Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Wed 26 May 2010

16 Top World Cup Theme Tunes (Part 1)

Back in March, Terry brought you a popular and much needed retrospective on those top UK TV football theme tunes that filled the air of our halcyon days. As he explained at the time, however, his list was devoid of classic World Cup theme tunes - namely because we were saving them specifically for our World Cup Pull-Out. Now at last, that time has come.

With the 2010 World Cup only 16 days away, let's take a trip down memory lane and ponder awhile on those musical sig tunes that had us all humming along merrily… or not, as the case may be.

Here’s Part 1 of our guide to the Top World Cup TV Theme Tunes, and watch this space for Part 2 coming soon...

'Lap of Honour' (ITV World Cup Theme 1974)
London Stadium Orchestra

Back in the mists of time, the BBC and ITV would look no further than to plunder their sound library for a piece of music to accompany their World Cup coverage that sounded vaguely appropriate for the host country in question. England '66? That'll be something bold and brassy to reflect the bulldog spirit of old Blighty. Mexico '70? Something with lots of classical guitars and castanets. It really was that simple.

Come 1974, however, ITV were more than happy to cast off the shackles of international stereotyping by using a fairly generic piece of musical bluster to usher in the 10th World Cup in West Germany. Full of shouty brass, it's very much of its era – in fact one could argue it was still clinging onto the late-1960's by its fingertips – yet ITV would continue to plod on with it for another four years while the Beeb looked for something that sounded less dated.



'Argentine Melody' (BBC World Cup Grandstand 1978)
Performed by San Jose featuring Rodriguez Argentina (a.k.a. Rod Argent), composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber

With the 1978 World Cup in Argentina appearing on the horizon, the BBC had a very clever idea. Rather than dip into its music library for something neglected and dust-ridden, they made a call to the composer behind the hit West End musical Evita – Andrew Lloyd Webber.

With the sound of Latin American guitars still ringing in his ears, Lloyd Webber was ideally suited to conjure up the sound of Argentina for the purpose of the Beeb's World Cup coverage that year. In fact so successful was the tune he produced - Argentine Melody - that the BBC released it as a single which eventually reached number 14 in the UK charts.

ITV, meanwhile, re-recorded their theme from 1974 with some added synthesisers and considered it a job well done. We're not sure about that, but Action Argentina was certainly a job easily done.



'Jellicle Ball' (BBC World Cup Grandstand 1982)
Performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Never ones to leave a winning formal well alone, the BBC arrived at the 1982 World Cup having bagged the rights to another Andrew Lloyd Webber composition, namely Jellicle Ball - an instrumental piece from the musical Cats.

Full of euphoric triumphalism and without a single castanet in sight, this brilliant orchestral composition is full of the energy and momentum that a team thrives on in pursuit of FIFA's famous gold trophy.

What's great about it is that it hasn't aged very much at all, mainly because it was never intended to be a product of its time. The Royal Philarmonic fills every second with tunefulness and melody by using every player in the orchestra to generate three minutes of unadulterated gusto.



'Matador' (ITV World Cup '82)
Jeff Wayne

The man behind the musical version of War of the Worlds and countless other TV and movie projects came up trumps with this effort which was a little sombre by comparison to the BBC's equivalent. It was, nonetheless, a brilliant combination of electric guitars, flutes and synthesisers that somehow conveyed that unmistakable air of Spanishness that 'the other side' didn't have.

Modern (in an early 80's kind of way) and nicely understated in its execution, this was a good follow-up for Wayne who composed Jubilation for ITV in 1980 – its theme to The Big Match (see previous article). More wistful and reflective in tone than Jellicle Ball, Matador's aim was to gently ease you into an evening of football from Bil-bay-oh (check Brian Moore for correct pronunciation) rather than have you on the edge of your seat before a ball was even kicked. For that very reason it was no bad thing.



'Aztec Lightning' (BBC World Cup Grandstand 1986)
Heads

The 1986 World Cup brought us two of the best themes to date from the BBC and ITV. This one by Paul Hart and Helmut Zacharias (better known as Heads, but only just mind you) had all the traditional Mexican instrumentation thrown into the mix along with the kitchen sink, we shouldn't wonder.

The main musical motif is a phalanx of horns which keep the melody chugging along and which also herald the start of the tune itself. With a synthesized bass providing a percussive backbeat and the occasional carnival whistle to remind us we’re in Latin America, this is an exercise in upbeat rabble rousing, but good though this was, many felt it had met its match in ITV's offering that same year...



'Aztec Gold' (ITV World Cup '86)
Performed by Silsoe, composed by Rod Argent

No, we haven't heard of Silsoe either, but that's to miss the point. Here was a theme tune that was so good, ITV used it for various projects many years after Mexico ‘86, most notably Saint and Greavsie.

With some similar elements to the BBC’s Aztec-oriented theme tune, ITV once again out-moderned its rivals with a piece of music that was brighter and some would say more melodic. Rife with the ubiquitous clickety-click of the castanets plus a searing electric guitar element that made it borderline soft-rock, the song was inevitably released as a single which reached number 48 in the UK charts. Probably not high enough, in our opinion, for this was a true 80’s classic.



'Nessun Dorma' (BBC World Cup Grandstand 1990)
Sung by Luciano Pavarotti

Not strictly a specifically commissioned piece of music for a World Cup TV programme, but the BBC does deserve the credit for recognising the beauty and passion that lies within this aria by Puccini.

Before 1990, no-one would have thought to plunder an operatic work to front its World Cup coverage, but the UK populous took to it like Gary Lineker to a penalty spot. Suddenly everyone knew who Luciano Pavarotti was, everyone was discovering opera and everyone understood the raw emotions it conveyed. For that reason alone it was the perfect choice of musical accompaniment for the four-yearly footballing rollercoaster that we all found ourselves on. Overlay some visuals of Gazza blubbing his eyes out and Marco Tardelli wheeling away after scoring a goal in a state of near orgasm and you have the true connoisseur’s choice of World Cup theme tune.



'Tutti Al Mondo' (ITV World Cup '90)
Composed by Rod Argent and Peter Van Hooke

Unfairly overshadowed by Pavarotti & Co, Tutti Al Mondo takes the operatic oeuvre and drags it kicking and screaming into the 1990's.

Blending the traditional towering Italian vocals and orchestral overtones into a tasteful hip-hop fusion, this concoction of funk and fortissimo was improved yet further by a brilliant computer-generated title sequence (see below). Put together, ITV had created a potent opening package for its Italia '90 programming, but even without the visuals this was a vibrant and enthralling musical piece that in any other World Cup year would have gained greater exposure and admiration. Of all the years to run into Pavarotti...




Coming up in Part 2: Synth pop, retro Krautrock and the Great American songbook plus much more besides...

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