Sunday, June 06, 2010

16 Top World Cup Theme Tunes (Part 2)

In the previous thrilling instalment, we embarked on British TV’s journey from library music to classic opera in its search for a decent World Cup theme tune. In this concluding part, we embrace synth pop, retro Krautrock and the Great American songbook plus much more besides...

‘America’ (BBC World Cup Grandstand 1994)
Leonard Bernstein

After the rip-roaring success of Luciano Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma in 1990, the BBC knew it had a tough act to follow, so for its 1994 outing they went for something similarly enriched in national culture. Where Italy had its opera, the USA had its musicals, and what better a song to pluck from West End Story than the unashamedly shouty America.

As unrefined and brash as Nessun Dorma was pure and graceful, America was the perfect vehicle with which to make the nation sit up and take notice (as was essential for British football fans waiting until the wee small hours for some footy action).

Though never likely to be the commercial success (of sorts) that the BBC had four years earlier with Pavarotti, the song was nevertheless a perfect choice for its coverage and a country mile ahead of ITV’s selected theme...

‘Gloryland’ (ITV World Cup ’94)
Daryl Hall with The Sounds of Blackness

An apt name for Daryl Hall’s backing vocalists given the truly uninspiring nature to this ITV theme tune. From the clichéd saxophone breaks to the wailing soft rock crooning, this indigestible slice of American schmaltz had little to endear it to the public except The Sounds of Darkness themselves.

Having said all that, it did somewhat remarkably creep up to number 36 in the UK singles chart, after which we’re guessing it crept just as quietly back down again. To make matters worse, this piece of music was usually followed by Matthew Lorenzo in a media bunker trying (but failing) to generate some enthusiasm among the British public for a competition in which no home countries were involved. In a word, ‘forgettable’.

‘Pavane’ (BBC World Cup Match of the Day, 1998)
Composer: Gabriel Fauré; Sung by the Wimbledon Choral Society

By 1998, the BBC were showing they really had the happy knack for choosing the right sort of music when there was a World Cup on. Following the formula of ‘tradition + nationality = success’, they this time plumped for the orchestral piece Pavane by French composer Fauré.

Plaintive and haunting as it steadily built to a pleasing crescendo, this piece perfectly encapsulated the sense of anticipation that comes before a World Cup match or indeed the sombre reflection of former campaigns that ended in defeat. One might even proffer that the tumultuous choral ending is indicative of the determination to strive for glory through pain and suffering.

Either way, it was enhanced no end by a clever opening title sequence that was full of understated Frenchness and nostalgic imagery to satisfy even the most disillusioned football fan. The song alone reached number 20 in the UK charts – a suitably deserving achievement for a fine piece of musical scene-setting.

Rendez-Vous 98
Jean-Michel Jarre and Apollo 440

Yet as if to prove that you don’t need a brooding, historical musical epic to compliment your World Cup TV coverage, ITV put their Gloryland nightmare behind them with a classic French synth-fest courtesy of Jean-Michel Jarre.

Working with English group Apollo 440, Jarre recreated his zingy track from the mid-80’s to instantly add some much needed credibility to the ITV programming. No doubt appealing to the younger television audience, you can imagine revellers in their thousands raving to this in Ibiza or wherever the drunken European generation were likely to take their summer holidays.

An uplifting energy-fuelled piece, ITV knew they’d hit musical gold and duly released the by now requisite single. It got to number 12 in the charts, and rightly so – this was a great World Cup theme of the sort that the BBC would probably never choose in a million years. Or so you’d think...

‘Tarantula’ (BBC World Cup Match of the Day, 2002)

Yes, the Beeb opted for modernity in an effort to reproduce the success of Rendez-Vous so a remix of Tarantula by Faithless was called for. With hints of the Orient punctuating every bar (and we’re not referring to the Leyton variety here), this was a musical mirror being held up to the host countries of the 2002 World Cup - Japan and South Korea.

Not immediately captivating to many, this was a tune that more than likely grew on you little by little with every listen. What was distinctive about it was its subtlety and measured approach to layering melodies and instrumentation one on top of the other. With that, hidden depths can be found and were heard every time the BBC’s World Cup coverage burst onto the TV, by now presented by Gary Lineker.

