Cricinfo XI

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing

Andrew Miller and Martin Williamson take a look at cricket's contribution to the world of music

Martin Williamson and Andrew Miller

July 18, 2006

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Sport and music are not necessarily happy bedfellows, and even in that restricted field, cricket barely fights its corner. We look at the best - or worst, depending on your viewpoint - cricket-linked songs. As ever, feel free to send us your alternative nominations



Tourist pleaser: 10CC's Dreadlock Holiday © Cricinfo
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Dreadlock Holiday 10CC
The song that contains the oft used line "I don't like cricket, I love it", the lyrical equivalent of a leg-side full toss to any TV producer looking for cricket-related background music. The song was successful in its own right, reaching No. 1 in the UK in 1978, and its reggae rhythms mean that if England are in the Caribbean then it's sure to be resurrected by Sky Sports. The fact that the song had been embraced by the authorities to promote the game rather overlooks the fact that the overall theme is about being mugged while on holiday in Jamaica. Unlikely, therefore, to feature as Jamaica's World Cup song, especially as it came from the album Bloody Tourists.

C'mon Aussie C'mon Mojo Singers
This was the tune that launched World Series Cricket in 1977 and was a commercial and public masterpiece, hummed by children across Australia, not least because of Channel 9's virtual saturation airing of the advertisement. Blatant marketing of this kind had never been tried before, and the official Australian Cricket Board product looked old and stale by comparison. Over the next three seasons the lyrics were tweaked to reflect the different tourists, including some dodgy Caribbean accents in 1978-79. The song was given a new life when reality TV show winner Shannon Noll re-recorded it in 2004, with Dennis Lillee and Len Pascoe, the original stars, replaced by more modern players. Pigeon's pounding down like a machine / Dizzy's scarin' batsmen - lookin' mean.



Sherbet show just why the early 1970s will never be cool © Cricinfo
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Howzat Sherbet
The only out-and-out cricket title to have been an international hit (it was a No. 1 in Israel and Thailand) came from Australian glam rock outfit Sherbet whose lyrics told how an Aussie feller discovered his loved one's infidelity. How, how, howzat? / You messed about, I caught you out, howzat? / Now that I've found where you're at / It's good-bye. Sadly, that's the extent of the cricket reference. In an attempt to break the American market the band changed their awful name to the equally dreadful Highway ... their demise followed soon after. But by then they had had 15 consecutive top 10 hits in Australia and become the first band to sell Aus$1 million of records.

Victory Test Match Lord Beginner
In the immediate post-war period calypso spread from its Caribbean base round the world, and in Europe its popularity was largely as a result of the arrival of immigrants from the West Indies into the UK. Among the first to land in 1948 were calypso legends Lord Beginner and Lord Kitchener, and both were present at Lord's in 1950 when West Indies thrashed England at Lord's. A small band of supporters sang and danced their way round the outfield and all the way down to Piccadilly, and a few days later this tune, most famous for its opening line - Cricket, lovely cricket - and chorus - With those two pals of mine / Ramadin and Valentine was released. The song celebrated more than a win - it was, so wrote CLR James, the moment that the shackles of colonialism were broken.

The Sinking Ship Gypsy
This is a tune likely to make even the unflappable David Gower, England's captain on the 1985-86 Caribbean tour, grimace. For England, the series was a catalogue of disasters on the pitch, only overshadowed by the myriad of rumour, speculation and allegations stirred up by a large contingent from the tabloid press off it. The Sinking Ship was a tune popular in Trinidad at the time - it was actually the story of the island's decline following the death of Eric Williams, its Prime Minister until 1981 - but the lyrics seemed apt for Gower, and it became an unofficial backdrop to the series, played with glee whenever England were in trouble ... as they almost always were. Captain, the ship is sinking / Captain, the seas are rough / Shall we abandon ship? / Or shall we stay on it / And perish slow? / We don't know / Captain you tell me what to do.



Booker T & The MGs: American band produced the sound of summer © Cricinfo
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Soul Limbo Booker T & The MGs
For almost 30 years you knew summer had really arrived when the familiar opening tink-tink-tink of Booker T's classic started. Peter West, Jim Laker and six hours uninterrupted by advertisements or the shipping forecast were sure to follow. Although the song had a slight Caribbean flavour, it was actually recorded by the Memphis-based instrumental band Booker T & The MGs, who had provided backing tracks to many massive Stax hits in the 1960s. The BBC never really cashed in on the success of the tune, and for many the biggest wrench when Channel 4 won the rights to cricket coverage in 1999 was the disappearance of Soul Limbo. But Radio 4's Test Match Special belatedly resurrected it as its own intro music, to the approval of cake-makers across the Home Counties.

