Jay-Z's 'Empire State of Mind' the latest in a long tradition of sports anthems
The history of music at sporting events dates back at least to the 19th Century, when the Spiros Samaras-penned Olympic theme was performed at the 1896 games in Athens. More than 110 years later, music and sport continue to share the spotlight. Witness the New York Yankees' adoption of Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" as their theme song on their recent championship run. Not only did Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform the track live at Yankee Stadium before Game 2 of the World Series--the MC offered a reprise performance (with Bridget Kelly pinch-hitting for Keys) a week later at the Yankees' victory parade.
Prior to the performance, Jay-Z rode on one of the parade's floats with star Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and was introduced by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proclaimed that the song "has become one of the newest anthems of the Yankees." Bloomberg went on to call Jay-Z "a great Yankee fan and a great New Yorker." Below, SoundSpike takes a look at some of the sporting world's greatest hits, misses, and just plain screwball choices.
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"Empire State of Mind," Jay-Z (featuring Alicia Keys)
Pairing the track with the Bronx Bombers seemed like a natural, since Hova mentions the fact that he's often seen at Yankee games and he claims to be "the new Sinatra," a reference to Ol' Blue Eyes' "Theme from 'New York, New York.'" "Empire State of Mind," released in fall 2009, first started to gain traction at Yankee Stadium as team captain Derek Jeter's at-bat music. "I think it's special for all of New York," Jeter has said of the song. "I think it almost seems like it's the anthem for New York right now. I got an opportunity to get to know Jay-Z throughout the years and he's very, very talented doing a lot of things. But he knows what he's doing, so I think New York has kind of embraced that song."
Nonetheless, it's a little surprising that Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and company let Jay-Z's boastful dis, "I made a Yankee cap more famous than a Yankee can" slip by, and then there are the multiple uses of the N-word and references to Crips, MDMA, and Ambien making "Empire State of Mind" perhaps an odd choice for a wholesome sports anthem. Will this Jay-Z track have the lasting impact of Sinatra's classic? Doubtful, but expect to hear it in Yankee Stadium for several years to come.
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"Theme from 'New York, New York,'" Frank Sinatra
The song that "Empire State of Mind" will have a hard time replacing. For one thing, Jay-Z may be a popular, innovative artist, but he's not "the new Sinatra." The classic recordings of Sinatra have become part of the fabric of America. This song has an interesting history of its own and as it relates to the Yankees. Written by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb for Liza Minnelli to perform in Martin Scorese's 1977 film "New York, New York," an early version was dismissed by the film's co-star Robert De Niro, who said it "had to be stronger." The criticism initially insulted the songwriters, but subsequently inspired them to do better work. Sinatra recorded the song in 1980 and had a Top 40 hit with the track. Although it's identified as the Yankees' song, crosstown rivals the Mets actually had snippets played during the 1986 World Series. The NBA's Knicks and NHL's Rangers also frequently play the tune at their games. For a time, Sinatra's version was played after Yankee victories, while Minnelli's take was reserved for losses. That, however, upset Minnelli, who apparently didn't want her version to be affiliated with losers and demanded it be played when the Yanks won. Ultimately, Minnelli lost as the Yanks chose to go with Frank's version, win or lose. If we can be so bold to offer the Yanks a suggestion, Cat Power's sultry 2008 version might help take the sting away from those disappointing loses.
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"I Love L.A.," Randy Newman
Considering it's ubiquitous at Los Angeles sports events, it's kind of surprising that this track from Newman's 1983 album "Trouble In Paradise" wasn't an actual chart hit, but then again, maybe the rest of the country doesn't love L.A. as much as Los Angelenos. Heard at Staples Center and Dodger Stadium after home-team wins, the song also turned up in a Nike commercial during the telecast of the 1984 Olympics, which were held in L.A. Perhaps lost among all the celebrating is Newman's sardonic wit, which juxtaposes the city's beauty with some of its problems. "Look at that mountain, look at those trees," Newman sings, before adding, "Look at the bum over there, man, he's down on his knees." Since the Dodgers were once referred to as the Brooklyn Bums, perhaps that line can be applied to whichever boy in blue is in a slump during various points in those long seasons.
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"I Left My Heart in San Francisco," Tony Bennett
The appropriate Left Coast answer to the Yankees' use of "Theme from 'New York, New York,'" from a team that once also called the Big Apple home. Bennett's recording is even more of a classic, if part of the criteria for determining a classic is age. The song was written by composer George Cory and lyricist Douglass Cross in 1954, and recorded by Bennett as the title track to his 1962 album. It also performed better on the charts, reaching number 19.
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Another natural city song for the hometown team--if the team happens to be in Cleveland and happens to be rocking. Originally released in 1977 under the title of "England Rocks" by Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter, the song was released with the new title in 1979. "I originally wrote 'Cleveland Rocks' for Cleveland," Hunter explained in a post in the Horse's Mouth section of his website. "I changed it later to 'England Rocks' because I thought it should be a single somewhere and Columbia [Records] wouldn't release it as a single in the US (too regional). 'Cleveland Rocks' is Cleveland's song and that's the truth."
