In 480 BC, as the Persians approached the Greek ships at the Battle of Salamis, they heard singing. According to Greek poet Aeschylus, “All the barbarians felt fear because they had been deprived of what they expected. The Greeks were singing the stately paean (battle hymn) at that time not for flight, but because they were hastening into battle and were stout of heart.”
For centuries, good tunes have inspired the hearts of warriors and athletes. So long as there has been music and organized fighting, it has boosted moral and kept troops marching in step.
For the Greeks, their hymn successfully freaked out the Persians and they ultimately won that crucial naval battle.
Today, athletes are our celebrity warriors and the battle hymn has taken a left turn. It’s called the jock jam.
First, however, North American athletes had the “fight song.” Fight songs are team-specific, born from when there was little mass professional sport outside college games. They serve the same crowed-rousing, often taunting purpose as stadium anthems, as in Yale University’s killer “Boola Boola” from 1901: “Boola, Boola, Boola, Boola / when we rough-house poor old
Harvard / they will holler Boola Boo. (Rah! Rah! Rah!)” Perhaps a few foam fingers from Chumbawamba.
“Y’all ready for this?” A familiar refrain in any arena, 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This” features the fat beats and frantic energy you expect from a solid jock jam. The (in)famous chorus is sampled from The D.O.C.’s hip hop single “It’s Funky Enough,” but when set over a hyperkinetic eurodance track, its rightful place seems at a cheerleading meet.
In the contemporary imagination, songs like “Get Ready for This,” Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” and Reel 2 Real’s “I Like to Move It” represent the archetypical jock jam and for that we have to thank ESPN’s corporate branding strategy. Even the term “jock jam” is taken
from ESPN’s follow up album to Jock Rock.
In the mid-’90s, the network expanded their reach outside television by collaborating with Tommy Boy Records — the home of artists like House of Pain and De La Soul. This produced an album of popular stadium anthems called Jock Rock (1994) containing classic hits like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and “Takin’ Care of Business” by our very own Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Jock Rock was so successful, ESPN and Tommy Boy sought out new music to create Jock Jams (1995). This would eventually become the six album series of testosterone-igniting-mega-euro-dance-hop we know and love.
“Hit ‘em high (The Monstars’ Anthem)” is a perfect storm of this corporate sponsorship, sports/fighting themes and actual musicality. Written for the 1996 animated film Space Jam, it features the talents of reputable rappers like Method Man, LL Cool J, B-Real, Coolio and Busta Rhymes. In the video, LL Cool J and the gang wear the jerseys of the film’s “Monstars” while spitting pseudo-sports related rhymes about winning and being tough: “Pass me the rock, now I’m headed to the basket / get up out my way is what you better do / my tactics is unsportsmanlike conduct.”
The Space Jam soundtrack was, in many ways, the jock jam’s golden age — its classical period to our late-late Hellenistic. Today’s newest anthems are tailor-made for the stadium, like Black Eyed Peas’ “Rock That Body.”
Like the battle hymn, the jock jam in its purest form is the sound of a higher call: to abandon oneself to the cause and kick ass. As Technotronic says on Jock Jams, Vol. 1, never forget: “Pump up the jam! Pump it up.”