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Music

The Olympics need an anthem. Here’s what it should be

The long-awaited Tokyo Olympic games have begun, but something still seems to be missing, says Malcolm Jack. He got to work giving the “greatest show on earth” the soundtrack it deserves

As the sound of Martin Garrix featuring Bono and The Edge’s histrionic, accidentally Rangers FC-endorsing Euro 2020 official anthem We Are The People echoed around stadiums across the continent earlier this summer, we were reminded yet again of how the beautiful game and music (of often questionable beauty) are inextricably intertwined. Why doesn’t the Olympics – the supreme crucible of sporting achievement – always have such a prominent and identifiable anthem?

Most modern Olympics have had official theme songs, but except for Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé’s Kleenex-slaying continental belter Barcelona (recorded in 1987 and used at Barcelona 1992, less than a year after Mercury’s death) or Whitney Houston’s whopping One Moment in Time (Seoul 1988), few have really registered in the popular consciousness. The rest can generally be placed on a sliding scale from “High concept, low impact” (Björk, Athens 2004) to “Of all bands, why them?” (Muse, London 2012), “Wake me up when it’s over” (Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman, Beijing 2008) and “Honestly, I never even noticed” (Katy Perry, Rio 2016). 

Some furious Googling of this summer’s Covid-delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo reveals only a cringeworthy semi-comedic song called Tokyo Gorin Ondo – first announced in 2017 and by all appearances since disowned by event organisers – to register as an official anthem (it has an accompanying dance routine that looks like a very gentle geriatric fitness workout). Might it be time that the so-called “greatest show on earth” got the soundtrack it deserves? Might it be down to The Big Issue to select it? Pull out the pop podium, these songs are going for gold!

Chariots of Fire (1981)
Vangelis

If you thought the sound of running was intense breathlessness, a dull thud in your ears like your heart has crept into your larynx or the horrible wretching noise you make whenever you periodically stop to dry heave in a bush, then you are wrong. The sound of running (very slowly) is, of course, Vangelis’s synthtastic score to the multiple Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire. The composer’s own, shall-we-say “relaxed”, attitude to fitness is revealed in the video, which finds the big Greek at his piano, puffing on a cigarette.

Jump (For My Love) (1984)
The Pointer Sisters

There have been many songs about jumping throughout pop history, but being as some of them are either morally iffy (eg Van Halen’s Jump, a cool rocking song about suicide) or surprisingly quite violent (eg House of Pain’s Jump Around), few suit a clean-cut happening like the Olympics. The Pointer Sisters’ 1984 ode to cheerful elevation is, however, very wholesome, as well as scientifically proven to enhance all types of jump whether long, high, triple, pole or for my love.

Theme from Going for Gold (1987)
Sandy McClelland and Hans Zimmer

It’s 1991, you’ve pulled a sickie from school, Neighbours just ended – what now? Why, what else but watching affable Irishman Henry Kelly’s pan-continental battle of wits Going For Gold, the loosely Olympics-themed daytime Euroquiz show with the massively OTT soft rock theme song, co-written by a pre-fame Hans Zimmer. Forget besting Magda from Luxembourg in the Beat the Buzzer round after hearing that unreasonably intense banger – see if you can’t fling a javelin really far instead.

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Running Up That Hill (1985)
Kate Bush

It’s a little-known fact that Kate Bush is a keen distance runner and often to be spotted pounding the undulating countryside around her Devon home, dressed like an exotic bird, her great flaming locks tamed by a fluorescent lycra headband. OK fine, that was made up, but what is true is that in 2012 Bush re-recorded this, one of her best-known songs, especially for the closing ceremony of the London Olympics, where it was used prior to the presentation of Marathon medals. No agonising run up a hill is complete without it.

Jump in the Pool (2008)
Friendly Fires

While Friendly Fires’ hazy electronic dance raver may be less “jump in an Olympic pool and do 50 metres in under 30 seconds” and more “jump in the hotel pool with all my clothes on because I am on recreational drugs”, the fact remains that it’s a really upbeat, energetic song apt to get swimmers of any competency or motivation feeling the funk in their trunks (or trousers).

Fitness (2018)
Lizzo

“I got that ass that don’t stop,” sang Lizzo, in what on face value could be read as a reference to sprinting, but on further inspection, probably means something else. Pop’s plus-sized princess has described Fitness as a celebration of “the power in all body types”, a strong message we should all feel reassured by over the coming month as we watch disgustingly ripped men and women achieve extraordinary physical feats, from the comfort of our couches.

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