The Pearl Jam leader manages the rare sports song that's actually pretty good. What are some others?
Eddie Vedder’s song about the Chicago Cubs has been making the Web rounds since the weekend. You’ve probably been sent a link. My friend David Mlodinoff sent me one. If Dave’s not your pal, Google Vedder’s name and the song’s title, “All the Way.”
I’m not a fan of Eddie Vedder in the least. Guy bugs me. But I have to admit, “All the Way” is a nice song. It’s a folky singalong in three-four time, recorded live. It sounds a little like a sea shanty.
And, most crucially for a song about sports, it does a nice job of avoiding the hackneyed. There is an obligatory “Yeah Ernie Banks said, ‘Oh let’s play two,’” but beyond that, Vedder, a Chicago native and lifelong Cubs fan, obviously put a little more than five minutes’ work into this. “There’s magic in the ivy and the old scoreboard,” he sings, “The same one I stared at as a kid keeping score.”
Not Shakespeare, but a deft way to sum up the appeal of Wrigley Field in 20 words. And besides, Shakespeare couldn’t keep score worth a damn.
It’s a tough assignment, writing a song about sports, about a team or an event or an athlete, without inducing cringes. Try it. It’s hard to write verse about sports without dipping into rah-rah clichés or drippy nostalgia.
As if to illustrate that point, my friend Dave also sent a link to a farewell song to Yankee Stadium by Bruce Springsteen sideman Nils Lofgren. The song, co-written by Lofgren and his wife, Amy, is called “Yankee Stadium,” and features the chorus
In Yankee Stadium
In Yankee Stadium
In Yankee Stadium
Everyone is beautiful
Everyone is beautiful
Which leads me to ask two questions: Why hasn’t Springsteen instituted drug testing for his band members, and what did I ever do to my friend Dave?
Let’s take up a collection in the comments section. What are the best songs about sports? Let’s hear about the songs that avoid cliché and sappiness, that really illustrate something about sports, or a sports figure or event.
I’d like to limit it to songs that are really about sports, not just tangentially. So Bob Dylan’s “Catfish,” which is about Catfish Hunter as a pitcher, would qualify, but Dylan’s “Hurricane,” which is about how boxer Rubin Carter was wrongly convicted of murder, would not.
I’d also like to disqualify songs that are sort of generically or metaphorically about a sport, such as “Basketball” by Kurtis Blow, which is about how great basketball is, or “Centerfield” by John Fogerty, which is an extended metaphor. But you’ll do what you want anyway, so go ahead.
We’ll take the best suggestions, get a band together, work up the songs and take the act on the road. Or maybe just publish a big list.
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