Friday, 21 June 2013

Seconds From Disaster: When sportsmen meet microphone

As this article so rightly points out in not so many words there is little more thrilling in the world of music than the sight of an untrained celebrity let loose with a microphone. Whether it's part of a desperate (failed) attempt to capitalise on fleeting fame or as an impromptu singalong to an all-time classic as the result of days consuming nothing more than beers and faeces flecked bar peanuts at least you know if it's not good it will be memorable.

Sadly in the glory era for singing sportspeople - the 1970's and 1980's - Australia lagged sadly behind. It's no surprise that somebody finally realised that Mark Jackson and Warwick Capper could be worth a buck (years before an enterprising cinematic genius decided to put them together in lost classic Yobbos Up The Guts) but on the whole our results as a nation were disappointing. Thank god then for Britain and the United States - fading as superpowers but leading the world in ill-conceived celebrity sporting songs.

So, collected from the 70's and 80's glory era only here are some of my 'favourites'. Some will torment you under the end of time. Some rise above the odds to be quite good. Without exception they are always performed by men because women are too sensible to get involved in such tosh.

Giorgio Chinaglia - (I'm) Football Crazy (1974)

In which the Italian footballer, and latter day villain of the documentary Once In A Lifetime, bridges the gap between folky pop of the 70's and the Italo Disco era of the 80's as no other man would dare to attempt.

There's no explanation in either English or Italian that I can find for the pointless bracketing of the word 'I'm', other than that it was the theme song to a Joan Collins starring 'sex comedy' called Football Crazy which was also released under the far more 'hammer and tongs' suggestive name of "Playing The Field".

This is not Chinaglia's issue though, he was clearly there only to use his celebrity status to give the film a leg up at the box office. The film was in Italian, and while sadly no footage exists of how Joan coped with this, one can only assume that the theme song was originally in his native language before the above version was recorded for a grateful English speaking market.

With what sounds like a Copperart version of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass in the background Giorgio regales us with tales of his deep passion for the game and reminds of how well he's feeling. At least I think that's what's going on, it's hard to tell what he's on about half the time.

Eventually chirpy backing singers come in to save his blushes with even heavier Italian accents, but afte the first chorus they nick off and leave him to do the second alone with disastrous results. His attempts to hit a high note are noble at best, painful at worst. "I'm football crazy and misunderstood" it goes, which might be half right.

Chinaglia wasn't the only Cosmos player to take to the microphone. Pele was so good that he even provided a laid back theme to an autobiographical documentary (with a non-inconsiderable assist from Sergio Mendes). Even Franz Beckenbauer, one of the most sensible men ever born, had a go in his native country - though he needn't have bothered.

Classy Freddie Blassie - Pencil Neck Geek (1975)

In the spirit of Benny Hill's Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West), the classy one delivered his own spaghetti western epic, featuring lyrics which condone bullying, abuse and murder of 'geeks' everywhere in a fashion that would have him shot out of a cannon if he tried it now.

Keep going to the end where he pulls off the sort of skit so beloved of shithouse rap albums by De La Soul 15 years later. He attempted to relive the magic with Blassie King of Men, but it didn't have the same impact and he dropped off the face of the earth again until Andy Kaufman invited him to breakfast.

Guy Lafleur - Scoring (1979)
Everything I know about Guy comes from his Wikipedia page which reveals he was nicknamed "The Flower" in English and the far more dashing "Le Démon Blond" in French. However everything I know about scoring a goal in ice hockey (a subject on which I'm equally limited) comes from this 1979 disco extravaganza.

Backed by a group of ladies (or more likely one lady with her voice multiplied several times) who are forced to dramatically chant absurd words like "deke" and "hesitate" like their lives depend on it, Guy is thorough in his instructions on how in the unlikely event of finding yourself playing for the Montreal Canadiens you might go about not making a fool of yourself.

As far as useful instructional songs go it might have been better to get a pilot in to do a disco thumper detailing how to land a commercial airplane in an emergency, but if you're a hockey fan you might learn something from his laid-back conversational style of explaining the subtleties of his sport.

Interspersed with encouragement from the backing singers that "you can do it" and that "all you've gotta do is try", Lafleur details not only the stick technique that (apparently) saw him score 560 goals during his career, but also outlines the joy he takes in mentally dominating the league's hapless goaltenders.

By the end they were clearly running out of money for re-takes and don't bother to call him back in to clear up some phrases which are basicially indecipherable due to his French Canadian accent, but the track deserves recognition for the use of words like "predetermine" and "deflection" which may never have been used in a song ever again.

