Thursday, 7 July 2016

My Top Ten Tennis Songs

As it's the Wimbledon final this weekend, I thought I'd have a go at a Top Ten Songs About Tennis. I had a great Number One in mind, but was surprised by how difficult it proved to scrape together the rest of them. I had to go pretty obscure in places, but sometimes that's a nice change of pace from being overwhelmed by choice (as I often am when I think of a subject these days). Still, I can't believe there aren't more songs about tennis. Perhaps you know some that I couldn't think of...?

Special mentions to Tennis (the band), Ballboy, Hooton Tennis Club and (Chalk Dust) The Umpire Strikes Back by The Brat... which was hilarious for 10 minutes when I was 10 years old but seems frankly ridiculous (that such a thing could go Top 20 in the singles chart) 34 years later. Oh, and I'm In Love With Steffi Graf by Hugh Laurie, which does still make me chuckle.

(Album art above comes from the "great lost Who album": Who's For Tennis, reconstructed courtesy of the excellent Albums That Never Were blog.)

10. Lorde - Tennis Court

So. Lorde. OK, middle-aged music lovers, what do we make of Lorde?

I was very much enamoured with Lana Del Rey when she hit big with Video Games (although the law of diminishing returns applied with later releases). Lorde appears to follow Lana's template aurally, the differences being she's younger and hipper, a New Zealander, and secretly Stan's dad in South Park. Yeah, South Park pretty much put paid to me talking Lorde seriously.

Anyway, Tennis Court is a perfectly decent pop song. There's a little too much of what da kidz call "beatz" for my liking, but that's just because I've already preferred instruments to computers. I have it in my collection because google play had an offer on the album for 99p a year or so back and I like to try new things. Not really listened to it that much, but as I've said before, I'm not really the target audience for cool contemporary pop music any more, am I? So they're not doing their job right if old fogies like me dig it too much.

9. Cream - Anyone For Tennis?

The problems I have with Eric Clapton aside, there's no denying Cream made some excellent records. I'm not sure this is one of them... but it's worth watching the video to see the embarrassing things pop stars had to do to get their records seen  on TV in the 60s.

8. Phranc - M-A-R-T-I-N-A

I first discovered Phranc when I heard Steve Lamacq play her excellent single Folksinger as an oldie on 6Music. Turns out it was released all the way back in 1989, on Phranc's second album, I Enjoy Being A Girl. M-A-R-T-I-N-A is from the same album, which I soon secured a very cheap copy of. Strangely, Folksinger (which is a far better song) isn't on youtube, yet this is. Still fun, but perhaps not the best place to start if you've never heard Phranc before...

7. Sky Sailing - Tennis Elbow

A warm and lilting sunshiney American indie song from Adam Young, the guy also behind the band Owl City (y'know: Fireflies), taken from the 2010 album An Airplane Carried Me to Bed.
I served and scratched a rainbow
So curved, I felt the pain go
Through my joints
And now I don't wanna play
Swinging down, I sent the birdie
Downtown, At 7:30
And I'm convinced that I've got tennis elbow
6. Lilys -  Tennis System (And Its Stars)

You may remember Lilys as the band who had a Top 20 hit back in 1996 with the short, sharp spunkiness of A Nanny In Manhattan (after it was featured in a Levis' ad). This is from the same album (perhaps surprisingly, the band released a total of 8 between '92 and '06). Very 60s influenced, filtered through 90s indie (which perhaps explains why they were successful in the UK at the height of Britpop)... and the lyrics are proper mental.
Tossing young men from high windows
Care air lighter than Cosmo
Knows no bounds of charming
Building aisles of sound from my room
And sung so softly none understood
What now?

5. Chris Rea - Tennis

Title track from Rea's third album, released in 1980, which I'm guessing wasn't particularly successful as it falls into a hole between his brief 70's success with (Fool) If You Think It's Over and mid-late 80's superstardom.

Tennis is an interesting song, looking at how the media concentrates all its attention on sporting tournaments and ignores much bigger world events...
There are people in boats in the middle of the sea
Crying and dying like Jews
Do you like tennis?
Freedom is the man with the red grenade
She ran out of gas, got beat and raped
Do you like tennis?
Didn't really work for the Chilcott Report, did it, Tony?

