Olympic Music Mania: What To Listen For In London, From McCartney To The Spice Girls

If you've been hoping to hear a lot of "Fanfare For The Common Man," boy, did you come to the wrong Olympics.

On the other hand, sporting's greatest historic event has brought Sporty Spice back from the dead.

The Games of the XXX Olympiad have long promised to be the grooviest Olympics ever — for better (for Underworld fans) or worse (for Aaron Copland groupies). With the opening ceremony approaching Friday in London, the enormity of the British music connection is coming ever clearer: With a host of English acts from Paul McCartney to Underworld in the docket, these might be the first Olympics to get more coverage in NME than Sports Illustrated.

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Chances are you've heard the official theme for the summer Olympics, Muse's "Survival"...and heard it only once, if you're like most people with an intolerance for hook-avoidant Brit-pomp bombast. "Survival" answered the never-asked musical question "What if Queen were bad?" and may have singlehandedly made the Olympics anti-appointment viewing rock fans with delicate sensibilities. But there's lots more from where that came from...well, hopefully from not too close to the rung of hell from whence Muse's misbegotten anthem originated.

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Would the words "Spice" and "Girls" make you any more likely to tune in than Matthew Bellamy's shark-jumping histrionics? Let's hope so, because what is arguably the most anticipated British reunion since Pink Floyd's will go down during the closing ceremony August 12. All five Girls will all be taking part in a two-song performance that will include their anthem for a generation, "Wannabe." Because no one puts Baby, Posh, Ginger, Scary, and Sporty in a corner, not even time itself.

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That August 12 closing ceremony is also slated to feature the Who, Jessie J, and George Michael. Across town at Hyde Park, meanwhile, Blur, New Order, and the Specials will perform at a separate finale concert, though that one may not get as much TV coverage as the Spice-flavored event.

Of course, they're not saving all the musical firepower for the last night. An opening concert in Hyde Park with Duran Duran representing England, Paolo Nutini representing Scotland, Stereophonics representing Wales, and Snow Patrol holding it down for Northern Ireland is scheduled for this Friday night, July 27, in London's Hyde Park. That same night, Sir Paul McCartney will be "closing the opening," as he put it, at the Olympic Park in Stratford. Expect to hear everyone on hand singing "Hey Jude," if leaks are correct.

Prior to Macca's big "na na na na na na na" finish, you'll see the British duo Underworld, the official music directors of the 2012 Olympics, doing their own thing with a choir, orchestra, and a cast of 10,000. Filmmaker Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire fame) is the artistic director of the whole impossibly hep affair.

Meanwhile, some original music commissioned for the Olympics — besides Muse's — is starting to come out. The Chemical Brothers' "Theme For Velodrome" was released to the public last week. "I have always made a connection between electronic music and cycling repetition," said Chemical Bro Tom Rowlands, who cited Kraftwerk's "Tour de France" as an influence. Many music fans have preferred this Olympics track to the one by Muse, though others have found this one unworthy, as well. One commenter at the Guardian newspaper site snarkily wrote: "I think the idea is that if you cycled fast enough, about 343.2 m/s then you will actually not have to hear it. I predict a great many world records."

A pairing between Elton John and the electronic duo Pnau, "Good Morning To The Night," has also been deemed an official song of the Olympics. That may have helped a collaborative album with the same title by John and Pnau debut at No. 1 on the British chart this week—Elton's first No. 1 album in the UK in 22 years. Londoners Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah have also contributed original songs at Danny Boyle's behest.

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The Manchester band Elbow was commissioned to come up with a theme song for the BBC's coverage, recently unveiled via a series of animated Olympics teasers. The tune, "First Steps," is a little closer to Aaron Copland territory than the Muse or Chemical Brothers contributions are — and might remind American audiences of theme music for the networks' nightly news shows. The group's voices don't appear on the track; rather it's a school choir and gospel choir in front of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. That accounts, in part, for why Elbow's Craig Potter said that while the band was "really proud of it," they had no intention of ever performing it at any of their shows.

As for pre-existing music that'll be incorporated into the Olympics, you can expect to hear dozens of mostly British songs excerpted during Friday's opening ceremony. A leaked copy of Boyle's playlist for the ceremony has appeared in the British press and includes the Clash's "London Calling" (duh), Vangelis' "Chariots Of Fire" (also duh), Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells," Handel's "Music For The Royal Fireworks," OMD's "Enola Gay," the Jam's "Going Underground," David Bowie's "Heroes," Pink Floyd's "Eclipse," the Beatles' "The End," and Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Underfoot" (which one hopes doesn't augur for a disaster at the sprinting events).

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Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme" is also slated to be heard, which would seem to bode well for a rumor that Daniel Craig will be making a cameo in his guise as 007 during the opening ceremony.

The least likely song scheduled to be excerpted on the Olympics' opening night: the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen." Yes, this may mark the first time in history that commoners will theoretically be able to study the queen's face while Johnny Rotten's, er, ode to her is played.

If you like what you hear at either the opening or closing ceremonies, you won't necessarily need a DVR for a reprise. Digital albums featuring the music from both will be released by Universal Music the following days. Look for Isles Of Wonder: Music For The Opening Ceremony Of The London 2012 Olympic Games on July 28 and A Symphony Of British Music: Music For The Closing Ceremony Of The London 2012 Olympic Games on August 13. (McCartney fans with a preference for physical media can pick up the opening music on CD August 6.)