Every so often, a sports reference can make for beautiful music
Is there a less prescient lyric in the history of popular music than the one
The answer is yes, there is a less prescient lyric, and it's also about baseball. The Statler Brothers' single
I bring this up because every time Alabama scored against Penn State on Saturday -- and they did so pretty much constantly -- I looked at their nickname painted across the end zone and heard not cheering but Steely Dan: "They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call me Deacon Blues."
And every time the camera cut to Bama coach
It's hard to write well, and lastingly, about sports, and especially hard to do so when setting the words to music. I do like
But I also like that it's not a sports song, per se. This isn't a column, really, about sports songs, but rather songs that allude in passing to a specific athlete or team. Not songs that are devoted entirely to a specific sport or person (no
I'm talking about songs devoted to other issues that suddenly surprise you, as life does, with a familiar face or place, sprung from out of the blue. The Hold Steady wrote a 13-word biography of every Minnesotan I know in their song
Hearing that for the first time, I was reminded of the day my brother Tom and I spent in a bar in Paris because it had -- we couldn't help but notice, while walking down some cobblestoned side street -- a neon Minnesota Timberwolves sign mounted in the window.
Imagine another generation's surprise hearing
Speaking of the Yankees: In their country hit
And so it came as a great relief to know that the Beastie Boys'
Hip hop sometimes seems like one long sports reference, from
Indeed, the first sports lyric I remember taking notice of as a kid came over the north Minneapolis R-and-B station that I tried to listen to in 7th grade, its signal barely reaching our southern suburb like the light from a distant star -- a distant star playing the Sugarhill Gang: "I got a color TV so I can see the Knicks play basketball." The anachronism now, of course, is not so much the color TV; it's the desire to watch the Knicks play basketball.
But then, as we already know, musicians write about the shifting sands of sport at their own peril. Baseball is particularly intimidating, it seems. Fenway might be a "lyric little bandbox of a ballpark," in
Baseball gets all the poetry. But I submit that hockey has better songs. Maybe it's because there are so many Canadian singer-songwriters, or the fact that
Whatever the reason, there is poetry in the Rheostatics' musical ode to former Maple Leafs' captain
When the Tragically Hip sing about the transformative powers of female companionship, it's the Bruins who are left in ruins: "You said you didn't give a ---- about hockey/And I never saw someone say that before/You held my hand and we walked home the long way/You were loosening my grip on
Orr doesn't appear in the Dropkick Murphys'
You could write a book --
But the sport that has best lent itself to popular and alternative music is, not surprisingly, soccer. Where to begin? Eastern European soccer alone has been a strangely inspiring muse.
Half Man Half Biscuit are the
The Proclaimers, from Scotland, support the Scottish side Hibernian, a fact reflected in their lyrics: "I can understand why Stanraer lies so lowly/They could save a lot of points by signing HIbs' goalie."
If you're looking for songs about life, and love, and, incidentally, a Scottish soccer hero -- and I'm here to tell you that you are -- then listen to
It's a gorgeous song and I only discovered it years after its 1997 release. But that's a beautiful thing about music. Like the light from that aforementioned distant star, it can reach us across time and space, undiminished in its brilliance. Which can't be said for everything in life.
So when I hear The Hold Steady play