The World Cup is not just known for action on the pitch -- some great moments have occurred away from the field of play and in the recording studio. Here's a top 10 of our favourite World Cup songs.
This is not a list designed to purely rank how good World Cup songs are. Which is a just as well, because not many of them are any good. This one in particular -- the official England song for the 1998 World Cup in France -- is terrible but it earns a place on this list because of the truly surreal lineup cobbled together by the FA. England United were a “super-group” comprised of the Spice Girls, Echo and the Bunnyman singer Ian McCulloch, Space and Simon Fowler from Ocean Colour Scene. The song wasn't exactly highly thought of by the English public at large, either. It was booed when it was played at Wembley and Ian Wright was vocal in his criticism of the track despite appearing in the video himself.
9. Brasil Os Vencedores - Brazil 1950
Most of the songs on this list we have provided links to, so you can hear them and judge their quality or otherwise, but not this one. This isn't due to idleness or poor archiving but simply because Brasil Os Vencedores (Brazil The Victors) was never recorded or played in public. The song was written in anticipation of the home side's win over Uruguay in the final game of the 1950 tournament, but as those of you familiar with the tragedy (in football terms at least) of the Maracanazo will know, that victory never came, as Alcides Ghiggia scored the winner to send an entire country into mourning.
The song, a lesson in fate-tempting, was just part of a wide culture of hubris that preceded the game with newspapers, fans and even the mayor of Rio not so much predicting but proclaiming victory for Brazil. A band was due to play the song as the trophy was presented to Brazilian captain Augusto, but the possibility of a Uruguayan victory simply had not been thought of. No alternative song had been prepared, so the actual presentation took place in a rather appropriate silence.
Most of what surrounds the World Cup is, frankly, fluff. Opening ceremonies, fan parks, merchandise and, in most circumstances, songs. Not so in Argentina 1978, when they pulled off a reasonable coup to get Ennio Morricone, film-scorer extraordinaire who of course wrote the music you'll hear in Sergio Leone's westerns as well as countless other movies down the years. And Morricone served up a neat cross between the cowboy, Clint Eastwood-style fare for which he was famous, and the sort of upbeat jauntiness that the organisers of events like the World Cup look for. Called simply “Anthem,” which depending on your point of view is marvellously simple or achingly pretentious, the lyrics are a little spare, limited to a few shouts of "ARGENTINA" at the start and then plenty of “Nah nah nahs.”
This is of course a fairly awful song -- a novelty record by comedian Andy Cameron for Scotland's doomed 1978 campaign in Argentina -- but it does retain a degree of credit because of its later adoption on terraces everywhere. Not that Graeme Souness, a Scotland player at that World Cup, was a fan. He said in 2007: “All that 'On the March with Ally's Army' stuff makes me cringe. And no, I definitely haven't got a copy of the record.” The song was inspired by Scotland manager Ally MacLoed, who rather brashly predicted victory for Scotland in Argentina. They were knocked out at the first available opportunity.
While Scotland's 1978 song came from a place of wildly misguided optimism, expectations had been tempered 20 years later. Del Amitri's gentle, rather lovely plea to the Scotland team to basically try not to lose all their games exemplified a nation now conditioned to seeing their team fail and often in rather flamboyant fashion. “Even long shots make it,” might have been intended as an optimistic line but actually sounds more like a rather resigned sigh; an acknowledgement that Scotland winning a few games could technically happen but don't get your hopes up, kid. The video, shot in Glasgow's Prestwich airport, culminates in a group of kilted Scotland fans advancing with purpose towards the camera, which could seem rather intimidating until you realise that Christian Dailly is in the middle of them.
You would imagine that as he was composing this aria from his opera “Turandot” Puccini probably didn't think it would one day be used as the title music for BBC TV's coverage of the World Cup. Largely because he wrote it in 1920, before both TV and the World Cup had been invented. Still, this slice of opera was a rather unlikely choice to make football mainstream again but it has been credited, along with many other things, with helping to make the game a more respectable form of public entertainment in the UK after the hooligan-filled 1980s.
Nobody really seems sure who came up with the idea, with stories ranging from it being Des Lynam's idea, to then-BBC football editor and former chairman of the FA Brian Barwick's, to commentator Gerald Sinstadt's, but the most plausible theory seems to be that it was used in a pre-tournament documentary to soundtrack Marco Tardelli's celebration in the 1982 final and it stuck from that point.
While “Nessun Dorma” is the song firmly entrenched in English sensibilities from Italia 90, “Un Estate Italiana” was the tune elsewhere in Europe. Usually known as “Notti Magiche” (Maigc Nights), it was written by Italian composer Giorgio Moroder and spent a good part of 1990 at the top of the Italian charts, also getting to No. 1 in Switzerland and No. 2 in Germany as well. And with an opening guitar solo the Scorpions would have been proud of, it's hardly a surprise this was a big seller on the continent. It also served as excellent montage music, as shown in the denouement of the classic Brian Moore-narrated “Every Goal of Italia '90.”
The era of the song performed by a squad of footballers is largely gone but the high point of that particular genre was surely the effort by the 1970 England World Cup squad, who belted out this paean to the folks back home. And don't they look every inch the pop stars, particularly Nobby Stiles, resplendent in his tux and NHS spectacles. The song reached No. 1 in the UK pop charts and curiously got to No. 2 in Ireland, where record-buyers and football fans were clearly hungry for a crossover song after their boys missed out on qualification.
Rock 'n' roll was pretty big in early sixties Chile, as it was in most places around the world at that time, as uptight parents everywhere tutted at the quiffs and cars and thrusting crotches that were destroying the morals of their offspring. The scene in Chile was known as “nueva ola” (new wave) and one of the most successful bands to spring forth from it was Los Ramblers, who were commissioned to write a song for the World Cup. Indeed, they wrote a whole album called “El Rock Del Mundial” (World Cup Rock) -- selling some 80,000 copies -- and the title track was a jaunty number that owed quite a debt to songs like Jailhouse Rock and so forth.
New Order was an odd choice to record an uplifting song about football, considering the band's background. Songs such as "Thieves Like Us" and "Bizarre Love Triangle" hardly carried the mark of the terrace sing-along. Of course John Barnes was picked from the England squad to deliver the rap in the second half of the song (the only other volunteers for the job were Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley, any of whom would have given the song a whole different complexion) and seemed to do OK, although earlier this year Ice Cube, to whom we'll defer on all things hip hop, described his performance as “girly rap.” Nevertheless, Barnes isn't shy about reprising his performance these days as an enterprising holiday-maker recently discovered when they asked him for a rendition. Incidentally, Kenneth Wolstenholme's “They think it's all over” line is used but it's not the original version -- he re-recorded it for New Order to use.