Music: Rocking all over the World Cup
It used to be just a football tournament. Now it's a pop phenomenon too. As France '98 draws near, Pierre Perrone looks at England and Scotland. Next week: the rest of the world
Friday 22 May 1998
The BBC has pitched its stall at the classy and classical end of the market, and hopes The Wimbledon Choral Society's rendition of Pavane by Faure will prove a worthy successor to Puccini's "Nessun dorma" Pavarotti- style.
Of course, you can't beat a good old-fashioned singalong. The Scots do this very well, and Del Amitri pitch in with the Rod Stewart-like "Don't Come Home Too Soon". In the England camp, the friendly rivalry between Ian Broudie and England United - aka Ian McCulloch of Echo & The Bunnymen and pals - should keep fans, bookies and headline writers guessing.
Next come the mutant offspring of Frank Skinner and David Baddiel's Fantasy Football League and Paul Gascoigne's dreadful "Fog On The Tyne".Trevor Brooking impersonator Alistair McGowan chips in with "World Cup Crescendo", while Grandad Roberts (a pseudonym for Steve Coogan's brother, Martin) is hoping to serenade French gourmets with "Meat Pie, Sausage Roll", but the real foodie and footie obsessives will go for "Vindaloo" by Big Les.
This maddeningly catchy chant marks the return of "World In Motion" lyricist Keith Allen. Instead of New Order, the actor has enlisted Damien Hirst, Alex James from Blur (sour grapes at not doing the official England song?) and a host of comedians and cronies (Kate Robbins, Nigel Planer, Eddie Tudor Pole).
" 'Vindaloo' will be even bigger than 'World In Motion', Allen says. "I don't want to knock the official song but it's kind of about nothing. Not much imagination has gone into it; it's a cynical exercise. Ours is genuinely uplifting."
The video, featuring Paul Kaye (better known as Dennis Pennis) doing a spot-on impersonation of The Verve's Richard Ashcroft slouching through "Bittersweet Symphony", is the real selling point. "What we're saying is forget all that top-of-the-world bollocks; this is England. We do like Vindaloo," says Allen.
Tub-thumpers Chumbawamba have their "Top Of The World (Ole Ole Ole)". Drummer Harry Hammer is vaguely diplomatic: "The official song is pleasant enough. We wanted to make arecord that people would like. And we had the title before England United! Football and pop music are simply two of the most powerful mediums there are."
Which means that every record company with a half-decent catalogue or vaguely efficient licensing department comes up with something, and there are the likes of Football Classics, Pitch Control, Viva Brasil!, Football Fever or Allez! Ola! Ole! (the best buy but well short of comprehensive). Radio 1 clambers aboard with an unofficial World Cup playlist (ie, Collapsed Lung's "Eat My Goals" ad nauseam). I blame Nick Hornby, but the Fever Pitch soundtrack was a better collection than this year's sorry selection. Time to blow the whistle!
"To say that anyone has written '(How Does It Feel To Be) On Top Of The World' is an exaggeration. The sodding chord sequence has probably been around since the Middle Ages," says Ian "Mac the Mouth" McCulloch about his official song of the England team for this year's World Cup. "You can hear the riff in 'Sweet Jane' by The Velvet Underground, 'Vicious' by Lou Reed and 'If Not For You' by Bob Dylan.
"It's an old demo me and Johnny Marr worked on ages ago. At the time, he did the chorus. Since then I've rewritten the verse completely," says the singer in the Henley recording studio where he is currently working on Echo & The Bunnymen's second album since their comeback last year.
"Our manager gave an instrumental version to the BBC for Gary Lineker's Golden Boots, the FA heard it and the rest is history."
Did the lyrics take any longer? "It was a breeze. As soon as I had the opening line, the 'How does it feel', the rest came pretty quick. It's funny because usually I would never use the word 'nation', I hate anything that's a rallying call.
"With the line about the goals we painted on the wall, I introduced the idea of lost childhood, there's a sad vibe to it. I hope the song has got some depth, even if it doesn't appeal to everyone.
"Mind you, an idiot with a pair of Union Jack undies on his head might say: I prefer 'Three Lions', I don't want this poof with the funny hair and the sunglasses," mutters Mac the Mouth self-deprecatingly.
