My Top Ten – Olympics music highlights

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!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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12 Responses to My Top Ten – Olympics music highlights

  1. Wow! Now that’s entertainment.

  2. Osama Rahman says:

    What did you think of Elbow’s theme tune for BBC’s coverage of the Olympics? At best I thought it was an ok tune. However using Public Enemy for the theme tune for Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics is inspired!

    • John S says:

      You know, I can’t even remember the Elbow theme song! I have a few of their albums but the music just drifts by to be honest. Likewise at the closing ceremony. Agree wit you on the Public Enemy choice though. Great piece. When did it come out – I don’t remember it even though I’ve got five or six PE CDs. The last couple of which were pretty dire.

      • Osama Rahman says:

        Was on the 2007 album ” How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?”. No I don’t have that one.

        It’s currently top of the Independent Singles chart. Well, for at least another 2 hours.

  3. Monkey says:

    Hi Osama:

    I’m totally with you on that utterly wonderful Public Enemy theme. In fact I think the whole C4 opening sequence is a whole lot better than the Beeb’s, who coupled that complacent Elbow-by-numbers anthem to some seriously naff graphics, and a rather desperate attempt to be “UK inclusive”.

    Channel 4 said – sod it! we’re in London, so, graphically, let’s make the most of that. (With apologies to Weymouth, Eton Dorney and Brands Hatch.) And who cares where Public Enemy come from? You GOTTA love that brass riff!

    The Beeb’s finest Olympics moment was their scintillating opening sequence in Beijing, distilled from the gloriously crackers two-minute film made by Jamie Hewlett in his Gorillaz-advisory pomp. In my (possibly warped) view, a wonderfully creative piece of animation, against which the BBC’s London film looked like a bad ad for Lloyds Bank.

    I still can’t believe they sold that to Auntie Beeb.


    • John S says:

      C4 can do “radical” more easily than the Beeb – the Last Limb show which I like is OK with the f-word, whereas the Beeb would just get Tory MPs demanding the end of the licence fee if it had happened on Gabby Logan’s show. Still think the BBC’s coverage was second to none though.

  4. Maccaverse says:

    Hi John:

    Thanks for your excellent blog on the music for the Olympic ceremonies. I’m sure you didn’t think it would go unremarked upon?

    I’m totally with you on Dizzee, Emeli Sande, the Arctic Monkeys, and…..the flipping Spice Girls, to my surprise. That taxi stunt was done with a whole lot of chutzpah, and worked brilliantly.

    We differ on Macca, as I think you know. The music of the final section of the opening ceremony was choreographed so beautifully, with Blanck Mass’s lovely Sundowner taking us (eventually) to Underworld’s nostalgic, romantic, and startlingly low-key Caliban’s Dream for the lighting of the cauldron. Then on to Floyd’s Eclipse, a favourite of all cider-drinking head-banging spotty schoolboys of the mid-70s – you know those guilty men – and with the predictable, but hugely powerful, reel of great Olympics moments providing a suitably climactic moment for the whole event. YEEEEEES!

    Then it all goes quiet, and some weird child/old man with Botox and dyed hair starts croaking at the piano?

    I’m sorry, I love the Beatles, as you know – though I was always a George man – but I still think Sir Mac’s time has come and gone, as far as these occasions are concerned. Hey Jude was no. 1 in 1968. Forty four long years ago. As I probably said last time I saw you, how would you feel if you were a 21-year old Latvian wrestler in the stadium, and they started playing something from 1935? That’s the precise equivalent in John S. years…..

    Anyway, enough whingeing already. There was enough magnificent music in all three ceremonies (so far) to keep us going for a long time. I’m afraid this might be the first reply of several.


    • John S says:

      You’ve got me on the maths, but I will still defend Macca on the the grounds (a) that the 21 year old Latvian probably knows the Beatles, and his or her parents may have regarded them as a symbol of freedom when they were under Soviet repression, whereas music just wasn’t as universal in 1935 so the aforesaid 21 year old Latvian, transported back in time, wouldn’t have the same folk memory to draw upon, whatever year they were looking back from; and (b) it’s the *@%$*£! BEATLES!

      • Maccaphobic says:

        I’ve got you on the maths. You’ve got me on the political symbolism. So maybe a score draw.

        As for the *@%S*£! Beatles, I wish it were! But with one (probably) in detox and two more pushing up the daisies, we’re down to just the one live, sober example – and I’d hate somehow to feel the legacy…..compromised? I just hope Macca knows when to quit. At this rate, he’ll be doing Hey Jude on a live feed from his rest home come 2016.

      • John S says:

        He was good only last year at the O2, though. In very fine voice.

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