Pop stars look to strike gold with a soundtrack for summer

Mark Ronson and Katy B use the sounds of athletes training on their Olympic song, writes Elisa Bray
  • @Elisabray

Mark Ronson might not have been the obvious choice for penning an athletics-themed song for the Olympics. When he was nine years old, at his school sports day the superstar producer ran the wrong way in a relay race and landed himself the enduring nickname "Wrong Way Ronson".

"I was such a space cadet around that time," Ronson recalls. "It would have just gone away, if the coach hasn't called me Wrong Way Ronson and it didn't have such a good ring to it. I was pretty much stuck with the nickname for a good two or three years." Having moved to America when he was eight, the young Ronson lagged behind his peers in basketball and baseball, but he was good at long-distance running. "That was pretty much the only sport I was decent at."

It was Coca Cola who approached Ronson to create a song fusing the sounds of athletes in training for an advertisement campaign, and the producer, who's famously worked with Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen, picked the Mercury Prize-nominated London dance singer Katy B as his vocalist and co-songwriter, later explaining: "I think Katy B encapsulates young London in a way I never could. She reps London harder than anyone song-wise since Lily Allen."

Ronson spent considerable time with the athletes, taping microphones to them to record sound clips of them in training. The song's rhythm is in part provided by these recordings: the 120bpm heartbeat of an Olympian runner and the table tennis volley of pro Darius Knight.

The resulting song "Anywhere In The World", out next week, is no gimmick: it's an upbeat melodic dance anthem and chart hit in waiting. It's a feel-good hit for the summer. Listen closely and you'll hear the sampled panting and grunting of the athletes folded into the rolling beats, swirling, arpeggiating synth melody and the sweet harmonising vocals of Katy B; or the grunting sound of Darius Knight, which he explained to Ronson as being used to throw off his opponents. "And that was just as exciting as the sound of a table tennis ball," says Ronson. "We used everyone's sounds in a different way."

"We wanted to capture something uplifting and celebratory," says Katy B, recalling how in the studio, Ronson took to the piano and she added the lyrics. "For me, growing up in London, my inspiration was how I love it when there's an event in London that brings people together; how I feel when I go to Notting Hill Carnival or Hyde Park. Just celebrating London, really."

Although the pair had previously met when they performed in Ibiza, it was the first time they had pooled creative ideas. Katy B says: "I remember being quite excited. He's worked with some of my favourite singers of all time – Alicia Keys, Amy Winehouse and Erykah Badu." She hints we might expect further collaborations: the pair are spending more time in the studio.

Being asked to create a song sampling the sounds of athletes was a new challenge and one that Ronson welcomed. "It's a lot of fun to get into the studio and make someone's record the conventional way and that's what I do most of the time, but it's kind of interesting as well to have a different kind of challenge."

The Olympics is a fertile time for songwriting. Of course, Mark Ronson and Katy B's track is not the official theme commissioned for the Games that you will hear across television. That role went to Elbow, whose singer and lyricist Guy Garvey set to work on the official theme when he was asked by the BBC, off the back of their rousing anthemic number "One Day Like This" from their 2008 Mercury Prize-winning album The Seldom Seen Kid. They've written the song "First Steps", which the BBC will use across its Olympics coverage, and you can hear a preview at the end of this month, with the full version set to be unveiled on 26 June.

Other musicians have taken up the challenge of writing a song for the occasion – London rapper Tinchy Stryder and Amy Winehouse's former protegee, the 16-year-old soul singer Dionne Bromfield (pictured), have created the chirpy torch relay song "Spinnin' For 2012".

It's not always the official Olympics theme that makes the biggest impact. After all, back in 1988 in Seoul, the four-piece pop group Koreana may have performed the official commissioned song "Hand in Hand", but it was Whitney Houston who had the real hit. Houston captured the excitement and emotion of the Games with her internationally resounding "One Moment in Time".

"Anywhere in the World" is out 13 May on Sony

Medal winners: The two best Olympic songs

Björk, "Oceania", Athens 2004

In the most avant-garde official Olympics song to ever be commissioned, Björk's composition featured beatboxer Shlomo and a London choir. When the Icelandic star sang at the opening ceremony, her billowing dress unravelled revealing a 10,000 square-foot map of the world, which flowed over the athletes. The oblique subject matter saw Björk and the poet Sjó* write from the perspective of the ocean.

Whitney Houston, "One Moment in Time", Seoul, 1988

Written by Albert Hammond and John Bettis, the song was transformed into a carpe diem tear-jerking anthem by Whitney Houston. It may not have been the official theme for the Games, but it was a hit when the superstar performed it at the Olympics, and when it was later released as a single it became the singer's tenth Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

...and one shocker

René Simard, "Bienvenue à Montréal", Montreal 1976

Having enjoyed a successful career winning international contests in France, Japan and Canada, the 15-year-old choirboy sang over highlights for the opening ceremonies, but the song was a flop. The Québécois sensation moved into television presenting shortly afterwards.