Our Don Bradman Jack O'Hagan
The gramophone may have been in its infancy, but cashing in on public figures had already been identified as a potential cash cow. Inspired by the success of Bradman in England in 1930, Jack O'Hagan, who was a big name at the time, let rip with this little ditty which included possibly the worst rhyming couplet in the history of the world. Our Don Bradman / Now I ask you is he any good? / Our Don Bradman / As a batsman he is certainly plum pud. Christmas turkey might be more apt.

Ashes 71 England squad
Inspired by the success of the 1970 England World Cup squad's No. 1 Back Home, Brian Johnston and Reuters' John Henderson, with too much time on their hands on the New Zealand leg of England's 1970-71 Australasian tour, penned lyrics to accompany an old music hall ditty called Winkle Song and it was recorded by England's Ashes-winning squad. But by the time the players assembled in a London studio the Ashes success was old hat and, despite considerable publicity, the public's imagination was not captured. In the end the royalties totalled £53.86 and rather than split the bounty 20 or so ways, a sweepstake was held and fittingly Ray Illingworth, England's captain, scooped the prize. Ian Chappell's tourists in 1972 responded with Here come the Aussies, based on a chant sung by Chelsea supporters. It sunk even quicker than England's effort.



Dave Stewart: perfectly timed release © Cricinfo
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All Over the World Dave Stewart
Pop quiz - which Stewart endured the most miserable World Cup campaign in the summer of 1999? Was it Alec Stewart, the England captain who became distracted by a pre-tournament pay dispute and was sacked shortly after his side had bombed out in the first round. Or was it his namesake Dave, the dodgy-coiffured male half of the 1980s pop combo, Eurythmics? A self-confessed cricket freak, Stewart wrote, produced and sang the official World Cup anthem, "All Over the World". "I was writing about how warm people can be and that sport can bring people together," explained Stewart. Unfortunately, the single hit the shops the very day that England were bundled out of their own party. Apparently the lyrics included such gems as: The sun is up, the sky is red, no grey clouds inside your head, life is a carnival. But seeing as no-one in the world seems to own a copy, you'll just have to take our word for it.

F***ing Hell, It's Fred Titmus Half Man Half Biscuit
Once described as the "most authentic British band since The Clash", Half Man, Half Biscuit was a sharp-witted four-piece rock band from Birkenhead, in the Wirral. A by-product of Thatcher's Britain, the band announced itself in 1986 with the album "Back in the DHSS", which was recorded for just 30 pounds and yet sold more than 200,000 copies. According to Nigel Blackwell, the lead singer, guitarist and surreally talented writer, "one of my fantasies was to have a load of folk shouting something ridiculous like 'F**king Hell, it's Fred Titmus!' back at the stage as a counterblast to all those rock acts whose audience would hold their lighters aloft during some Godforsaken dross concerning 'a girl no longer with us due to flagrant disregard of the speed limit by persons unknown'. Much more fun thought I to have 'em shouting the name of a Middlesex spin bowler. Certainly more believable anyway, I think." Other songs by HMHB included "Hedley Verity-esque," and "Christian Rock Concert", which included a reference to Wendy Wimbush, the legendary former Test Match Special scorer ... playing on a spacehopper ...

Mambo No. 5 Lou Bega
Born in Germany to a Ugandan father and Italian mother, and the singer-songwriter of an Afro-Cuban dancefloor anthem, Lou Bega became the unlikely sound of English cricket for six heady years from 1999 to 2005, during Channel 4's groundbreaking Test match coverage. His breakthrough single, "Mambo No. 5", became an instant worldwide hit, charting in the top 5 across Europe and in the USA, with its catchy lyrics detailing the antics of a serial womaniser. A little bit of Monica in my life/A little bit of Erica by my side/A little bit of Rita's all I need/A little bit of Tina's what I see ... It perhaps never became synonymous with cricket in quite the same way as Soul Limbo did with the BBC, but it was catchy and uplifting nonetheless, and was the prelude to some of the finest commentary and production work that cricket has ever been privy to.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo and Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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