Football songs, particularly official English ones, are similar to James Bond themes and have a long and chequered history. Most are terrible, some are pretty good and, very occasionally, one is fantastic. Art often seems to reflect footballing reality in this respect – take Embrace’s appalling crime against music that was England’s 2006 anthem ‘World At Your Feet’, for example, which turned out to be even less inspiring than England’s actual performance. Conversely, take the 1990 and 1996 campaigns, which both saw the Three Lions fall just short of glory, both soundtracked by fantastic anthems.
As ever, the rest of the world just seems to do it with more panache than the English, but hope always springs eternal when it’s a World Cup summer. With the 2018 tournament in Russia kicking off on Thursday June 15th, and a month of skills, thrills, tears and penalty shoot-out-induced heartache ahead, here’s ten of the best football songs to soundtrack South American flair, European sophistication, African style and English mediocrity.
1) ‘Three Lions’ – Baddiel & Skinner & The Lightning Seeds
The ultimate track in English football/music history. Written by Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds for the Euro ’96 tournament hosted in England, ‘Three Lions’ came to life with the inclusion of comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. With its unforgettable terrace chant chorus, the track was superb in its own right, so good that the 1998 re-recording also reached number 1. With Britpop at its peak, the track was clearly of its time and yet is still somehow immortal, one that still gives you goosebumps more than two decades later.
2) ‘World In Motion’ – englandneworder
Written by comedian Keith Allen and Mancunian icons New Order, ‘World In Motion’ was the first England anthem since 1966 where the players had led the song. The track was originally set to be called ‘E For England’, but FA bosses believed that football fans would link this to popular rave scene in which ecstasy was rife. A rap-off between Gazza, Peter Beardsley and John Barnes settled the most famous section of the track, with Barnes now immortalised in British rap history!
3) ‘Vindaloo’ – Fat Les
Recorded unofficially for France ‘98, Keith Allen (yes, him again!), artist Damien Hirst and Blur bassist Alex James set out to create a deliberately cartoonish football song based on bloke-y English stereotypes. With some help from their celeb friends, ‘Vindaloo’ was a roaring success, significantly more so than the officially commissioned track by Ocean Colour Scene and the Spice Girls that was booed by England fans when played at Wembley. The endearingly barmy track, replete with ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ video parody, remains a fans favourite to this day.
4) ‘All Together Now’ – The Farm
Liverpudlian indie band The Farm re-released their hit track from 1990 ‘All Together Now’ for England’s Euro 2004 campaign, a song whose lyrics concern the 1914 Christmas Day truce between British and German soldiers in the trenches of World War I. A track that appeals to the better nature of humanity, seeking to build bridges, it’s been a staple of British football coverage ever since.
5) ‘Wavin’ Flag’ – K’naan
The story behind how Somali-Canadian artist K’naan scored a global hit with ‘Wavin’ Flag’ is a long but inspiring one. Firstly, the original track, about Somalian independence, was a respectable Canadian hit in 2009, before being re-worked as a moving charity single by an ad-hoc supergroup Young Artists For Haiti following the devastating earthquake the following year. Coca-Cola then had it re-recorded again as a promotional track, slightly clumsily erasing all hints of darkness from the second version, slathering it all over the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, whereupon it topped the charts all over the world. Take your pick as to which version you prefer…
6) ‘Mas Que Nada’ – Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘66
With any World Cup, it’s only right to think of Brazil, the nation that’s won the ultimate prize more times than any other and whose flair has routinely set the tournament alight over the numerous decades. ‘Mas Que Nada’, the definitive cover of a Jorge Ben Jor samba original arranged by famous bandleader Sergio Mendes, is the quintessential theme to Brazilian glamour, and has been host to sporting adverts and montages ever since. Just don’t go near the toxic will.i.am cover…
7) ‘Nessun Dorma’ – Luciano Pavarotti
Used as the BBC’s TV theme tune to Italia ’90, ‘Nessun Dorma’, by sheer serendipity, is considered to be one of the greatest crossover sports theme tunes in the world. Luciano Pavarotti captured the world with the classical hit, an aria from the final act of Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot’. It even reached number 2 in the UK Singles chart in the aftermath of the tournament as it provided the heart-rending soundtrack to Gazza’s tears and Chris Waddle’s skied penalty, which is still in orbit 28 years later.
8) ‘Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)’ – Shakira
Shakira’s official song for the South African tournament of 2010 was much more inspiring than the bloody vuvuzelas that swamped every game like a horde of angry bees was overhead. However, it couldn’t inspire any of the teams from the African continent to glory – Ghana got furthest, knocked out in the quarter-finals after a ruthless display of poor sportsmanship from Uruguayan pantomime villain Luis Suarez – with Shakira’s husband Gerard Pique taking home the trophy with Spain.
9) ‘El Rock Del Mundial’ – Los Ramblers
If it wasn’t for Los Ramblers, then there would be no football soundtracks. A rock’n’roll / boogie-woogie concoction infused with hints of the sounds of the South American continent, it was written predominantly for Chile’s 1962 campaign, making ‘El Rock Del Mundial’ was the first official World Cup track. It’s also by far the coolest track on the list, if you want to show off your knowledge!
10) ‘The Cup Of Life’ – Ricky Martin
Made for France ’98 and unquestionably the greatest of the official tournament anthems, ‘The Cup Of Life’ made a global star out of Ricky Martin even before he started livin’ the vida loca. With a diverse range of world sounds piled gleefully on top of one another, it’s the immortal, hip-swinging and ass-shaking soundtrack to the tournament of Zidane, Bergkamp and Batistuta.
Tags: Ed Biggs, England, football songs, playlist, Russia, World Cup 2018
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