Hey, Earth. Not sure if you heard, but the 2012 Olympics are happening right now in London. Music is an important part of the overall festivities, although most selections heard during the ceremonies and coverage are catchall motivational songs or hype-up tracks. Okay, a few national anthems too. We're zooming in on the specific sports with the six best songs about Summer Olympic events. Although you are welcome to let us know your favorites in the comments below, you are advised to train for at least four years beforehand or else you might disappoint your entire country.
6. Surfer Blood - "Swim"
Any other year, Surfer Blood's "Swim" is just a summer jam. Right now, it's an aquatic anthem. The hook of "Swim to reach the end" is a tad obvious in the realm of game plans for the Olympian, but the sentiment covers both the sport itself and the yearning for the finish line. 5. Cream - "Anyone For Tennis"
Featuring a panflute and snare-less drums played like an Indian tabla, "Anyone For Tennis" is Cream at its most psychedelic. Sir Eric Clapton (is he a knight yet?) aims to cram as much absurdity as possible into the track's two minutes and forty seconds, with the recurring line "Anyone for tennis, wouldn't that be nice?" as an anchor. From the perspective of the American who has never crossed the pond, "Anyone For Tennis" seems very British; surely some USA-chanters could hear a line like "beggars stain the pavement with fluorescent Christmas cheer" and think this acidic imagery is a legit description of London. Advantage: Clapton.
4. The Decemberists - "The Gymnast High Above The Ground"
Like most Decemberists songs "The Gymnast High Above The Ground" is draped in so much metaphor and wordplay that literal interpretation is futile. But Colin Meloy and company pay tribute to the titular gymnast with a song that flows like a world-class aerobatic routine. It is tense and patient in its preparation, it achieves peak intensity without losing elegance, and it sticks the landing with an ending refrain of "April marches on." It begs for an interpretive floor routine - or conjures the hilarious/awesome image of Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk tearing it up on the uneven bars. 3. Belle and Sebastian - "Stars Of Track And Field"
Ahh, the great power of the great hook, wherein we can cherry-pick significance and deem all other lyrics irrelevant. Personally, I would not want to look U.S. shot-putter Christian Cantwell in the face and quote the lyric "Could I write a piece about you now that you've made it? / About the hours spent, the emptiness in your training." I would much rather sing that glorious chorus "The stars of track and field are beautiful people," which in this made-up instance translates to "please don't shove a javelin up my ass, you scary human being."
2. Pink Floyd - "Run Like Hell"
You can intellectualize the 800 meter foot race as much as you'd like, but Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell" makes the strategy seem simple: "Run run run run run run run run run run run."
1. Queen - "Bicycle Race"
Great Britain could win every gold medal at this year's Olympics, setting new world records for each event in the process, and the country's achievement would still pale in comparison to the remarkable feat that is Queen's "Bicycle Race." No pole vaulter can reach the height of Freddie Mercury's vocal range, and no diving duo can spin in such perfect synchronization as Queen does when negotiating this song's whiplash structure. And the production of "Bicycle Race," like the Women's Road Cycling event, displays the impressive coexistence of humanity and technology. As I get sucked deeper into the Olympic coverage, a song this remarkable reminds me why I lean towards arts instead of sports (other than the whole physical fitness thing). Races and matches can be an inspiration in that triumph of the human spirit way, but at the end of the day, we're talking about numbers, dissecting success into hundredths of seconds. Even in the categories judged by panels, clear-cut winners and losers are determined. A similar achievement in music creates its own unique reality, a wormhole that sets it apart from the concept of competition and makes it incapable of being minimized by the hard work of another. When our preferred athletes win at the Olympics, we feel vicarious pride but cannot know the actual feeling of that victory. You don't have to be Michael Phelps to enjoy "Bicycle Race" - although he might have a suggestion on how to enhance the listening experience.