It was early evening on the second day of a streamlined road trip from San Diego to Austin, Texas. I was sitting with my father on the beds of a modest hotel in the exact mid-point between those two destinations: Las Cruces, New Mexico. I can’t think of a better time to watch preseason Chargers football then that.
After a Seahawks touchdown, and while their special teams were setting up for a kickoff, something happens that always happens: the venerable Qualcomm Stadium soundsystem started pumping the meaty opening riff to Ozzy Osbourne’s ubiquitous testosterone anthem “Crazy Train.” My English-born, English-raised Dad scoffed in a very English way; “Do they always have to play that?” Usually there’s some obvious retort to make when it comes to a minor aesthetic in American Football, but here I didn’t have anything. No, there’s absolutely no fucking reason why we need to always play “Crazy Train” at kickoff, just like we don’t always have to play Black Eyed Peas in timeouts or “Rock and Roll Part 2” on an injury. For all the money within the sports industry, and especially the football industry, you’d think ownership could afford to be a little more adventurous with their music choices.
So here is my treatise on songs that would sound really great in a football stadium, and which situations would warrant them. They are not all realistic choices, but goddamn am I tired of “Rock and Roll Part 2.”
The Big Pink: “Dominos”
When to Play: Team run-on
Okay, maybe I’m not that tired of “Rock and Roll Part 2” because the first song on this basically has the same effect. The London electro-rockers first showstopper features a historically giant hook – the sort of thing that can make a bunch of giggling, probably pretty self-respectful girls scream “THESE GIRLS FALL LIKE DOMINOS” without any mental inhibition. That’s how you know you have a legendary hook, when it transcends feminism. It’s pretty self-explanatory why this would destroy a sports arena. Your starting lineup taking the field to giant slabs of synth-rush fury? I’d get riled up, I mean, as long as none of them get convicted for child porn.
Amon Amarth: “Tattered Banners, Bloody Flags”
When to play: Kickoff
Amon Amarth is probably the dumbest band I have in my iTunes, but they’re also ridiculously lovable. For the uninitiated, Amarth hails from Sweden, a place where most metal bands favor darkened, dead-eyed textures, decrepit mythology, and thin-lipped self-seriousness – but these guys aren’t into any of that shit, they write giant pop melodies about Norsemen and record videos of themselves trying to light grills. The cookie-monster is here, but he doesn’t clog up much, there’s a deep sense of triumph, of euphoria, to the Amon Amarth operandi, which naturally makes for good football music. “Tattered Banners, Bloody Flags” is loud, bold, forged in iron and Orc blood, but also rather adorable, the way most extreme metal bands aren’t.
When to play: 2-minute warning
The first time I heard Atlas I’m pretty sure I went into a trance. The first time I saw it live I sprained both of my ankles. It seems to have the ability to turn seven-minutes into a slow-motion epic, it makes your brain tumble out of your nose and replaces it with an all-encompassing groove. Its part art-rock, part IDM, part Disney sing-along – and it is exactly the song I want playing in my quarterback’s head when he needs to go win something. Who knows, maybe that’s the secret to Tom Brady’s success. If Hollywood had better taste this would be the song for every montage.
Arcade Fire: “Wake Up”
When to play: Immediately after a Super Bowl victory.
It actually probably won’t be too much longer until this actually does get played at football games. For obvious reasons; Grammy wins, increasing ubiquity, general likability. Arcade Fire’s prime hands-in-the-air anthem has been chastised for one-dimensional chemistry, but one-dimensional chemistry is exactly the stuff that just feels good with a lot of other people. Massive swathes of jubilation might be cynic’s prey outside of a pair of speakers, but just imagine your quarterback hoisting the trophy during the third act where the drums let up and the piano comes in. I mean, it’s cliché and silly, but moments like that are why we watch sports anyway.
When to play: Timeout breaks
This is the one of the only songs on this list that features a prominent female vocal, and it’s definitely the only song on this list that is about a boyfriend who can’t keep it up. But great pop moves in mysterious ways, and “Stutter” can slay completely de-contextualized if you let it. It’s simple rock music; tunneling verses that widen into a streamlined, bang-it-out chorus – but it’s got an abstract allure, probably because Justine Frischmann practically spits her superiority sneer directly into your hear. Perfect to keep momentum going in downtime.
Fuck Buttons: “Surf Solar”
When to play: Opening run-on
Around 2008, if you told me the next Fuck Buttons album was going to have a shit-kicking, final-boss skronk fest, I probably wouldn’t have believed you… but then I’d think it over and agree that it actually makes a lot of sense. “Surf Solar” amplifies every minor detail of the Buttons’ previous tech-noise meanderings into a bone-crushing assault. By the time you’re done listening to it you’ve travelled lightyears away from Earth. It is not subtle, but it is true – and it will make even the most inconsequential of teams sound utterly ferocious. Drone-dance crossovers don’t seem like the stuff of gridiron, but honestly you could play Tarot Sport start to finish without missing a beat. I suppose that’s why it earned its name.
The Bug: “Poison Dart”
When to play: 2-minute warning
I’ll be honest; this subterranean cut from a 2008 LP that seems most people have forgotten about is pretty near to my heart. It makes me want to chuck throwing knives and walk slowly across sand dunes. It just has an apocalyptic swagger that you can live through vicariously – not unlike sports fandom. It’s tangential, and almost anti-pop in craft, but will it make your team look that much more intimidating when they queue up a drive? Totally. Mainly because the other side will have absolutely no idea what is going on when the sirens hit.
Dom: “Living in America”
When to play: As the seconds are ticking down after a QB kneel.
“Living in America” is just a few lucrative exposures away from being a car-commercial anthem anyway; his best moments are when he’s armed to the teeth with fuzzy, elated synthesizers. Like everything else on this list, it isn’t subtle; all honey-dipped plinks and fog-burning blasts, and I think it would sound pretty good as a coach gets the Gatorade bath. Big, dumb euphoria, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When to play: All the time/when Adrian Peterson is running through your cornerbacks.
I’d be remiss to not include at least one black metal song. In fact, if you’re a Liturgy hater, just pretend I picked an Emperor song – it reaches the same end. This sort of thing would probably only work in an alternative football universe, where games are played on concrete, steroids are required, and NFL Blitz supersedes Madden in terms of pinpoint realism. (I guarantee I’m not the only one who spent a fair amount of time playing Blitz ’99 bumping Immortal.) Here’s my thing, wouldn’t it be great if extreme metal was played at irresponsible volumes throughout the entirety of all football games? I’m talking halftime, injury breaks, everything. I mean, it might alienate a lot of people, but I think thematically I’d be a perfect set up.