Sports Illustrated's Ultimate Playlist
Music and sports are so intertwined it's hard to imagine one without the other. Boston fans sing Tessie and Sweet Caroline to rally the Red Sox.
The Alan Parsons Project greets the Bulls. One Shining Moment gift-wraps the Final Four. The action on the field has a built-in sound track -- a perfect score.
It works the other way too: Sports is infused in music as much as music is infused in sports. Last year John Fogerty was honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the 25th anniversary of Centerfield. This month singer-songwriter Terry Cashman will receive the same nod for Talkin' Baseball. In recent years Fenway Park has been a literal bandbox, hosting shows by Springsteen and the Stones, among others; in 2005, Jimmy Buffett (a monster Cubs fan and part-owner of a minor league team) played the first concert at Wrigley Field. Joe Frazier crooned, Bernie Williams strums, Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant rap (unfortunately) and former defensive tackle Mike Reid churns out beautiful country melodies. And the list of artists with sports-themed songs spans the breadth of popular music: Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Common, New Order, Miles Davis, the Pogues, Snoop Dogg ... and on and on.
That is the rich vein from which SI has mined its first collection of Sports' Greatest Hits. These aren't stadium anthems (no Gary Glitter here) or novelties (sorry, Super Bowl Shuffle). These are songs by serious artists who used sports as subject and metaphor, rated for both the music and their message. Many are by great storytellers with wonderful tales to tell.
The philosopher Umberto Eco said we like lists because they bring order to chaos and make us feel immortal. And we know that rock 'n' roll will never die.
Bob Dylan, 1963
"This is a song about a boxer," the always enigmatic Dylan said when he introduced this ballad at his landmark Lincoln Center performance in 1964. "It's got nothing to do with boxing." That's true, in the same way that Moby Dick has nothing to do with whaling. Still, Who Killed Davey Moore? remains a searing indictment of the fight game to this day.
Moore was a 29-year-old featherweight champion from Springfield, Ohio, when he defended his title against a heavy-punching Cuban émigré named Sugar Ramos on March 21, 1963. A crowd of more than 25,000 filled Dodger Stadium, which was less than a year old and hosting its first fight night. Moore gave nearly as good as he got, but in the 10th round he was knocked to the canvas for the second time, his head snapping against the bottom rope, and the referee ruled a knockout. Moore was able to talk to reporters for 40 minutes after the fight, laughing and joking about a rematch. A short time later, however, the swelling in his injured brain stem sent him into a coma from which he never awakened. He died three days later.
In the song, which Dylan performed for the first time less than three weeks after the fight, several characters deny their culpability in Moore's death. The referee, the fight fan, the manager, the gambler, the sportswriter, the opponent all sing, "No, you can't blame me at all." But the prick to the consciences of all involved -- and to the listener's -- is inescapable.
Little changed after the fight. There were Senate hearings and calls for boxing reform after Moore's death, and the ring ropes were made safer as a result, but the sport goes right on. Not at one venue, though. In the 48 years since Davey Moore's death, there has never been another fight card at Dodger Stadium.
The Beach Boys, 1963
Think about where surfing would be without the Beach Boys. (And don't listen to surfing purists, who'll say, "Better off." They just want uncrowded waves.) In 1959 there were an estimated 5,000 surfers worldwide. Four years later there were two million, almost all of them in California. The movie Gidget, in '59, helped launch the craze, but the Beach Boys, who first hit the local L.A. charts with Surfin' in 1961, broadcast the sport's siren song all over the world, giving the craze its anthem.
Oddly enough, Brian Wilson, the Pied Piper of surf mania and the eccentric genius who wrote the Beach Boys' songs and meticulously crafted their sound, was deathly afraid of the water. But he had a role model close at hand-his brother Dennis. "Dennis wasn't really a musician in the beginning," says Domenic Priore, the author of Pop Surf Culture. "He really did fix up cars and race them, and he surfed a ton, so Brian primarily was writing songs about Dennis's lifestyle." Safe in his room, Wilson cranked out hit after hit about surfers, souped-up cars, summertime fun and girls in bikinis. Surfin' USA was the song that launched the band into national stardom.
Fountains of Wayne, 2003
Adam Schlesinger, the bassist for the ironic indie band Fountains of Wayne, is an unusually versatile songwriter. He's been nominated for a Grammy (for the song Stacy's Mom), an Oscar (That Thing You Do), a Tony (Cry-Baby) and an Emmy (A Colbert Christmas). But of all his compositions, All Kinds of Time might be his most satisfying. "Every once in a while a song turns out better than you expected," he says, "and that's what it felt like with this one."
It begins with a sportswriting cliché -- a young quarterback with "all kinds of time" -- and turns into a moving ballad about youth, zen calm and coming through in the clutch. On a crucial drive the young QB drops back and, as tacklers close in on the pocket, finds time slowing down. Suddenly, he knows just what to do. He finds his open receiver, and the whole world is his. "I thought of that phrase all kinds of time, and taking it literally," says Schlesinger, who describes himself as a casual football fan. "I wanted to pick one little moment in a game and see if I could stretch it out for the length of an entire song. NFL Films was the inspiration, pretty much. I just thought of it with that super slo-mo vibe." That made it all the more satisfying when a few years ago the NFL used the song in a commercial with footage of iconic quarterbacks. "That was all I had really wanted for that song," Schlesinger says.
Bruce Springsteen, 1978
There are deliberate echoes of earlier muscle-car tunes in the opening lines: "I got a '69 Chevy with a 396/Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor." "I wanted my street racers to carry the years between the car songs of the '60s and 1978 America," Springsteen wrote in his book Songs. Those years haven't been kind to the Boss's racer, who is desperately holding on to his youth, a crummy job and the girl he won over three years earlier with his hot car. Author Nick Hornby calls Racing one of Springsteen's bleakest songs-which is saying something. But for its magic of summoning an entire world of street racing in under seven minutes, it's a powerful piece of songwriting.