Perhaps not ranked as one of the great theme tunes of all time, Tarantula (or rather the BBC’s sampled version of the same) is nonetheless one that shouldn’t be overlooked too quickly. Of high tempo and modern to the last, it capably did its job doing what ITV had done so well in 1998. It’s just a shame that ITV forgot how to do it in 2002...

‘One Fine Day’ (ITV World Cup 2002)
Opera Babes

Ironically, ITV went in the opposite direction by adopting the old BBC tried and trusted method of having a traditional-sounding operatic theme. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to pay off as the tune they plumped for – One Fine Day by Opera Babes – lacked any kind of verve or soul.

Taken from Madame Butterfly, this classical piece was reasonable enough in its original context and certainly didn’t lack any oriental instrumentation, but it never really went anywhere. Compared to its far more melodic equivalent on ‘the other side’, One Fine Day (or One Fine Day We Shall See, to give it its proper translation from the original Italian) was the wrong piece of music for the wrong event.

A shame, then, that ITV’s recent ascendency in the World Cup theme tune stakes should be deflated quite so badly, but the use of Italian opera for an orientally-flavoured competition just wasn’t right somehow. Perhaps not the most heinous crime ever committed, but certainly a disappointing exercise in the application of music to sports TV programming - a sentence we duly admit you're unlikely to see on any other football blogsite.

‘Sports Prepare’ (BBC World Cup Match of the Day, 2006)
Composer: Carl Davis

Heading to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, both major UK broadcasters flipped back to their winning ways of old. BBC’s coverage had perhaps been lessened slightly by its dalliance with modern music in 2002, so back they went to the classics. This time they figured a composition by German-born Handel would do the trick, so Carl Davis was asked to conjure up some magic via the chorus of Judas Maccabaeus, namely See, The Conquering Hero Comes. Quite who it was that thought Sports Prepare was a good title remains a mystery.

In many ways the German equivalent to Pavane in 1998, this was a fine example of how to stir the emotions with close choral harmonies, trumpets and melody. Once again, it hoped to make classical music more appealing by putting it under the noses of ordinary punters up and down the country waiting for their footy to start, and whether it did so is open to debate. What it did confirm, however, was the BBC’s self-imposed duty to add some reverence to the world’s biggest football tournament by putting it on a pedestal along with some of the finest music the planet has ever heard.

‘Heroes’ (ITV World Cup ’06)

ITV’s last outing saw an interesting change of direction taken on a well-trodden path. For the 2006 World Cup, they wouldn’t just revert to modernity as had often been the case before – instead they went for something that was modern-ish and without any obvious traditional links to the host country.

David Bowie’s hit Heroes had been released in 1977 reaching 24 in the UK charts and was covered by many artists in the years that followed. With obvious lyrical references that were all too easy to absorb for glory-hungry football supporters, ITV figured it would be appreciated by ultra-partisan Sun-reading England fans and popular music aficionados alike. Whereas it might have been acceptable to trot out the original Bowie version, however, they couldn’t resist bringing it right up to date with a re-record by someone current.

And so it was that Kasabian were invited to perform their version of the song, and all things considered they didn’t do a bad job of it. Again, it probably won’t be remembered as a classic by any means, but this was miles better than ITV’s musical failure of 2002 and happily jumped on the Bowie retro bandwagon that had begun only a few months earlier with the BBC drama serial Life on Mars.

A respectable effort on which to end and the opening title sequence that accompanied it was a work of genius for which ITV should be congratulated. Whether they or the BBC will stumble upon the visuals or indeed the music to make 2010’s World Cup coverage memorable remains to be seen, but the answer won’t be long in coming now. Enjoy it when it comes.


Terry said...

As a footnote. "Heroes" was originally recorded in Germany during Bowie's "Berlin Period" at a time when he was heavily influenced by the "Krautrock" movement.

So there you go.

Chris O said...

Quite so, Terry. I only just found that out at the last minute... anyy later and I wouldn't have even mentioned Krautrock in the intro!

CaptRJSpaulding said...

Don't know if it's my age or just that they were so unforgettable, but I genuinely don't recall the 02 and 06 theme tunes at all. Only 5 days til we find out what lies in store for this years' 'choons'. I have a rather large hunch that it's all going to be a tad 'generic African sounds' type stuff, like one long Pepsi ad...

Chris O said...

Aye Capt. I believe TV Cream have beaten us to it when it comes to defining a checklist of such cliched elements...


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