Whether by coincidence or necessity, the great sports movies always have very memorable soundtracks. I'm talking about songs that don't just make you reflect on a particular scene but transport you into the very essence of the sport itself. With this in mind, I decided to compile a collection of what I consider to be the best sports movie songs ever. Of course there might be some omissions, so feel free to provide me with some feedback in comments section (with your caps lock off, preferably).
Let's dive in -- I saved the best for first:
The Natural: Theme
Outside of Ken Burns' exhaustive documentary, The Natural might be the most finely crafted love letter to baseball ever. The soundtrack as a whole is fantastic, seamlessly transporting you to the era when the story takes places. But it's really that one specific horn riff (you can listen to it above) that makes me want to oil a glove while hugging Bob Costas.
Friday Night Lights: Your Hand in Mine
I consider the Friday Night Lights soundtrack to be one of the best movie scores of all-time. Not sports movie scores, movie scores period. Explosions in the Sky managed to perfectly capture both the bleakness and immense sense of gravitas associated with small-town high school football without singing a single word throughout the entire movie. If you're hoping to feel some feelings, this song will hit your right square in your feeler.
Rocky: Gonna Fly Now
The most difficult part of making a list like this was determining how many songs from the Rocky franchise to include. Montages are a fairly critical aspect of more or less every sports film, and Sly Stallone's movies more or less wrote the book on them. So I would be remiss if I did not at least include the most montagiest of montage songs "Gonna Fly Now." I honestly can't listen to any part of this song without imagining Rocky jogging around war-torn '70s Philly in sweats and a beanie. This song was nominated for an Academy Award in 1977 and -- despite Rocky getting the nod for Best Picture and Best Director -- it somehow didn't win. Instead the honors went to the theme from A Star is Born, which I'm pretty sure is the song that's been playing at my dentist's office for the past 24 years:
Space Jam: Theme
Rocky III: Eye of the Tiger
Believe it or not, we were extremely close to living in an "Eye of the Tiger"-less world. The horror.
Jim Peterick, the guitarist for Survivor, told the story of the song's origin during an interview with Guitar World:
I came home from shopping one day and heard a message on the answering machine from Sylvester Stallone. At first, I thought it was a joke, but I called the number and sure enough, Stallone answered. He told me that he loved the band and had heard “Poor Man’s Son” and “Take You On A Saturday” from our Premonition album and wanted that same kind of “street” sound for his new movie, Rocky III. He sent us a video montage of the movie and Frankie (Sullivan) and I watched it together. There were scenes of Rocky getting a little “soft” (doing the Visa card commercials) and Mr. T “rising up” with his Mohawk. It was electric. The temp music they used to accompany the montage was “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen. I remember asking Stallone why he just didn’t use that song for the movie and he said it was because they couldn’t get the publishing rights for it. At that point I just said, “Thank you, Queen!”
We've now reached the point where I don't even know what I think about "Eye of the Tiger." It's been used so many times, in so many capacities, that it's much more than just the lead song from a movie soundtrack -- it's pretty much its own emotion. It's the musical version of chugging Red Bull while sprinting after a gazelle that you plan on killing with your bare hands.
Holy hell is this music inspiring.
At this point, Rudy might as well be accepted as a work of fiction, but what a fine piece of fiction it is. It's difficult to imagine a more perfect "underdog coming into his own" song than "Tryouts" on the Rudy soundtrack. This song makes me want to get off my ass and try to become an astronaut or something. But I think I'll just finish up this completely subjective list instead.
Chariots of Fire: Titles
This song sort of fits in to the same "Eye of the Tiger" mold where its been played so often for so many purposes that I can't even tell if it's really that good anymore. But regardless, it's impossible to keep Chariots of Fire off of a list like this.
Bull Durham: Centerfield
John Fogerty's classic ballad just sounds like a daytime baseball game in July. The chorus "Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today" just sounds like me on the JV basketball team in high school.
He Got Game: Theme
Space Jam was included on this list because of nostalgia, but in terms of 90s basketball movies, He Got Game is kind of in its own stratosphere. The theme song was a mash-up of Buffalo Springfield and Public Enemy, and neither artist has ever sounded better.
Slap Shot: Right Back Where We Started From
"Right Back Where We Started From" is the perfect theme for a movie that might be one of the most glorious messes ever created. The song is upbeat, fast-paced and mostly meaningless which is more or less the exact way I describe Slap Shot to people who haven't seen it. Seriously, I've watched this movie probably a dozen times, and the only thing I've learned is that my parents generation was incredibly raunchy/well-dressed.
Major League: Wild Thing
Remember when this song/Charlie Sheen was awesome? I'm starting to realize that '90s movies more or less had a monopoly on fantastic sports soundtracks.
Karate Kid: You’re the Best Around
Subtlety did not exist in the '80s, which is fine because it resulted in this song being made. While the other songs on this list can prompt various emotions, this is the only one that has one sole message, and that message is "I'M F***ING AWESOME!"