The Good Listener: Where Are All The Great Songs About Football?
We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a stuffed Pikachu the size of an ottoman is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on music to accompany the new football season.
Joe writes via email: "While drafting our fantasy football teams last week, my friends and I were trying to brainstorm great songs about football — and mostly coming up empty. 'The Super Bowl Shuffle' is a classic, but not because it's some kind of masterpiece. The Hank Williams Jr. song they used to put before Monday Night Football is OK, or at least catchy, but the original tune ["All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight"] isn't even about football. I can think of good, or at least decent, songs about basketball and baseball. Why not football?"
I've been trying to wrap my head around this riddle ever since ESPN pulled "All My Rowdy Friends" off its football telecasts back in 2011, due to some controversial statements Williams had just made in an interview. Without getting into the justification for that decision, the lack of "All My Rowdy Friends" has created a sizable vacuum on sports television, because 1) Williams' song perfectly captured a football-friendly mix of sincerely giddy excitement and overblown silliness; and 2) other recent attempts at football theme songs, as performed by the likes of the NFL Network's Priyanka Chopra or NBC's Carrie Underwood-shaped lady robot, have felt like flat, soulless exercises in committee thinking.
For some reason, most of the football-specific songs I've encountered have succumbed to at least one of three temptations: to pledge allegiance to a specific team, to mirror the speed and brutality of the game, or to use football as a mechanism for marketing a product. All three approaches stand in the way of a unifying anthem, especially now that the modified "All My Rowdy Friends" — with its immortal chorus of, "Are you ready for some football?!" — has been largely removed from popular circulation.
I, for one, feel like Williams' song, with its simple emphasis on preparation for football, provides an ideal road map. The song is ingenious in its simplicity, because it's 1) a rousing anthem which 2) tells you exactly what you're about to experience. You're about to watch some football, dammit. Are you ready? Get ready. Because there's about to be football! And football is awesome!
This is, barring a foray into the atmospheric beauty of Explosions In The Sky's music from Friday Night Lights, exactly what I want from a song about football. As a fan, I am excited about watching football. Hank Williams Jr. used to be there to helpfully remind and instruct me to prepare for the onset of football. Then, when he was done, I'd watch some football. Sure, he'd throw in a line or two about the specific teams getting ready to line up, but that stuff was strictly perfunctory. "All My Rowdy Friends" was a perfectly uncluttered celebration, even when my rowdy friends were stuffed animals and "a Monday-night party" consisted of a heaping bowl of Apple Jacks.
My solution to your conundrum, Joe, is to raise a groundswell for an "All My Rowdy Friends"-style repurposing of Andrew W.K.'s 2001 masterpiece "It's Time To Party," to be played before the football game of your choice. (Now that NFL games are airing on ESPN, NBC, Fox, and CBS, it's not as if there's a shortage of networks that might take the plunge.) If you're unfamiliar with "It's Time To Party," I don't even know what to do with you:
Going forward, in the spirit of the reworked "All My Rowdy Friends," you simply ask Andrew W.K. — who knows a little something about writing advice columns — to replace the words to "It's Time To Party" with something better suited for football. I recommend:
IT'S TIME FOR FOOTBALL!
NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA NA-NA FOOTBALL!
There. Now you've got a great song about football. All we have to do is will it into existence. Let the letter-writing campaign commence!