Kevin Keegan - Head Over Heels In Love (1979)

While Lafleur was mastering the art of disco across the Atlantic a poodle haired Keegan was marking the prime of his career by releasing a song so weedy it's almost painful.

Making his bid to simultaneously win a Leo Sayer lookalike competition, Kevin dons testicle clamping white pants and gamely attempts to smile through what was probably the lowest moment of his life until giving this interview. No doubt he wouldn't have been as calm had he known that the lights behind him were going to make it look like had giant technicolour wings.

Like most sportspeople handed a microphone and a page full of ordinary lyrics he's at his best in the passably musical chorus but unable to fully mask the horrors of the verses. His life force seems to ebb away in the last few seconds while he struggles to the end, with the lack of cutaway shots to the studio audience 'heard' clapping in mechanical fashion at the start seeming to prove that the whole thing was a tremendous swizz and that he was actually performing in a tin shed near Accrington.

To disprove any claims that "in 1977 punk changed everything" the track reached #31 in the UK charts - and an even more respectable #10 in Germany where he was based at the time. Shame.

Glenn and Chris - Diamond Lights (1985)

Unfashionable it may be, but close your eyes and pretend it's not two of England's most criminally underrated players of their era singing this but a proper musical act and against all odds its quite good. For the mid 80's. That's still no excuse for opening themselves up to a lifetime of ridicule by being roped into performing it live on Top Of The Pops though.

Clearly nobody forwarded the memo to Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle that when sportsmen performed songs they were supposed to either be absurdly over the top so we could all look in on the joke or perform an 'aw shucks' cutesy track a'la Keegan. Instead they teamed up to channel their inner Spandau Ballet, with surprisingly positive results.

It's nothing without the live performance on Top Of The Pops though, Hoddle having the absolutely undisputed time of his life while Waddle stares nervously into the distance hoping the studio is going to collapse while somebody smacks some hexagonal drums in the background.

With a World Cup on the horizon they somehow managed to get all the way to #12. Sadly England's inferior 1986 World Cup 'anthem' downplays their contribution and instead gives equal time to less successful recording 'artists' such as Peter Reid and Kenny Sansom.

Both men would later leave a Britain that didn't appreciate their talents (at football, not singing) and play in France, where sadly they were located in different parts of the country and were unable to resume their duties as England's answer to Hall & Oates. We were even denied a follow-up single as it was withdrawn due to Glenn going overseas and being unable to promote it. Thankfully the music video survives if only for the appalling sight of Hoddle necking with some new romantic trashbag.

Eventually each of them did something that made everyone forget Diamond Lights (at least until YouTube came along). Chris put England out of a World Cup, Glenn made his squad read a book about faith healing and said things about disabled people which caused him to be given the boot as manager of England. Time is well overdue for a stage comeback by both men.

The Chicago Bears - Superbowl Shuffle (1985)

Of all approximately 97 trillion ridiculous videos which can be found on YouTube for some reason this isn't one of them, and if that's not because the people in it are trying to wipe it off the face of the planet I'd be surprised.

I always liked to think that "every day I'm shuffling" song applied to this clip, a room full of football players rapping in styles best described as 'industrial'. Apparently they taped it before the Superbowl and were scared to death of it getting out in the event that they lost. It was the world's loss that they actually won and it got an even wider airing rather than being lost for 25 years until turning up on YouTube.

While the players who nobody cared about were forced up the back to pretend they're 'drumming' or are reduced to shuffling awkwardly from side to side, the stars of the Bears are sent up front to deliver ridiculous statements like Walter Payton's assertion that they're not trying to win the Superbowl to be greedy but to 'feed the needy'. Which must have come as welcome news to the actual needy of 1985 until they found out it got them nothing but the right to have good feelings about football.

So it goes for the best part of six long minutes, through sax solos, various horrific performances and the best of mid 80's special effects. It's noticeable that other than the star quarterback who was obligated to perform there's only one other token performance by a white man and he dances like he's in an iron lung.

Sadly the success of the song led to an onslaught of similar tracks, including the Miami Dolphins straight lifting U Can't Touch This and the late Los Angeles Rams' single entendre classic 'Ram It' where I'm sure they know they're basically using their club's name to suggest sexual intercourse.

The stars of the American Wrestling Alliance - The Wrestlerock Rumble (1986)

By the late-80's the AWA would be reduced to ashes by shithouse management and Vince McMahon stealing all their top talent for the WWF, but the company was still holding on to relevance by their fingertips in 1986. McMahon was about to completely steamroll them, but the AWA still had one ace up their sleeve - an arena show backed by a jaunty jingle.