4. Bicycle Thief - Tennis Shoes

Cool "lost classic" from the sole 1999 album from this American guitar band... although the album was re-released in 2001 with quite a different track list. Tennis Shoes is on both versions, so it must be considered one of their better songs. I think it is, anyway.
Sun was comin' up on New Orleans
When I opened my eyes
It was another perfect morning
I didn't know where I was
Or where I was going
For most of my life
If there was a chance to fuck it up
Well, I did...
Yeah, I did
3. The Pernice Brothers - The Ballad of Bjorn Borg

A gorgeous track by Joe Pernice & co. from their excellent 2001 album The World Won't End.
Poetic lyrics and lush harmonies combine to evoke the long hot summers of our youth... back when Bjorn was in his prime. Sadly I can't find the audio anywhere online.

2. Half Man Half Biscuit - Outbreak of Vitas Gerulaitis

Knowing very little about tennis, I originally selected this track only because it contains the amusing pun, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wade?"

However, on further investigation, I learned that Vitas Gerulaitis was actually a Lithuanian tennis player who won the Australian Open in 1977 and the Men's Doubles at Wimbledon in 1975 (partnered with Sandy Mayer). Nigel Blackwell: king of obscure references. I particularly like the Scooby Doo bit...
Why, it’s Mr Kowalski
It was you all along!
That ski lodge would have been mine
If it wasn’t for you meddling kids

But what can you do
When your Mum’s in Rampton, bouncing off the walls
And singing “Who’s afraid, of Virginia Wade?”

Why do that today when you can always put it off until tomorrow?
Was our motto
Subsequently engraved on a plaque
As a reminder of the attack
Of Vitas Gerulaitis
1. Frank Turner - Love Forty Down

Good old Frank Turner, you can always rely on him to save the day. It seems incredible to me that more songwriters haven't used tennis as a metaphor for relationships (given the obvious pun on the word 'love'). Perhaps it's too obvious. Frank doesn't take the obvious path here though - he's much cleverer than that. Instead, this is a song about staring down "the barrel of (his) fourth decade" and being afraid that life's slipping away from him. As with many of Frank's songs, it's also about not giving up. Maybe that's why he remains one of my absolute favourite contemporary songwriters. I feel every word he writes...

Which one takes Game, Set and Match as your favourite tennis song?


  1. I usually like girly pop music but haven't bothered with the Lorde album at all. I would probably buy it if I saw it for 99p on Google Play (I have bought much worse things for 99p on Google Play) but I think South Park ruined her for me, too. I can't even see her name now without hearing Stan's dad going "Lorde Lorde Lorde, Lorde Lorde Lorde".

    I can't think of any tennis songs. Sorry. The first thing I thought of when I saw this list was the video for Air's "Kelly Watch The Stars", which has tennis players in it, but I doubt that counts.

  2. There are lots of songs called "Love Game" or "Love Games". Lady Gaga and Eminem both have songs so-called, I believe, though I've heard neither.

  3. Turn that racket down, etc! See what I did there? Though I'm so old, I prefer 'racquet'...

    1. Thank you. I was hoping someone would go for that one.

      That's the comment I would have typed for this post!

  4. Hey, I've got one: 'Deuce' by Kiss. As it's a Kiss song, it's probably not about tennis at all and is more likely to be about intercourse and/or rock & roll, but still... It is one of their best songs.

    1. Good call, Rob. Deuce was one I missed checking. And always got time for Kiss.

  5. Can't believe you missed this one


  6. Whoops!

    Knew I could rely on you ;)

  7. P.S. The Albums That Never Were blog - nice tip!

    1. That's why I love the internet. Accidental discoveries like that.

  8. Please, don't dis Lorde! She's only a kid. Lot of potential. And, she's not Australian. That was really a low blow she does not deserve.
    As for tennis songs: how about "Isner and Mahut" by Dan Bern!
    Youtube only has a shitty live/mix version

    1. No dis intended, finally, and thanks for the correction - I should fact check such things. Don't want to get into the whole Aussie/Kiwi rivalry as I have friends in both countries!

      Thanks for the Dan Bern - I'm a fan of his but didn't know this track.

  9. Here are the Pernice Brothers for You Rol

    And something from Not The Nine O'Clock News

  10. Replies
    1. Cheers, CC. I have a Cricket Songs on the backburner but not considered golf...yet.

  11. I was looking for songs that referenced tennis. Thanks for introducing me to Frank Turner, its so refreshing to learn about someone from the last decade singing with this much unapologetic sincerity and achieving success doing it.


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