Sunday, February 7, 2010
Put plainly, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” is not good. It's 100% novelty riding on the coattails of a massively successful season for The Bears. You cold say it's the good kind of “bad”, but that depends on your endurance. The track is an absurd six minutes in length, so that every member of the team has a chance to rap a verse. (You know, “rapping”, it's that urban fad all the kids are into these days). But hey, they're “not this because [they're] greedy, The Bears are doin' it to feed the needy”, so it's all good. Though it's seldom recognized for it, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” was right at the beginning of the super-powered charity song trend - debuting between “Do They Know it's Christmas?” in late 1984 and “We Are the World” in the early 1985. This is one of the aspects that sets it apart from all its spin-offs. The Bears were shufflin' for a purpose, everyone one else was doing it to look cool.
The Bears didn't invent team songs. Perhaps the most direct precursor to the “Super Bowl Shuffle” is a track from 1980 of the Detroit Lions, fronted by their Safety Jimmy “Spiderman” Allen, parodying Queen's “Another One Bites the Dust”. But a century before that, the Cincinnati Red Stockings would occasionally join together and sing a song to their spectators during their 1800s baseball games. From the 70s until the early 90s it was also popular for UK football teams to record a song if they qualified for the FA Cup Final. These recordings, called the “cup final record” were either original compositions or parodies of popular songs, and, like “The Super Bowl Shuffle” some of them even made it in the pop charts. None of the “Shuffle” spin-offs can say the same.
It's a little known fact that there was another pre-Super Bowl XX song in 1985. The unlikely culprits: The Seattle Seahawks and their song, “Locker Room Rock”. Unlike almost all other football songs that followed, there's no rap to be found here. Without the influence of “The Super Bowl Shuffle”, the Seahawks delivered something completely different: a 50s rock 'n' roll style jam more like something that stumbled from a high school production of Grease than a football fight song. The video even has a musical-style dramatic setup. The team is exhausted but, ol' number 55 (Michael Jackson) comes in, tenderly wiping some sweat off a teammates chin, and gives them an enthusiastic song-and-dance pep talk, 'cause “the blue wave is on a roll.” Bonus points are awarded for one of the team emerging from a steamy shower room wearing only a towel and playing the saxophone.
In '86, just before the Bears swept Super Bowl XX, their contenders, The New England Patriots released a song of their own. But instead of a right-back-at-ya rap, the song is a cheerful anthem with a bit of anti-Bear bloodlust from the New England community called, “New England, The Patriots and We”. The song was recorded mostly by local New England celebrities, with the Patriots in a few shots and verses (suspiciously all wearing MTV caps).
After their Super Bowl win, every team wanted a piece of the “Shuffle” pie and the lasting power of The Bears' goofy charity track began to show. The “Shuffle” spin-offs attempt to vary somewhat in style and direction, they essentially replicate the format of the Bear's track: the ridiculous image of padded football players dancing back and forth, and each player rapping a self-referential, usually boastful verse. With this format, most of these songs are as unbearably long as the “Super Bowl Shuffle”. What singles out the “Shuffle” from all the copycats is that The Bears seem really into it. In many of the spin-off videos there are a few players that are very obviously uncomfortable, either with stage fright or that they don't want anything to do with any MTV tomfoolery. It's one of the many added novelties to the post-“Shuffle” videos.
The crown jewel of 1986 football songs is without a doubt the L.A. Rams' “Ram It”. The song is non-stop sexual innuendo. It's hilarious, catchy, and very self-aware: “if you ram it just right you can ram it all night.” See it to believe:
The Oakland Raiders' “Silver and Black Attack” is a definite change of pace from the feel-good football tracks. The song is said to be a stylistic reference to the Christian metal group, Stryper, who were popular at the time (their first album is entitled Yellow and Black Attack). The actual effect of the hair metal combined with the Raiders' rapping makes it more reminiscent of dark gangsta rap. At 2:45 one of the players, disguised as a hair metal guitarist jumps in and starts wailing on the guitar and most of the team recoils with their hands on their ears. Yeah, real tough, guys.
Meanwhile in 1986, other sports took the opportunity to do their own shuffling, or boogying as may be the case. The University of Memphis Pom-Pon Squad performed their “Pom-Pon Shuffle” during one of the Memphis Tigers' halftime performances. It's nothing special, but skip ahead to 2:43 for a guaranteed spit-take. The L.A. Dodgers' “Baseball Boogie” takes the sport video fad to ridiculous, high-budget extremes with an enthusiasm not matched by any football team. You could say they're a little too excited.
Neither the Rams or the Raiders even made it to Super Bowl XXI in 1987. Instead the Giants and the Broncos faced off against one another. They didn't have songs to give them good luck, but the Giants celebrated their victory by recording a track, a Katrina and the Waves parody called “Walk Like a Giant”. During the commercials of the 1987 Super Bowl, another football music video aired, but not from any team in the NHL, or even in America. It turns out that American football has some life beyond U.S. soil, even in Glasgow, Scotland. Makes perfect sense when you think about it. “Diamond Rap” by the Glasgow Diamonds is the most pop-centric and likable of the football songs. It was produced by Ivor Novello award-winning producer, Bill Padley and breaks from the “Shuffle” format by favoring only one singer who brings the rhymes in addition to a catchy pop chorus. The only off thing about the song is that the singer, Paul Birchard, is an actor, not a football player. Talent-cheating aside, the video is fun, the song is enjoyable, and Birchard is charming in his role as a football singer with a good set of pipes.
