Sporting Themes

(BBC REH348, released 1979)
Retro review - review date 11 February 2019

Sporting Themes cover

Over the years, so many compilation albums of sport television themes have been released. Some have been excellent, such as the superb The Great Sporting Experience compilation (get that on CD if you ever see it) and then there's the Pickwick related crapola that is Favourite Sports Themes - which you definitely need to avoid as much as you can. I spotted this rather nice piece of vinyl in a record shop, and looked at the track listing, noting it was on the BBC Records label which should mean at least officially licenced product here. So, if you see this album and wonder whether you should buy it, then read on..

The back of the album cover provides the listings of the tracks - 10 each side, 20 in all, and some useful blurb from Michael Cowles which states "How often have you heard a snatch of music at the start or end of a BBC sports programme and thought to yourself: 'I wonder how the rest of the tune goes?' Well now is your chance to find out" which sets the tone. Looking at the track listing and comparing it with say The Great Sporting Experience CD said straight away to me that this was going to be a festival of originals all round. I was anticipating this excitedly, so here goes..

Side 1
First off, and it's the proper Grandstand theme (which spookily is also track 1 on The Great Sporting Experience CD too!) and so nice to hear that middle guitar riff blast out on gorgeous analogue vinyl. Then up next are two World Cup themes, first of all the Latin-inspired Argentinian Melody (San Jose) from the 1978 World Cup (cue Mario Kempes and tickertape everywhere), and surprisingly, also the theme tune Striker from the 1974 World Cup too. Plenty of wah wah guitar on here, so all good. But then, the absolute piece de resistance, Brian Bennett's awesome Chase Side Shoot Up, which is the theme to the golf. It is a belter of a theme tune and the full on instruments and synth pieces go perfectly well together here - and the full original at that. Absolutely brilliant to have it, and one I felt was missing from The Great Sporting Experience too.

There's then Ray Davies' Breezy Bounce (not the bloke from The Kinks incidentally) which was the Wightman Cup tennis theme. Not heard that before, but very bouncy indeed and befitting. Rhet Stoller's Surf Rider up next, which was used as background for Wimbledon and Match of the Day, and you could tell why. Commonwealth Tempo comes up next, complete with steel band, which fused some sounds of Commonwealth nations as they headed off to Edmonton in Canada for the 1978 games. We've then got three absolutely cracking tracks to end the first side too.

That starts off with the Doug Wood Band's Soul Riff, used for the crown green bowls coverage, with lovely synth lead pinned by a nice rock bassline and reminds me of being somewhere in Lancashire outside some large pub with the crown greens, at Waterloo at that. And straight into Keith Mansfield's excellent World Series, used for the athletics coverage for many years and gives me memories of Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram straight off. Finally, there's the Winnifred Atwell piano led rendition of The Black and White Rag, used for Pot Black on BBC2. Nice to have that even with the end sound effect of the ball being potted into the pocket. So, all good here and some outstanding stuff. Time for side two..

Side 2
Straight into the Barry Stoller rendition of the classic Match of the Day theme, and the full theme as it was in the early 1970s (and the same as on The Great Sporting Experience too). Quality too. Next is Paddy Kingsland's Flashback, which by all accounts was used on BBC2 for their Wimbledon coverage (different to BBC1 at the time too.) Nice synth lead and backing on this too, maybe BBC2 need to bring this back? Then, another absolute highlight: the Waldo de los Rios rendition of Mozart's A Musical Joke, which was the proper show jumping theme - cue Horse of the Year Show and the infamous Hickstead Derby with the bank, Devil's Dyke and so on. Classic, and well worth it for this alone.

Brian Bennett is back again with Holy Mackerel, the theme to Rugby Special, in the days when it was good and had no John Inverdale. It bounces along all jolly, complete with dramatic end to almost feel like you've just scored the winning try. And then Booker T and the MG's Soul Limbo, or for you and I the proper cricket theme. Cue the late great Richie Benaud's "Good morning everyone" and your scene is set for England to get panned by the West Indies (similar to now actually!)

On we go with Ski Sunday, and Sam Fonteyn's Pop Looks Bach - the theme tune skier Graham Bell has on his phone (fact.) Then straight into what's labelled the BBC1 Wimbledon theme, Keith Mansfield's Light and Tuneful. Still used today, you know when it comes on Wimbledon is on the telly, and just has the feel right for a summer spectacle of tennis. All good there, and nice and short and sharp. Then a nice surprise, W. Tautz's party sounding Ticket To Rio, which BBC2 used for their Rugby League Trophy coverage. It harks back to Ray French basking in another St Helens win tonking Wigan of course.

But the best is till last. And that's Heavy Action by Johnny Pearson, the best TV theme ever. Cue David Vine welcoming you to.. The Superstars! Yes it's that one, complete with all the great bits as you saw Brian Jacks do his thing on the squat thrusts once again, or Keith Fielding go "It's a damn bloody shame" in the European final. Iconic, awesome, and nicked by the Americans for Monday Night Football too. And then the midweek fest that is Sportsnight, with full on Tony Hatch including the middle jazz solo type bits you don't hear on telly, but the great climactic ending that meant it was cue Harry Carpenter.

In short - if you see this album - get it. It not only fills in some gaps missing on other sports theme compilations, but having the 1974 and 1978 World Cup themes here, plus the brilliant themes for the golf and show jumping make it worth having alone. Then you've got the fact that there's some more obscure themes such as the Rugby League, the old BBC2 Wimbledon theme and of course a chance to blast out The Superstars on vinyl, and you're on a winner. This link to Discogs should provide you with a few sellers to buy from, and if TV themes are your thing, put this on your shortlist. You'll be very glad you did. 20 proper versions and no mistake.

Warren's rating: 92%