The company had written its own death warrant by treating wrestling audiences of the 80's as if it were still the 60's or 70's, and by not making Hulk Hogan (shortly to become one of the most recognisable celebrities in the US) their top man when they employed him, so it was no surprise that their attempt to ride the coattails of the surprisingly successful Superbowl Shuffle turned out to be a bit of a farce. The Shuffle surely only 'succeeded' because the team were winners, while in comparison by this point the AWA's territory had shrunk to not much more than one casino in Las Vegas and the state of Minnesota.

The first mistake was opening with an intro (rapped of course) by the whitest man this side of Kevin Keegan. It didn't help that the promotion seemingly didn't employ one single black man who could (stereotypically) be relied upon to carry the show. They do, however, know what men who like wrestling also like and there are random appearances throughout from the stars of a production called 'Playboy's Girls Of Rock Roll' which was apparently on at Las Vegas' Maxim Hotel. Probably in the car park.

It's not all disastrous though. I must have watched this clip 5000 times, and after Ken Resnick's interpretive dance introduction the first actual grapplers to appear are not all that bad given the shocking material they're forced to work with. The Midnight Rockers were probably completely wasted when they recorded this (as they were most of the time) but they put in a reasonable stint ruined only by the background footage where it looks like they're trying to abduct children from a birthday party.

But they're young and 'with it', so it's understandable that they can sort of master the newfangled art of rapping. More surprisingly successful is the whole hearted performance by Sheik Adnan, manager of wildman Bruiser Brody (later stabbed to death backstage in Puerto Rico), who despite his relatively old age delivers the goods thanks to not being given anything too stupid to say.

Compare and contrast to Jerry Blackwell. The man who is later seen demonstrating his splashing technique on a wooden board is saddled with giant white headphones to prove he was in the studio singing live, but no amount of production twiddling and the pushing up and down of knobs could save him from sinking without a trace. He's screwed over again when a slow motion replay of the plank destruction shows that it's wafer thin and set up in a way that any sort of downward pressure would cause it to collapse.

Greg Gagne performs as only the son of the owner possibly could without being asked to leave, even throwing in a big 'whoooo!' at the end so you know he's having significant amounts of fun. He was until he started seeing their bank statements.

Once Greg's out of the way we're treated to the sight of Scott 'Razor Ramon' Hall and Curt 'Mr Perfect' Hennig stepping out of a pool and issuing threats to The Longriders - who you know weren't going to win because they weren't invited to participate in the Wrestlerock Rumble, but still got to go 27 minutes with the tag champs which goes some way to explaining why the company was about to cark it. This is followed by footage of Curt and Scott 'randomly' meeting Shawn Michaels and what appears to be a barely legal teenage female outside a casino, presumably because she hasn't been able to provide adequate ID to get inside.

Best on ground is clearly Nick Bockwinkel. Once again you could see why the company was going under when he was challenging for their title at god knows what age, but being one of the most underrated promo men of all time he rose above substandard lyrics to deliver a performance of rare class while sensibly refusing to be filmed actually singing. It should be noted that his opponent Stan Hansen is not in the video either, but that's because Stan was a legitimately ornery character who spent most of his time in Japan and eventually took the AWA belt there 'in real life' and refused to give it back, forcing them to strip him of the title and putting another nail in the coffin of the promotion. Speaking of nails to the coffin Bockwinkel vs Hansen got all of 10 minutes for the World Title and was the fourth last match of the card.

In the midst of all this there's a lot of sleazing going on between wrestlers and Playboy's Girls of Rock and Roll. The chief offender, to nobody's surprise, is Shawn Michaels.

Following closely behind Bockwinkel in terms of performance is Larry Zbyszko, a man who clearly understands the absurdity of it all and delivers his lines impeccably (including threatening to beat his opponent 'into a bundle' because it sort of rhymes with 'rumble') before leaving with a flourish that has to be seen to be believed.

His opponent on the other hand has absolutely no idea what he's doing, and there's a reason that nobody's ever heard of Scott Le Doux since 1986. He's not helped by his wooden delivery and the fact that he's the second person who has to use 'mumble' as a rhyme because they've run out.

It's a shame that we had to end on a such a low note, because while Jim Cornette's evisceration of the segment has its points the worst damage is done by Le Doux and poor old, ancient Verne Gagne himself - destroying any claim of Ken Resnick to be the whitest man alive with the oldest rap ever committed to tape until that old lady turned up in The Wedding Singer. Ken's back for another shot at the gold to wrap the Rumble up but there's no way he can get past Verne - there's almost no way anybody could get past Verne, the guy was 60 going on 90 and still booked himself in the second last match of the evening. Nails, coffins etc..

