So I’m sitting here at midnight trying to wrap my head around getting started on homework (kids, don’t let anyone tell you your study habits improve – or change at all – while at college), and the Mighty Ducks main score comes up on my music shuffle. As the visions of Charlie Conway’s Triple Deke occupy the space in my head instead of the racial politics of Lyndon B. Johnson, I realize how big a part music plays in sports movies, and, in turn, my life. So I decided to put the homework aside (classic college) and write a sports blog post instead.
I’m a big fan of movie scores, and I love having this perennial debate: Does the movie make the music great, or does the music make the movie great? I always argue that the music makes the movie great because I honestly can’t think of any mediocre movies containing great music. It’s pretty interesting to think that a Hoosiers or a Rudy could be lesser movies if not for their music, but maybe that’s the case. It’s a fun debate to have.
So here we go, my top five sports movie soundtracks. Granted, I couldn’t possibly only name five, so enjoy the honorable mentions at the end. Please note that these rankings are based on complete bias on my part. If you disagree with this list, you can start your own blog. That’s what’s great about this country, for now.
Hard to believe this can only barely make it into the top five, but that’s only a compliment to the next four. Field of Dreams mixes in everything great about life: Baseball, history, father-son relationships, mystery, and the cornfields of the Midwest. This song, to the casual fan, may be hard to recognize when you hear it, that is until you get to the light piano keys at the 2:06 mark; then it’s unmistakable. Like any great movie, numerous quotes come to mind as you listen to the theme music: “Go the distance,” “Ease his pain,” and of course “If you build it, he will come.” Anyone else feel like getting a pick-up game going right about now? You may know the composer, James Horner, from his other work in movies like Apollo 13, Titanic, Glory, and Braveheart. What a legend.
Titans is probably my favorite movie of all time, and although it’s relatively new compared to the other classic sports movies, “Titan Spirit” is a masterpiece score which belongs among the greats. Again, you can see the different movie scenes in your head as you listen: The team’s struggle to come together, Gary’s injury and death, and the championship game at the climax. “I know football, but what you did with these boys…. you were the right man for the job, Coach.” “You a hall of famer in my book.” Sorry, I had to blurt that out before I moved any further. Anyways, in a story packed with themes Civil Rights in the South, high school drama, and football (triple A), “Titan Spirit” captures everything in one song. Props to Trevor Rabin; you may also know him from Armaggedon and National Treasure. This movie also gets extra credit for playing some classic rock in it. “Spirit in the Sky,” “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” and “Act Naturally” add to the soundtrack’s prestige.
Ok, I cheated a little bit on this one. Normally you think about only one song when considering theme music for sports movies, but I’m including the entire Rocky series on this one. Yes, yes, “Gonna Fly Now” seems to be the main theme song to Rocky, but “Eye of the Tiger” is a close second, along with the absolutely SICK music played in Rocky IV during his training montage. So I’m including all four songs linked above. The two songs from Rocky IV are “Hearts on Fire” and “In a Burning Heart.” Both seem to be singing about the same topic (heartburn), and would be great for Pepto Bismol commercials, but both are absolute musts for anyone’s workout mix.
Anyways, the Rocky movies are just epics. The drama of the ring is hard to surpass in film. Any movie in which the protagonist actually loses (albeit by split decision in Rocky I), but still goes down in film history, has to be great. It only opened the door for great sequels. Anyone who tells me Rocky IV wasn’t the best of the bunch gets my response: “If I can change, and you can change, we all can change (with Russian translation slightly delayed).” Face it, guys, the movie ended the Cold War. Any music involved with that cause needs to be in the top 5.
First of all, I normally hate Notre Dame. But once you get past the snobby, conceited, arrogant mess that is their fan base, and you look at just the prestige of the institution and the legend of the football program, you can see exactly why Rudy is a great story. A “5 foot nothin’, a hundred nothin'” kid just loved Notre Dame and poured his heart into making the team. The music chosen for this story is epic. When it plays on my homework shuffle, I’m at my all-time most productive, except when it hits its climax (at the 2:03 mark) where you can do nothing but close your eyes and listen. Glorious. Of course, I can’t help but point out that Rudy is staged in Indiana, and, along with Hoosiers, create two of the greatest sports movies ever. How can an ordinary state like Indiana create such drama in sports? I don’t know, but I love it. Jerry Goldsmith composed this masterpiece, and he’s not finished in this countdown.
On my way home from college, there’s a certain stretch of Indiana highway in between the interstate and my hometown. It only lasts about a half hour, but that’s just enough time to play “Best Shot” by Jerry Goldsmith TWICE. Driving on two-lane Indiana highway on a cloudy day in between fields and fields of corn while listening to this song is a fete any true Hoosier needs to experience. You can’t help but be damn proud that one of the consensus greatest sports movies of all time happens to be about high-school basketball in your own state. And the music in Hoosiers certainly plays a big part in its success. In your mind you can literally place yourself in a small Indiana farming town as you listen to this stuff. In your mind you can literally place yourself in the small-town gym cheering for the Huskers against Terhune. In your mind you can literally place yourself in the middle of the cheering section at Hinkle Fieldhouse as you’re about to beat a Goliath. What a story, what a movie, what a song.
Enjoy the rest of these classics.
Where would we be if Gordon Bombay hadn’t blown .08?
The ultimate slow motion song.
A soundtrack jam packed with hot beats. I’ll probably catch a lot of flack with this only being an honorable mention.
Another movie mixing in history, baseball, and mystery.
A favorite of any American child, this movie has a lot of great songs included beyond it’s main title.
Also, if you want more of this theme, check out this album by a long-time friend of mine, Mic P. He’s an up and coming hip hop artist from Indiana, and his album is called The Jet Stole Home. It’s a great theme album and it includes a lot of Indiana references as well. (warning: language)