Football songs started to fade by '88. The Philadelphia Eagles' “Buddy's Watchin' You” (a reference to their coach, Buddy Ryan) is a forgettable song in the vein of “Super Bowl Shuffle” with an under-produced video. The “49ers Rap” is equally weak, but their video is more watchable with a slew of kitschy editing and digital 2-D animation that looks like it was rendered in MS Paint. They're the “team of the eighties” alright.
Elsewhere in the sporting world, the Calgary Flames composed a power ballad called “Red Hot”. There's no sign of the stereotypical hockey aggression here, no spitting on the mic, just wistful hope, pride, and full, glorious mustaches: “you can climb the highest mountain, you can put a man on the moon, you can see to the horizon... but you can't touch a flame when it's RED HOT!” Unlike all the other tracks from '88, Liverpool Football Club (not the American kind) took the Hollywood of “Super Bowl Shuffle” to heart, and produced a serious hip-hop track. “Anfield Rap” riffs off of a few of the hip-hop tracks of the day and delivers a witty song with a colorful video reminiscent of the opening of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In this track the only two native Liverpudlian's on the team make fun of the other player's accents (and viceversa) It's an amazing gem of 80s British hip-hop.
The fad had all but died when the 90s set in, and the Dolphins were the final nail in the coffin. “You Can't Touch Us” by Cory and the Fins sees the Dolphins rapping to a parody of MC Hammer's “U Can't Touch This”. The opening is pure retro cheese. South Floridian talk radio personalities Rick and Suds are in the studio playing the campy “Miami Dolphins Fight Song” from the 70s and get Dolphin linebacker David Grigs on the phone. Cut to Grigs leaning against a white Mercedes in an alleyway, wearing a tank top and Zubaz pants, talking to the hosts on a walkie talkie-sized cellphone: “yo, first of all Rick, the Dolphins are back. We're a new team, we're Super Bowl bound, and they can't touch us.” It's not just Grigs kickin' it in Zubaz, it's the whole team and the cheerleaders (Dan Marino is fashionably absent from the whole video). Every Dolphin present gets to rap a line or two, but the real star of the video isn't a Dolphin at all, but the mysterious “cool guy” named Cory. I mean, nothing says cool like a dude in a tux and bow tie with no shirt underneath riding an escalator with a Hooters girl as he threatens to, “bust these football lyrics.” The video is colorful, super dated, and full of laughs. Stop. Dolphin time.
The only other highlights from football music in the 90s is Bill Medley's “Friday Night's a Great Night for Football” which served as the awkward opening title sequence for an otherwise terrific movie. Tony Scott's 1991 action movie The Last Boy Scout. If the former Righteous Brother's song and dance serves any purpose, it's to put you off guard for how fucked up the opening scene of the movie is. (Possibly the most incredible movie moment ever filmed on a football field, but I'll let you do the clicking to find out why.) In 1999 the Jacksonville Jaguars released a song and video for "Uh Oh, The Jaguars Super Bowl Song". It didn't give them any good luck and its presence on the internet is almost nonexistent. It wasn't until 2005 that another team tried their luck with a song and video. Funk music superstar, Bootsy Collins teamed up with his home team, the Cincinnati Bengals for a bit of hip-hop and funk fusion called “Fear Da Tiger”. Despite the star power of Collins, the song weak, succumbs to a similar “Shuffle” format and both the song and the video are mediocre without entertainment value.
Now, 2010, the football video has returned in slick, new self-aware package. LaDainian Tomlinson, aka. L.T., of the San Diego Chargers, a football mega-star, is now an Internet sensation. His song and video for “L.T. Electric Glide” is mind-blowingly ridiculous. It's a send up of to the comedy songs of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job complete with green screens, cheesy effects, and homeless-looking backup dancers. The video was filmed two years ago for a Nike ad, but not released until now, and was directed by Tim Skousen, the assistant director of Napoleon Dynamite. L.T.'s dance is real easy to do, you just glide with it, and “wave to your mama – she's in the stands.” Check it out, you'll have all the moves down in no time.
This story comes full circle. Twenty-five years after the “Super Bowl Shuffle” began all this madness it's about to return. During the commercials of Super Bowl XLIV members of the 1985 Chicago Bears - Jim McMahon, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Willie Gault, Otis Wilson, Steve Fuller and Maury Buford will return to perform an updated version of “The Super Bowl Shuffle”. The reunion is for a Boost Mobile commercial as a part of their “Unwronged” advertising campaign, but as with the original “Shuffle” the Bears aren't doin' it because they're greedy. Boost customers will be able to download the “Boost Mobile Shuffle” ringtone for a dollar and the proceeds go to charity.
Audio Archaeology is a Media Potluck and Consequence of Sound presentation.
Now, for your viewing pleasure, the full "Boost Mobile Shuffle":