There was clearly no lack of ambition left in them at this point, scheduling their show for the enormous Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome and the AWA's answer to Wrestlemania II was a reasonable success, with 23,000 people through the gate, but they would never promote another show in a 'stadium' again - shifting their TV tapings back to the Showboat Casino in Las Vegas and when that fell over into an empty studio where they would die shortly after broadcasting a Turkey On A Pole match.

The Matchroom Mob - Snooker Loopy (1986)

In a way this is the worst song ever written, but in another way it's pure bloody singalong genius and will teach you how to play snooker like no instructional 'Snooker for Dummies' style book.

With all the top players signed up to the one manager, later introduced in the song presumably because he's bankrolling it, somebody obviously had the bright idea to make a quid off them and wheeled in music hall Cockney entertainers Chas and Dave to provide musical accompaniment. Thus we're treated to short profiles of each man where after their various traits (being Italian, being Welsh, being bald, being blind, being a choker) are listed he gets to sing the last line himself - in an endearing but universally tuneless fashion.

In between each profile we're treated to a chorus of self-conscious snookerists (especially the guy with the glasses who is not at all having a good time) suggesting that "we'll show you what we can do with a load of balls and a snooker cue" in a moment which confirms that this deserved to go much higher than #6 on the UK singles charts before revealing the correct order in which one must pot the balls.

As the clip on YouTube was uploaded from a "Ultimate 100 Really Bad Songs" countdown an additional highlight is all the comments on the video abusing whatever obscure station TMF is for including it. Seeing this - possibly on the same "worst songs" countdown - was the highlight of my trip to England.

Carl Lewis - Break It Up (1987)

Years before he did what all good US celebrities do and massacred the national anthem Carl Lewis had already released a song, and upon listening it's hard to see why they even invited him to sing the anthem in the first place.

Set against backing music lifted straight from a Sega Master System game the clip is interspersed with highlights from Carl's storied career and shots of him working out in a gym while singing the song in jazz ballet fashion while being surrounded by a bevy of beautiful fit women.

It's no Snooker Loopy, but his hip wiggling performance is worth seeing until a bubble blowing granny turns up and starts harassing him while he's working out. Fair enough I suppose, but the next thing you know they're canoodling in a spa where it appears he's the one try to seduce her while the lovely young ladies sit around watching. Celebrity kink at its best. God only knows why but eventually they nick off to the sauna where granny sticks a "do not disturb" sign on the door, suggesting that actual god's honest shagging was taking place between one of the world's greatest athletes and an elderly woman.

The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers - All American Boys (1988)

Sure as a WWF theme song it wasn't meant to be serious, and wasn't offered for public sale but a) what a theme and b) what a photo. The villanious Jacques and Raymond were doing a gimmick where despite being horrible, cheating French Canadian heels (unlike Guy Lafleur who was nothing but a helpful good guy) they pretended to love all things American - including expressing a preference for Barry Manilow over Rock and Roll. Game, set and match.

As far as wrestlers singing goes there's also Slick's Jive Soul Bro, probably the most racist thing Vince McMahon has ever produced. Which is saying something.

Gazza - Fog On The Tyne (1990)

Shortly before he turned into a hopelessly addicted alcoholic and violent wife-beater Paul Gascoigne was the most popular man on the face of the earth. In the wake of World Cup Semi Final tears when he realised a booking would keep him out of the final (thanks to old Diamond Lights Chris Waddle himself for making it a non-issue in the shootout) he became a true housewives favourite and probably the only Spurs player other than Jurgen Klinsmann who anybody has had even the slightest interest in since.

As his celebrity status went through the roof Gazza was wheeled out for something different, a cover of a Geordie classic from the 70's with the original band backing him. With a hypnotic beat in the background and an infectious arms in the air dance to go along with it the song opens with a mention of 'sucking sausage rolls' and while it never gets 'good' it has got something appealing about it. He can't sing, and it's a bit odd having him sing what a proud Geordie he is when he'd chucked Newcastle for Spurs two seasons earlier but while I wouldn't choose it as one of my desert island discs I'd certainly go into bat for Gazza's enigmatic performance ahead of many other successful pop songs in the following 23 years.

Then he did this, went to Italy, did this,scored an iconic goal for England, hit his wife a lot and took some chicken and a fishing rod on his quest to find a killer. He's not doing all that well these days.

Rounding out the Gazza discography was his #31 1991 'hit' Gazza Rap, where for some reason he's not wearing a shirt.

Sadly not going into the 90's doesn't allow us to look at snooker player Steve Ebdon's David Brent-esque "I Am A Clown", voted (by somebody) as the 'worst song of 1996'. Wait, yes it does.

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