Sports Illustrated's Ultimate Playlist (cont.)
Mark Knopfler, 2000
A surprising tribute to Indy car racing from Knopfler, who said the song arose from his friendship with Stefan Johansson, a Swedish driver on the Formula 1 and CART circuits in the 1980s and '90s. It chronicles a fictional CART season: The narrator gets put into the wall at Phoenix, drives with three cracked vertebrae in Long Beach and barely qualifies at the Indy 500. His season is finally redeemed with a victory at Nazareth, Pa., the home of Mario Andretti. The song is only inspired by Johansson, though: He never won in more than 75 starts in F1 and CART.
Guys and Dolls, 1950
"I got the horse right here/The name is Paul Revere/And here's a guy that says if the weather's clear/Can do, can do." There's never been a better tribute to the degenerate horse player and never will be. Based on the short stories of Damon Runyon and with marvelous music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, the Guys and Dolls classic (best when performed by Stubby Kaye) nails the gambler's perpetual -- or is it misguided? -- optimism.
The Weakerthans, 2007
Who has the greatest song about curling? None other than this Weezer-ish band from Winnipeg. Here the sport of stones and sweepers is both setting and metaphor. Over beers at a bonspiel, a lonely narrator likens his inability to communicate to a curling rock sliding by its target: "Why can't I draw right up to what I want to say/Why can't I ever stop where I want to stay?" Appropriately enough, the tune rocks.
Dropkick Murphys, 2004
Tessie was originally a Broadway standard from The Silver Slipper, a turn-of-the-19th-century play, about a woman singing to her parakeet. But during the first World Series in 1903, between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston rooters sang it so relentlessly and annoyingly that it was said to distract the Pirates, who blew a 3-1 lead and lost the best-of-nine Series. The Murphys knew their history and released a version -- updated with lyrics about the Red Sox -- in the summer of 2004. Sure enough, that year Boston pulled off one of the greatest rallies in baseball history, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS and then winning the team's first World Series in 86 years. In the album's liner notes the band says, "We recorded this song in June 2004 and after giving it to the Red Sox told anyone that would listen that this song would guarantee a World Series victory. Obviously no one listened to us or took us seriously. ... Luckily for us things turned around for the Red Sox, and the rest is history."
Jane Siberry, 1989
A sports song? While this Canadian singer-songwriter is more closely associated with Grey's Anatomy than, say, the Grey Cup, she sings an ethereally sweet and impressionistic tune about the joys of pond hockey. But even shinny can get rough. Siberry drops a couple of f bombs and makes a nice reference to the riots in Montreal after NHL president Clarence Campbell suspended Maurice Richard for the playoffs in 1955 because the Rocket had slugged a ref. (A Canadiens fan later slapped Campbell during a game at the Montreal Forum.) "I remembered the purity of staying outside just to stay outside, the feeling of cold cheeks, sisters picking up and brushing off their younger brother," says Siberry. "The response to the song has been very strong. It seems remembering pure things brings a sense of loss, but it can be a good reminder to weave such joy into our lives."
Bruce Springsteen, 2005
If you think Racing in the Streets is bleak, don't look for uplift here. The Hitter is right out of John Steinbeck: It follows the rise of a fictional Depression-era fighter and then his crushing downward spiral. In his prime the character beats Jack Thompson, the real-life welterweight champ in the early 1930s. But in the end, after he's wasted his money and been forced to take a dive, he's reduced to pleading with his mother to unlock her door and give him a place to rest awhile. And then he's on the move again:
Tonight in the shipyard, a man draws
a circle in the dirt
I move to the center and I take off my
I study him for the cuts, the scars, the
pain man nor time can erase
I move hard to the left and I strike to
GZA and DJ Muggs, 2005
GZA, a founding member of Wu-Tang Clan and widely considered one of rap's top wordsmiths, outdoes himself here, working the name of almost every NFL team -- the Falcons missed the cut -- into this ballad of sexual bravado. (Note: The explicit content is not for the easily offended.) Admittedly, some of the NFL name dropping is tortured ("She told me to call her if I came to town/I started Texan her soon as my plane had touched down"), but GZA gets credit for the effort, and the lines that work are pay dirt.
Robert Earl Keen and Greg Brown, 2009
Heartbreak is essential to sad country songs, and whose heart has been stomped on more than a career minor leaguer's? Brown, who wrote the tune, and Keen team up for a bluegrassy duet about an aging ballplayer who has spent 20 years in the bushes and is ready to call it quits. His cousin wants to fix him up, and there's a pitch-perfect touch of desperation, pride and hope as the ballplayer says about the potential blind date, "she even saw me play once."
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