Juuuuust a bit outside SI’s Top 40

There, the other day, in the July 4 issue of Sports Illustrated, was “The Ultimate Play List,” what its writers considered the best sports songs of all time.

SI’s Top 40 includes the Beach Boys’ “Surfin USA” at No. 2, John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” at No. 7, Warren Zevon’s “Boom Boom Mancini” at No. 12, Steve Goodman’s “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” at No. 28 and Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” at No. 31. That’s about it for songs I recognize.

(I only grudgingly include the Fogerty tune. Even though I enthusiastically bought the “Centerfield” LP in 1985, the title song quickly wore out its welcome and has been unlistenable for years.)

Whether SI’s Top 40 is good or bad, as always, you be the judge. I can’t say it blew me away. As I read the piece, I kept wondering whether certain tunes would show up in the Top 40. They didn’t. So here they are.

“Bill Lee,” Warren Zevon, from “Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School,” 1980. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

Lee — nicknamed “Spaceman” — was an irreverent left-hander, a California hippie who was good enough to pitch in the major leagues for 14 years, from 1969 to 1982. Lee liked Zevon, and Zevon liked Lee. Boston Red Sox manager Don Zimmer, who was from baseball’s old school, did not like Lee. Zevon wrote this song after the Red Sox got rid of Lee in 1978. That’ll happen when you spar with your manager all year long and call him “a gerbil.”

“You’re supposed to sit on your ass/And nod at stupid things
Man, that’s hard to do
And if you don’t, they’ll screw you/And if you do they’ll screw you, too.”

“Vida Blue,” Albert Jones, from the Tri-City 45 (TC327A), 1971. It’s out of print.

Almost everything I know about this “stomping funk tribute to the early ’70s Oakland A’s hurler of the same name” is from Larry Grogan’s most excellent Funky 16 Corners post from last year. As Larry also said then: “Where else are you going to hear a funk 45 that namechecks Harmon Killebrew and Carl Yastrzemski?” (The flip side is a country version of the song, according to Scott Soriano’s long-ago Crud Crud post.)

“Basketball Jones Featuring Tyrone Shoelaces,” Cheech and Chong, from “Los Cochinos,” 1973.

This is a song remembered mostly because I so often heard it sung in the shower by the players on my high school basketball team. Sorry, you had to be there.

To get a sense for that vibe all these years later, watch the animated short they made for the song. It was released to theaters in 1974. They showed it before “The Last Detail,” which of course starred basketball fan Jack Nicholson.

There’s an all-star group behind Cheech Marin’s falsetto vocals. That’s George Harrison on lead guitar, backed by many of his Beatles session friends, including Billy Preston on the organ. Carole King plays electric piano. Darlene Love and Michelle Phillips are among those voicing the cheerleaders.


Filed under July 2011, Sounds

8 responses to “Juuuuust a bit outside SI’s Top 40

  1. Oh, fine choices all! I admit to having forgotten about Basketball Jones,” but I did think of it a few years ago when I wrote an unpublished piece – since lost – about a rapper named Busta Shoelace. (I can’t be the only person who ever thought of that . . .)

  2. I’m surprised that Dan Fogelberg’s Run For The Roses didn’t make the list as it was a hit back in ’82 and still pops up each year during Kentucky Derby weekend.

    Maybe not as well known, but worth mentioning is Tom Cochrane & Red Rider’s Big League, about the death of a top hockey prospect.

  3. Meat

    I used to think of Basketball Jones every time I saw John Klein working out on hot summer mornings on the broken court pavement at D.C. Everest Junior High.

    Here’s a sports song I’ve been enjoying — the history of the Minnesota Twins from a fan’s perspective in four minutes.


  4. “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you… woo, woo woo…”

    OK, it’s just that line, but “Mrs. Robinson” is a great song.

  5. They mentioned Zevon. That alone is amazing, but they didn’t include Hit Somebody!

  6. The vida blue track is awesome, very bluesy, thanks for posting.

  7. Tom Cochrane’s Big League is a good one. What about Bob Dylan’s Hurricane? And Are You Ready For Some Football? by Hank Williams Jr.. How about The Super Bowl Shuffle by the 1985 Chicago Bears? Okay, forget about the Bears.

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