The song was covered in 1997 by the Presidents of the United States of America as the theme song for "The Drew Carey Show." Unfortunately, Cleveland fans haven't had much to cheer about lately, aside from LeBron James leading the Cavs to the NBA playoffs. In fact, one disgruntled Cleveland fan, who suffered from his hometown sports team's various brushes with greatness that ended in defeat, put together a list of his favorite sports-related songs that included The Beatles' "I'm a Loser." Who are we to argue?
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"Sweet Caroline," Neil Diamond
This unlikely theme song for the Boston Red Sox might be the strangest pairing of a song and a sports franchise, because on the surface there's no apparent connection--and yet it's been played in the middle of the eighth inning at every Red Sox home game since 2003. A Top 10 hit for Diamond upon its release in 1969, the song was inspired by President John F. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, who was only 11 when Diamond wrote it. At her 50th birthday party, 39 years later, he serenaded her with the tune via satellite. The song was first played at Fenway Park in 1998, as a tribute to a Red Sox employee who had named her baby Caroline, according to the Boston Globe. ''I'm not sure how it started, but we're very pleased that it happened," Diamond's publicist, Sherrie Levy, has said. As for the man himself, Diamond told the Associated Press, "I think they consider it good luck." At the Sox's home opener in 2008, Diamond belted out the song live wearing a Red Sox jacket.
"Don't Stop Believin'," Journey
A cheesy slice of mainstream rock, this power ballad was given a new lease of life thanks to its prominent placement in the 2007 series conclusion of "The Sopranos." But even prior to that resurgence, various sports franchises were tapping into the optimistic strains of Steve Perry and company. In 2005, the Chicago White Sox adopted the song as an unofficial anthem to their 2005 World Series run. After winning the championship, Perry appeared at their victory party, singing the song along with Sox players A.J. Pierzynski, Joe Crede, and Aaron Rowand. Other sports franchises to adopt the tune include NHL's Washington Capitals and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008, who continued through the 2009 season to play it in the middle of the 8th inning at their home games.
Unlike Diamond, Perry is less than pleased with the fact that a team has adopted his recording as their theme. The Los Angeles resident is a Giants fan who claims he leaves Dodger Stadium early so he won't have to hear Dodger fans sing the song he co-wrote. "It tweaks me to know they're using the song as a rally song," the former Journey-man told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I really wish [the Giants had] hijacked it first. I think the song is about hope and power, and it's working for them, damn it."
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"Blitzkrieg Bop," The Ramones
Considering that the skinny, gawky, leather-jacket wearing Ramones were perhaps one of the less-jock-like band's in the history of rock and roll, it's kind of ironic that this song--written by drummer Tommy and bassist Dee Dee, and named for the German World War II attack tactic--has become a rallying cry at sporting events. Yet, somehow, the rallying cries of "Hey! Ho! Let's Go!" work perfectly in a stadium surrounding. It should be noted that The Ramones do have at least one lyrical connection with baseball: "Beat on the Brat," another song from the band's 1976 debut album, includes the repeated lyric, "Beat on the brat with a baseball bat." However, we're sure that would be deemed inappropriate for stadium play.
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"Rock and Roll Part 2," Gary Glitter
Co-written and performed by Brit glam-rocker Gary Glitter, "Rock and Roll Part 2"--which has become known as "The 'Hey' Song"--is another classic stadium chant-and-clap-along, but the 1972 top 10 hit went MIA after Glitter was convicted of child molestation in Vietnam in 2006. That conviction came after he was convicted of child of possessing child pornography in 1999 and served two months in jail in the UK. Many college marching bands have been banned from playing the song as well because creative students across the country have changed the song's chorus from "Hey!" to "Hey, you suck!"
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"Kernkraft 400 (Sport Chant Remix)," Zombie Nation/"Stardust" from "Lazy Jones," David Whittaker
One of the stranger sports anthems to emerge in recent years, this instrumental tune began as part of the soundtrack for the "Lazy Jones" computer game for the Commodore 64. It was subsequently sampled by German techno act Zombie Nation in their song "Kernkraft 400" and somehow ended up in the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who, since 2001, have used it after scoring a goal.
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"We Will Rock You"/"We Are the Champions," Queen
The ultimate sports-themed double shot, "We Will Rock You" is the perfect rally-starting stomp-and-clap-along, while "We Are the Champions" is the definitive anthem for the victorious. The songs appeared back-to-back opening Queen's 1977 album "News of the World" and were released as a double-A side single, which reached No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100. Comedian Adam Carolla during a recent rant that reeked of homophobia, said that the latter song should be retired, noting that late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury did not seem like a sports fan, he died of AIDS, and the song is more than 30 years old. While Carolla is occasionally amusing and insightful, he's dead wrong on this one.