’s ‘Fog On The Tyne’ which made #2 in the charts. Even more shocking, I actually bought a copy just to hear the B-side which features a sample of Alan Hull and Marty Cragg singing the title hundreds of times over, set to a horrible 1990s disco beat. Fog on the Tyne? Mine all mine? You can keep it sonny! Now what can I substitute for this record?!

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