As big basketball fans, we were amused to see that fellow closet hoops nut Daniel Lopatin — aka Oneohtrix Point Never — recently released a song called “Rubio.” It’s named in honor of Ricky Rubio, the precocious Catalan point guard who’s currently filling up the highlight reels in his rookie season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “Rubio” is only available in demo form at the moment, but we like it a lot, and it inevitably got us thinking about other great songs inspired by sports stars — there have been some good ones over the years, along with a few stinkers. Here’s a selection from both sides of the fence.
Super Furry Animals — “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck”
This song immortalized a 1970s soccer player by the name of Robin Friday, who also featured on the single’s cover art. The hyper-talented Friday was a loose cannon, to put it lightly — he was known as much for his erratic behavior and liking for booze and drugs (he was particularly fond of dancing naked at local nightclubs, habitually dropped acid before games, and once shat in future Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson’s kit bag) as he was for scoring spectacular goals. Although he had several successful seasons, eventually his lifestyle and his unpredictability exhausted the patience of his managers, and he was out of the game by the age of 25. He died 13 years later — either of a heart attack or a heroin overdose, depending on who you believe.
Red Hot Chili Peppers — “Magic Johnson”
This tongue-twisting tribute to Johnson and the rest of the showtime-era Lakers is a pretty unapologetic three-minute indulgence from a band who’ve devoted plenty of one-liners over the years to their love of the purple and gold. It also features an exuberant solo from the the precocious young John Frusciante (a man who couldn’t care less about sports if he tried, from what we understand.)
Vangelis — “Theme for Chariots of Fire“
The film Chariots of Fire cataloged the story of two runners in the 1924 Olympics, and although it’s an instrumental, Vangelis’s iconic theme tune captures the mood absolutely perfectly.
Bob Dylan — “Hurricane”
Perhaps the most famous (and moving) song about an an athlete, Dylan’s lyric ballad was a sustained howl of outrage at the false arrest and imprisonment of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter for a murder he didn’t commit. The song was an example of how a piece of music can help to raise an issue in the public consciousness, and in 1976 — a year after the release of this song — Carter and co-defendant John Artis won the right to a re-trial. Sadly, they were convicted again, and it wasn’t until 1985 — 20 years after the crime — that the two were able to clear their names.
Barcelona — “Kasey Keller”
Is this the geekiest tribute song to a sports star ever? We’re definitely placing it in the top three or so. (Sorry about the commentary on the video, too — it’s the only version we could find on YouTube.)
Black Lips — “Noc-A-Homa”
Ladies and gentlemen, behold what’s surely the first ever song about a mascot. Yes, this is about Chief Noc-A-Homa, the really kinda offensive Native American stereotype who functioned as the mascot of the Atlanta Braves from the 1950s until 1986. This is a rather touching portrayal of the man behind the costume — “Children laughing at his expense/ Throwing peanuts at a broken man…”
The Dixieaires — “Joe Louis Was a Fighting Man”
Everyone from Count Basie to Yeasayer has penned songs about The Brown Bomber — indeed, Vanity Fair‘s Dave Margolick, who’d later write a book about Louis, wrote an exhaustive article about the topic for the New York Times some years ago — but if we’re gonna just pick one, it’d be this joyous doo-wop ode to the man, his life, and his enduring influence.
TISM — “The Parable of Glenn McGrath’s Haircut”
For the vast majority of the US population that neither knows nor cares about cricket, Glenn McGrath was a fast bowler and key member of the great Australian cricket teams of the 1990s and early 2000s, and was often honored by crowds with the “Oooh! Ah! Glenn McGrath!” chant that forms the chorus to this song. But you can appreciate the parable even if you have no idea who McGrath is, because underneath the cricket is a story about growing up and growing apart. And quite a touching one, although TISM’d probably never admit it.
Lil Wayne — “Kobe Bryant”
It’ll surprise no one that Lil Wayne supports the Lakers rather than his hometown New Orleans Hornets, and this song functions as much as a piece of self-aggrandizement as it does a mildly creepy paean to the LA ball-hogger. “He’s the greatest on the court/ I’m the greatest on the verse”? Oh, please.
Goldfinger — “Wayne Gretzky”