The opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics were infused with great British pop music. We love our music, and I guess that, along with American music, it travels best around the globe. Partly because it’s in English, of course, but also because one of the things we are good at in this country is making a really good pop tune.
Both ceremonies celebrated that in different ways.
The opening ceremony had the advantage. No-one knew what to expect, so the canvas was open. And the music was mostly recorded, so they could have whoever they liked. I loved the quirkiness and the challenge of it. It wasn’t all the usual “pop royalty” suspects (see Queen’s Jubilee this year). The Sex Pistols were in there, Underworld were celebrating lager, and the London East End’s very own Dizzee Rascal was performing his distorted hit dance tune “Bonkers”. We ended with Paul McCartney singing “Hey Jude”, but why not? It’s the Beatles, innit? The best. Ever.
The closing ceremony focused on live performances, so it had to get people to turn up. That limited its range, but I thought the show was pretty good. I didn’t see it at the time, as I’d jetted off to Spain for a couple of weeks in the sun, but I watched it when I got back home. I’d been following Twitter where (unsurprisingly) there were some quite negative comments about the show. So my expectations were low. But I was soon really enjoying it. Another great spectacle and some top music. The athletes looked like they were having a good time and the crowd certainly were.
Most bizarre moment of the closing ceremony was, I thought, the Pet Shop Boys cycling round the stadium singing “West End Girls” followed by a phalanx of riders in large orange helmets that made them look like some psychedelic offshoot of the Klu Klux Klan. What was that all about? Quite what viewers would have made of it in, say, Jakarta, I really don’t know; but then the general quirkiness of both ceremonies was made to appeal to the British viewer, with I guess, a hope that the inventiveness and strangeness of it all of it all would somehow engage the global viewer. With of course, Mr Bean and Eric Idle to make everyone laugh.
Anyway, I loved it all, but here are my Top Ten Best Musical moments.
10. (Closing) The Spice Girls on their London taxis singing “Wannabee” and “Spice Up Your Life”. Easy to diss those girls, but they were real troupers on the night. Good on ya!
9. (Opening) The crowd getting down with their air guitars to the metal bit of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
8. (Opening) Emili Sande’s moving rendition of “Abide With Me”. Tribute to those who had suffered in the 7/7 bombings, the day after we won the right to stage the Olympics. Brought a tear to my eye. Emili was also at the closing ceremony singing a rousing “Read All About It”
7. (Closing) Take That’s anthemic “Rule The World”. Used to be lighters that lit up in the crowd, now it’s mobile phones. Arms swaying…
6. (Opening) The Arctic Monkeys, playing live. starting with a rocking version of “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor”, their greatest tune, and then a searing take on the Beatles’ “Come Together”.
5. (Opening) “Pretty Vacant” by the Sex Pistols blaring out and the performers pogoing to the beat. Back to 1977! I’d never have expected the Pistols to make the opening ceremony in front of the Queen, when once upon a time their songs got banned by the BBC. The times they are a’changing!
4. (Opening) “The End” and then “Hey Jude” by Paul McCartney. Some people criticised his voice. It wasn’t as good as when I saw him at the O2 last year. But hey, it was still the right way to end the ceremony. The greatest British pop band of all, the Beatles, probably the greatest full stop. Why wouldn’t we celebrate that? With “Hey Jude”, one of the great anthems. It moved me, for sure.
3. (Closing) Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen teaming up with Jessie J for a rocking version of “We Will Rock You”, the song that got played at all the Olympic venues that went for entertainment. I heard it umpteen times at the football, the basketball and the beach volleyball. Jessie was a bit of a star at the closing ceremony, performing the Bee Gees “You Should be Dancing” with Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz after all three of them had done their solo slots. And Brian May, with his big head of grey hair, was an absolute star for starting with a magnificent metal workout from”Brighton Rock”, my favourite Queen tune. It did point up the lack of metal at either ceremony. Why not a slot for Iron Maiden at the closing? East End boys and massively popular around the world.
2. (Opening) Dizzee Rascal performing “Bonkers”. I love that song, especially the bass-heavy wig out in the middle of the tune. It just made me laugh with pleasure to see Dizzee doing his bit at the Olympics opening ceremony. For all sorts of reasons. Because this boy from the streets has become a kind of national treasure. Because it would annoy lots of people who hate any kind of dance (ie, black) music. Because quite a lot of viewers around the world might have gone, who is this, and then said, hey this is good! Because it said, more than anything else, this is Britain, BONKERS!
1. (Opening and just about everywhere. And at the Paralympics too). “Heroes” by David Bowie.
(Click on the title to hear the song, then click back on this page to continue reading).
I love this song, always have – see my Bowie Top Ten. But when it came on as the British athletes emerged in their splendid white tracksuits with the gold trimming, it just blew me away. A truly inspired choice. It made me swell with pride. My team, the British team. My song. Our song. David Bowie, one of the greatest. It became a theme tune for the Olympics. Of course the lyrics don’t bear too much analysis, being as much about German cold war despair as the hope and belief. But that refrain…
We can be Heroes, just for one day!