Who’s Missing? Musing Over The Music That Got Axed From NBC’s Olympics Closing

Chris Willman
Stop The Presses!

Heading into NBC's coverage of the closing Olympics ceremony, Bob Costas declared that we were in for "a massive rock concert, and that means the man for the job is Ryan Seacrest." We might have known that the spit-take-worthy equation of Seacrest with rock & roll might have been a bad sign, but little did rock fans know just how egregious the network's prime-time omissions would turn out to be.

Let's just say that Seacrest should avoid attending any rock concerts by Muse, Ray Davies, Elbow, and the Who in the future, unless he likes the idea of coming to great bodily harm. (We'd also advise him against attending any Kate Bush shows, but that's probably a moot point.)

The performance that serious rock fans were most looking forward to? Ray Davies' reading of the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset," widely acclaimed as one of the loveliest singles of all time, and possibly the best rock song ever written specifically about the Olympics' home, London. Pffffft—nowhere to be seen on NBC, after music hounds who'd watched the webcast earlier spend all day tweeting to friends to tune in.

The performance that casual rock fans were most looking forward to? The Who's closing four-song set. The network did manage to air that... late at night, after the premiere of the unfathomably unwatchable sitcom Animal Practice... and also after the local news, in some markets. Better late than never? Arguably.

But "never" was the buzzword for some other musical performances that got the axe, like Muse's "Survival." That may have been the official song of the Olympics—the official song!—but NBC wasn't about to show it any special favoritism when there are hard choices to be made between music and trained monkeys.

Now, here's an interesting statistic: Sales for the band Elbow were up 1,000% after their two-song appearance at the closing ceremony. In England, that is. In America, NBC couldn't actually completely cut out the highly acclaimed band's renditions of "One Day Like This" and "Open Arms," because these songs accompanied the entrance of the athletes. But the network made sure to never cut to a shot of the group or deign to mention their name. That'll teach those uppity Mercury Music Prize winners to stay in their own country.

NBC clearly wasn't making choices based on what was most visually arresting, because one of the high points of the ceremony was a set piece designed around Kate Bush's brand new re-recording of her signature song, "Running Up That Hill." Hundreds of extras pushed 303 white blocks up the set's inclines, symbolizing the 303 Olympic events that had just taken place, eventually forming a pyramid out of them. This enchanting exercise in sisyphean triumph probably never stood Sisyphus' chance of making it onto the air in America.

As for expecting both of Emeli Sande's two numbers, well, you knew better than that.

But surely these cuts were all made in the face of more compelling musical choices, right? Choices like... the Kaiser Chiefs doing a cover of a Who song. TV producers know how much American kids are into the Kaiser Chiefs! That's the English band that's on every Yankee youngster's lips, right after One Direction, right?

And far be it from NBC to cut Russell Brand making a mockery out of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" (not to mention his snippet of a Willie Wonka song), because, clearly, Brand is at the very peak of his popularity in the States as well as the UK right now. (Sarcasm intended.)

And airing both appearances by Jessie J, at the expense of even one by Muse or Ray Davies? Maybe this was the push that was needed to finally break her big in America... though you could debate its effect, seeing how her most popular song, "Price Tag," is only at No. 73 on the iTunes chart the day after the telecast.

At least NBC can say, "Well, unlike the opening ceremony, we broadcast this one in its entirety, live, on the web, for all 10 of you Kinks freaks." The only problem is—and it's a big one—the webcast earlier in the day had virtually no audio to speak of. All the webcast music seemed to be being picked up by an ambient microphone somewhere in the stadium, allowing the announcers' voices to be about three times as loud. If you wanted to hear the real audio feed, you had to tune in to a bootleg webcast of the BBC's live coverage.

Someone or something will have to pay for rock-loving America's outrage. It will not be Seacrest, the untouchable, of course. Our bet is, the victim will be Animal Practice, which in its opening frames was already the most hated show on the air, even before anyone had a chance to see how bad it was. You can love "My Generation" or you can love the monkey. There is no middle ground.

On the plus side, another thing that NBC saw fit to cut was George Michael's second number, his unremarkable new single "White Light," which, frankly, seems like a good call. But even a broken clock is right twice a day.