Ten tribute songs to athletes for fans of every sport

Sometimes music and sports can work well and when it does it is pure magic.
Venus Williams at Wimbledon 2008
Venus Williams at Wimbledon 2008 / Simon M Bruty/GettyImages
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“SERGEI BUBKA” by Tukevat Kukot (2019)

OK – cards on the table. I don’t know who Tukevat Kukot is. I don’t know who Lika-Aki – featured on this track – is. I don’t know what this song is about. It’s in Finnish. At least I think it’s in Finnish.

What I do know is that it’s named for the greatest pole vaulter of all time, it has a very cool, spacy groove, and a great chorus with a deep voice droning the subject's name beneath the propulsive drums and keys.

Bubka’s name does not carry the honor that it once did. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s he won six world championships – three for the former Soviet Union and three more for his native Ukraine. He won the Olympic gold in 1988. He held the world record for sixteen years. For many of those years, his only real competition was himself. Then he went into politics.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, he was dragged into scandal with charges of collaborating. It has tainted the rep of one of the Ukraine’s most prominent athletes. But we still have a cool song – whatever it may actually say.

Next. Songs from the 1960s that have no business being great but are. Songs from the 1960s that have no business being great but are. dark


“CAPTAIN LOU” by Kimya Dawson (2011)

I thought long and hard about this one. You see, there’s a very well-known NRBQ song by the same name, about the same subject, that played a key role in helping move pro wrestling from a niche into the cultural mainstream back in the 1980s. NRBQ’s song is very good. It’s a genuine earworm. Its subject Lou Albano – one-time wrestler, and even more famous wrestling manager – contributes his signature growl. Soon after, he would team up with Cyndi Lauper on her “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” video.

But as much fun as the NRBQ song is, I think Dawson’s track, with help from Aesop Rocky and pro wrestler Bryan Danielson, is even better. She begins with her standard lo-fi vibe, running through a list of influential celeb deaths in 2009 – Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze, Farrah Faucett, John Hughes – before getting to this – “Well, today we lost another hero – Today we lost another friend – Today we lost the world’s greatest manager – Today we lost the captain.”

Then we are off on a great chorus, hoping that “a million elbows drop and a million heads get locked,” before getting to her real point in the second verse - Albano’s magical effect on a generation of kids who didn’t quite fit in. “You set a generation of freaks free with your persona – With your rubber-banded face and your rubber-banded beard – You gave a lot of kids permission to let out their inner weird.” All in all, a fabulous tribute.

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