x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tracks and fields

Sport can be an art form but can an art form be athletic? We catalogue the five best collaborations between music and sport.

Members of the English rock group New Order with the comedian Keith Allen (second from right) and the footballer John Barnes (third from right) after they recorded World in Motion in 1990.
Members of the English rock group New Order with the comedian Keith Allen (second from right) and the footballer John Barnes (third from right) after they recorded World in Motion in 1990.

"I'm flabbergasted by all the interest, frankly," says The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon about his upcoming album, The Duckworth Lewis Method. The reason? It's all about cricket. Hannon told The Scotsman that he can't imagine why anyone should be interested in his collection of songs about "the king's sport", as he calls it, which was recorded with the folk artist Thomas Walsh of Pugwash, and features tracks such as Test Match Special, The Nightwatchman and Jiggery Pokery. But should he really be surprised by the interest in an album about the most popular bat and ball sport in the world?

Sport and music have been entwined since Vivaldi, Haydn and Berlioz wrote melodies for hunts, and cricket has found its way into popular song more often than you might think. Cricketers appear on the title page of Matthias von Holst's Village Rondo written in 1812, while in the modern era, Roy Harper has given the world When An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease. Then there's 10cc's Dreadlock Holiday, The Kinks' Cricket, Paul Kelly's Bradman, and I-Roy's Tribute to Michael Holding. There are so many songs about cricket, in fact, that in 1981 David Allan wrote a book called, handily enough, A Song for Cricket.

Cricket is not the only sport that find its way into song. We have composed a list of the five best songs inspired by or in honour of sports as diverse as football, boxing, cycling and athletics. Hannon, prepare to be flabbergasted some more. 1. World in Motion by New Order and the England 1990 World Cup Squad Blurb: The best football song ever made. OK, so there's not a tonne of competition. When New Order assembled the England football squad to sing "Eng-ger-land!" (practically their only contribution to the song), they were appalled. Despite being sportsmen at the height of their powers, certain members of the 1990 World Cup squad appeared to act more like world-class party animals during their stint in the studio. Perhaps it was fitting given that the lyrics were penned by Lily's dad, the comedian Keith Allen.

Sample lyric: "We ain't no hooligans; this ain't a football song," raps John Barnes. Are you sure? They said: "It's a song that uses soccer as a metaphor for raving and resistance." - Pictchfork.com 2. Tour De France by Kraftwerk Blurb: Four Düsseldorf modernists sing about cycling in French. It shouldn't work, but it does. When the band leader Ralph Hutter took up cycling, he wanted to base an entire album around his new hobby. Meeting perhaps understandable resistance from the other members of the group, he settled on just the one song. But during the recording Hutter had an accident and lay in a coma for days. When he recovered, two things had changed: he was now utterly obsessed with cycling and, incredibly, he and his Teutonic bandmates were being hailed as the godfathers of hip-hop. As the techno ace Carl Craig later commented: "They were so stiff, they were funky."

Sample lyric: "Crevaison sur les paves/Le velo vite repare/Le peloton est regroupe/Camarades et amitie". Translation: "Flat tire on the paving stones/The bicycle is repaired quickly/The peloton is regrouped/ Comrades and friendship." They don't write lyrics like that anymore. They said: "They changed pop music forever." - Rolling Stone 3. When Saturday Comes by The Undertones Blurb: The song that launched a great football magazine and a less-than-great football film.

Ironically, The Undertones' song is not strictly about football (it barely makes any sense), but it's easy to see why many thought it was. The Derry, Northern Ireland, band were football mad - in line with their teen image - and the song's title sums up the excitement and expectation around a big match. The "half decent football magazine" of the same name suggested that football fans could be smart and funny. The movie, which starred Sean Bean, Emily Lloyd and Pete Postlethwaite, was panned as "Roy of the Rovers meets Emmerdale Farm" by Time Out magazine.

Sample lyric: "Everywhere there's sceptic magazines/Shooting different colour jelly beans." They said: "The Undertones had the fierce passion of rock 'n' roll believers." - The New York Times 4. Eye of the Tiger by Survivor Blurb: The boxing song's knockout punch. Commissioned by Sylvester Stallone for the third movie in his boxing franchise, Rocky, the song has captured the emotional arc of every pugilistic or sporting confrontation ever since. In fact, Eye of the Tiger's cultural reach is staggering: the rappers Ice Cube and DMX have covered it; The Simpsons has lampooned it; and even the Jonas Brothers have got in on the act, recording a version that was recently pummelled by fans and critics alike. Today, Eye of the Tiger is the official theme of the Australian National Rugby League Team the Wests Tigers, but they don't use the original version as heard in the film. That featured a growling tiger.

Sample lyric: "Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past/You must fight just to keep them alive!" They said: It won an Academy Award for best original song in 1982. 5. Stars of Track and Field by Belle and Sebastian Blurb: A sports song for softies. Despite sounding like a big girl's blouse, the lead singer Stuart Murdoch once toyed with the idea of becoming a competitive long-distance runner. This paean to the "beautiful people" who are good at sports at school can't decide whether it loathes them or is secretly in love with them. It settles on admiring them from afar.

Sample lyric: "Could I write a piece about you now that you've made it?/About the hours spent, the emptiness in your training/You only did it so that you could wear your terry underwear/And feel the city air run past your body." They said: "They're one of the biggest cult bands in indiedom." - Pitchfork.com