World Cup Theme Music Through The Ages: The Not So Perfect Ten

East of the M60‘s round up of semi-forgotten World Cup theme music.

The World Cup is only a few days old at this time of writing. From what I have seen of this year’s tournament, I have yet to listen to the signature tunes on both BBC’s and ITV’s programmes.

Back in the era when multichannel television meant a little wall mounted dial with five cable channels, or way before then, we had some memorable themes on the main two channels. They form part of our ten choice cuts.

  1. World Cup 1974, West Germany (BBC): Striker, The Anthony King Orchestra;
  2. World Cup 1974, West Germany (ITV): Lap of Honour, The London Stadium Orchestra;
  3. World Cup 1978, Argentina (BBC): Argentine Melody, San Jose featuring Rodriguez Argentina;
  4. World Cup 1982, Spain (BBC): The Jellicle Ball, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra;
  5. World Cup 1982, Spain (ITV): Matador, Jeff Wayne;
  6. World Cup 1986, Mexico (BBC): Aztec Lightning, Heads;
  7. World Cup 1986, Mexico (ITV): Aztec Gold, Silsoe;
  8. World Cup 1990, Italy (BBC): Nessun Dorma, Luciano Pavarotti;
  9. World Cup 1990, Italy (ITV): Tutti Al Mondo, Rod Argent;
  10. World Cup 1998, France (ITV): Rendez-Vous ’98, Jean Michel Jarre and Apollo 440.

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1. Striker, The Anthony King Orchestra:

The guitar and bass breaks of the Beeb’s theme is pretty much of its time, with the wah wah effects making for something Alan Hawkshaw would have composed in the early 1970s. Aurally, it is a good fit for other sporting and non-sports programming.

2. Lap of Honour, The London Stadium Orchestra:

The sheer bombast of this number is enough to direct anyone to the television set immediately. It squeals of Muller, Buchan and Lato, whereas at the New Hall Stadium in Ipswich, another four hours of oval racing action! After the 1974 World Cup, it took on a second role as the theme tune to Radio Clyde’s Super Scoreboard programme.

Since the mid-1970s, oval racing promoters Spedeworth have used the tune to celebrate its winning drivers. It also features on the Spedeworth Tape sold at oval racing venues in the 1980s, which includes the gloriously cheesy Stock Car Racing Is Magic (sung by Bill Maynard).

3. Argentine Melody, San Jose featuring Rodriguez Argentina:

Superior to ITV’s signature tune was this effort. Written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, his co-collaborator was actually Rod Argent. Yes, the Rod Argent late of The Zombies and his eponymous post-Zombies group. It was a good tuneful effort, reminiscent of a music box rather than your typical sports programming theme.

4. The Jellicle Ball, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra:

Remaining with our favoured composer of West End musical, BBC’s World Cup ’82 theme wasn’t specially penned for the tournament. It was one of the main pieces of music in the musical Cats (based on the T.S. Eliot book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats) from 1981. The original piece was abridged to a spritely 30 seconds or so, making for a most effective sting.

5. Matador, Jeff Wayne:

I can never give this fellow a bad word, ever. He has All Time Legend Status on East of the M60 along with Ronnie Hazlehurst in the soundtracking department. Not only for The War of the Worlds, but also the signature themes for (the first and best version of) Good Morning Britain, and advertisements for Gordons Gin and ESSO. Oh, and the 1980 – 1986 theme for The Big Match.

More to the point, Matador, his World Cup ’82 theme is often overlooked in favour of The Jellicle Ball. It is very much of its time and, in its advancing years, still sounds pretty decent.

6. Aztec Lightning, Heads:

Heads was actually Paul Hart and John Salmon and not the Talking Heads after David Byrne’s departure from the group. Their effort (sounding like Paul Hardcastle’s attempt to celebrate Mexico ’86) was based on an already copyrighted piece known as Mexican Medley, written by Helmut Zacharias. It is a jaunty number, though one best experienced in full instead of the abridged version on the opening titles.

7. Aztec Gold, Silsoe:

We return to our friend (and a fellow Gemini to the creator of this blog) Rod Argent, who adopted the nom de plume Silsoe for ITV’s Mexico ’86. The name Silsoe referred to the Hertfordshire village of his birth. Personally, I thought it was better than the BBC’s effort, though very much the style of Rod Argent’s work. (In parts, I can almost hear the theme tune from The Two of Us).

Whereas previous themes were used for the World Cup finals, and only each tournament, ITV used Aztec Gold for the 1988 European Championships. It was also the signature tune to Saint and Greavsie. Then came Sky and Aztec Gold went the way of the Aztec Bar.

8. Nessun Dorma, Luciano Pavarotti (from the opera Turandot by Puccini):

This theme, bar [expletive deleted] none screamed Italia ’90 to me. It screamed of Gazza’s tears, Stuart Pearce’s penalty miss against West Germany and Roger Milla’s goal against Argentina (which I missed due to a much bigger counter attraction: Whit Friday, and the Stalybridge Band Contest at SIDS). Supposing I was to do this Not So Perfect Ten in order of quality rather than chronological order, this beastie would be top of the tree.

From the Puccini opera Turandot, it expresses in the best part of four minutes the agony and ecstasy of a typical ninety minutes. The jubilation at the close, the yearning for success near the beginning, and it did Luciano Pavarotti a lot of good. It also raised the profile of his contemporaries Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo.

9. Tutti Al Mondo, Rod Argent:

Meanwhile on the other side, there was a good home grown effort from Rod Argent, which sounded every bit as Italian as the BBC’s choice of theme music. Though from South Bank rather than Venice. This piece has weathered well, even with the slight 1990s-ness of it all. For me, a close second of that year’s themes.

10. Rendez-Vous ’98, Jean Michel Jarre and Apollo 440:

I am in no authority to comment on the 1994 World Cup themes having not seen a single second of that year’s tournament. However, I do remember the 1998 theme, a remix of an already good Jean Michel Jarre tune by Apollo 440. This was the fourth movement of Jean Michel Jarre’s Rendezvous from his 1985 album with the same title. It added an obvious 1990s danceable vibe to the piece and created a suitable bridge between contemporary musical trends and the host nation.

That year’s tournament promised so much for England, but it seemed to have been overshadowed by the new national sport of scapegoating a Manchester United player after a defeat. Still, a pretty nifty tune.

Extra Time

Feel free to comment on the ten above. As always, any corrections and/or additions are welcome.

S.V., 17 June 2014.


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