THAT SOUND YOU HEAR in the distance is a marching band drawing closer, ushering college football onto the stage with its fight songs and halftime shows and end zone alma maters. College football has inspired songwriters as diverse as Cole Porter (who wrote the Yale fight song), Luther Campbell (who wrote "It's All About the U" for the Miami Hurricanes) and Brad Paisley, whose "Country Nation" goes, We're Mountaineers, Volunteers, we're the Tide that Rolls, we're Seminoles, we're a herd of Longhorn steer....
Music brackets our lives, from cradle to grave, lullaby to funeral dirge, and marks every worthwhile occasion in between: first kiss, graduation, wedding dance. Sports are no exception. You cannot hear "Sweet Georgia Brown" without thinking of the Harlem Globetrotters, and you cannot think of the Globetrotters without hearing "Sweet Georgia Brown." Handel's "Zadok the Priest" is far better known as the Champions League anthem, as surely as Rossini's "William Tell Overture" was reduced—or, some of us might say, enlarged—to the theme from The Lone Ranger.
Just as the majority of Earthlings know Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" from Elmer Fudd's bravura performance in Looney Tunes—"Kill da wabbit"—so has "O Fortuna," by an obscure German composer named Carl Orff, gained immortality as the terrifying orchestral Armageddon used by the Steelers, Patriots, Redskins, Cavaliers and others as a pregame portent of imminent violence.
You can't recite pi to the fifth digit, but chances are you can complete the following lyrics: "Hail to the ________." "Shake down the _______." "Meet the Mets, Meet the Mets, step right up and _____ ___ ____." That's because music and sports ephemera occupy 93% of your hippocampus, and mine. There are the songs that became teams ("We Are Family" and the 1979 Pirates), songs that squatted in our childhood brains and could not be evicted (the This Week in Baseball theme), songs that play in our heads on ski hills (NBC's Olympic fanfare) and touch-football fields (the NFL on Fox theme, accompanied by sentient robot).
Sports would be poorer without this music, and music would undeniably be poorer without sports, depriving us of "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" and "Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman, them boys up to something."
Music now fills every pause in every stadium and arena, where even a momentary silence is considered awkward and unpleasant, as on a first date. This fear of quiet is not always a happy development. But on balance, ballpark organs and prerecorded walk-up music and the terrace songs sung in soccer stadiums worldwide are inseparable from the action itself. Stirring orchestral arrangements are an indispensable soundtrack to the slow-motion-spiral porn of NFL Films. Music pumps us up, brings us down, sends us home.
And so there are songs that endure almost exclusively thanks to sports: "Sweet Georgia Brown," surely, but also "Sweet Caroline" and "You'll Never Walk Alone." How many newlyweds have entered their wedding reception to the original theme from Monday Night Football? (It can't just be my brother- and sister-in-law.) How many millions have exited Yankee Stadium to Sinatra singing "New York, New York"? It's a recessional hymn, the kind of thing you'd want to hear on your way out.
What do you want to hear on your way out? As your life passes before your eyes—a short highlight reel of sorts—"One Shining Moment" would do nicely. Before that song was commissioned, the tournament cake-topper was Kenny Loggins's "This Is It," which would also work as a musical headstone, and beats Peggy Lee singing "Is That All There Is?"
Play me out with the Theme from The Jeffersons ("Movin' on Up"). The softly tinkling piano theme for CBS coverage of the Masters would also make nice walk-off music, and it's the kind of thing that plays in a funeral home anyway. The bolder choice would be "Hells Bells" or "Enter Sandman," songs made famous by baseball's best closers and, in the latter, a musical cue—"Exit light, enter night"—that says, in more ways than one: Game over.
Music brackets our lives, from lullaby to funeral dirge, and marks every worthwhile occasion in between: first kiss, graduation, wedding dance. Sports are no exception.
What's your favorite sports-related song?
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