" 'On Top Of The World' is a great song, it's not throwaway, it's a very immediate tune. I didn't want to write 'Back Home' or 'Nice One Cyril'. I wanted to match 'You'll Never Walk Alone', which is my favourite football song of all time and a proper song, not a terrace chant. But some people like Chris Evans are slow and say I need a few more listens. It's like hearing 'Be My Baby' by The Ronettes and saying I need a few more listens!"
Since he has made the comparison with "Three Lions", the Euro 96 anthem, how does he feel about the new version unleashed by his former producer Ian Broudie and cohorts Rob Newman and David Baddiel? "Of course, there's competition. We'll probably go in at No 1 and the next week, they'll knock us off the top spot! But there's no monopoly on song or subject. Everyone is free to do what they want, be it a sodding remix or Dario G with the South American vibe to it, which is fantastic, or the utter nonsense of Chumbawamba. Why don't they go back to Billy Smart's circus or wherever they came from?"
The singer, a lifelong Liverpool fan who fancies "Owen to do it for England" turns on the NME and other trendy types who have criticised his choice of collaborators. "I wanted to mess about with the idea of who to involve. I didn't want All Saints, I wanted the Spice Girls, because people didn't want them to be there. Usually, I run a mile from other people in the music business and I don't enjoy videos at the best of times, but the Spice Girls turned up dressed to the nines, looking larger than life and made it work. It was a good laugh. That really impressed me, the way they can still enjoy it after two, three years of madness.
"Simon Fowler of Ocean Colour Scene was great and, after TFI Friday, Tommy Scott from Space was saying: 'This is boss, la!' You knew his grandma would say, You made us proud son!'"
Pitched squarely against McCulloch's effort is the Lightning Seed, Ian Broudie, with his reworked version of "Three Lions".
"When we did the first song, it was a bit of a laugh, we had a really good time," Broudie says. The success of "Three Lions", recorded with comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, surprised him. "They still sing it at every England game and even the Germans took it up!"
The staunch Liverpool supporter is nothing but frank about previous efforts. "No one remembers 'We're In It Together' by Simply Red, the official tournament song for Euro 96. At least with Ian McCulloch, the Bunnymen, the Spice Girls, the FA have made the right choice. But it just seemed that everybody was asking for "Three Lions" to be re-released or reworked. It was almost by popular demand. Everyone was saying, 'Go and have a good time again, will you?' And we said, 'All right, why not?'"
Indeed, the new version of "Three Lions" displays a few minor changes from the original.
"We decided to see if there was a good way to update the lyrical content. So it's got different words, different bits of commentary, and it is a different recording. But I haven't really changed much of it musically, it's very similar. Even though it's a new recording, it's more like an updated version of the other song. May the best one win!"
Scotland are used to underperforming in the World Cup. They also usually put out some of the worst football records (Rod Stewart's "Ole Ola" from 1978 still sets my teeth on edge).
Del Amitri frontman Justin Currie admits "there is a heavy dose of irony about writing a World Cup song called "Don't Come Home Too Soon". It's not your up-and-at-'em type of football song. It's melodic, it grows on you and it means something.
"Of course, making the last 16 would be a triumph for Scotland. I tell you what: Brazil have a great big hurdle ahead of them. They're gonna be playing us, they're gonna be underperforming and Scotland are gonna win," he says with a glint in his eye.
To ram home the point and make the world sing and laugh with the Scots, the video for "Don't Come Home Too Soon" parodies the infamous Nike advert which features Ronaldo and other players ball-juggling their way through an airport.
"The idea is dead simple," says Currie. "It was suggested to us by a TV producer who was interviewing me for a programme called The Truth About Football. He said: why don't you do a parody of the Nike advert? Instantly we said, 'Let's do it at Prestwick airport!' It's one of those classic tawdry Sixties airports that's unchanged since it was built. So the idea is that Scotland are real, they've got their feet on the ground, they're not swanning about in some first-class airport lounge. They're in Prestwick airport, but Colin Hendry and the others are displaying the same skills Ronaldo does in the Nike advert."
Del Amitri will perform the song at a party in Paris the day before the opening match. "They said: we'll fly you over, we'll pay you and we'll throw in some tickets for the opening game. We would have done it for free!"
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