You don’t need to be a graduate of a major university to notice the impact music has on Aussie rules.
You live it every time your victorious boys belt out the club theme song, are reminded of it when ACDC’s “Long Way to the Top” backs up whichever celebrity is proclaiming “This is Greatness” on the game’s TV ads, and cringe at it when famous artists completely butcher half-time entertainment at the Grand Final (cough, Meat Loaf).
But what’s less appreciated is the impact footy has had on music: the way local musicians have been inspired, if only briefly, to put aside their quest to write the ultimate love song and pen odes to Australia’s game.
Hence, I present to you this delightful collection of tunes paying tribute to AFL and its place in our hearts.
1979: The Two Man Band – Up There Cazaly
What can you say about the song first used to promote the 1979 VFL season – and which kicked off the ‘songs praising footy’ movement – that hasn’t been said already?
Well, how about some trivia? I’ll bet you didn’t know the song takes its title from a popular AFL catchphrase used by teammates of legendary 1920s South Melbourne and St Kilda ruckman Roy Cazaly when they wanted him to knock the ball clear of the contest.
So popular it was when released, in fact, it became the highest selling single in Australia up to that point, inspiring the song’s writer Mike Brady to turn it into an unofficial trilogy, with One Day In September and There’s A Little Bit Of Cazaly In Us All, in the following years.
No matter how old it gets (or how badly Fox Footy reworks it), Up There Cazaly still encapsulates all the emotion and spectacle of an AFL match like no other song has since.
1987: Paul Kelly – Leaps and Bounds
Australia’s greatest lyrical poet came up with this sparkling dedication to nothing in particular while living in a sharehouse in South Yarra in the late 70s.
But when he released the song – with an accompanying music video atop of the Punt Road silos – the following decade, it made perfect sense: The MCG, the imagery of spectacular marks, the Nylex Clock… yep, this is a footy anthem!
1992: Hunters and Collectors – Holy Grail
Mark Seymour’s lyrics were apparently inspired by Napoleon’s ill-fated march on Russia in 1812, but come every September the only meaning that matters of Holy Grail is how it embodies the do-or-die reality for every team in the finals.
If you grew up with footy in the early 2000s like I did, the one thing you’ll remember – other than Brisbane winning everything – is this song: Holy Grail was used by channel 10 to open their broadcast of footy matches until 2006, and has been performed by Seymour at 4 of the last 16 Grand Finals.
1994: Eric Bana – Out Of Bounds
Footy had difficulty finding the funny side of things until recently, with the advent of “Before the Game” and Toyota’s ads with Steven Curry and Dave Lawson, and that’s what makes this before-he-was-famous satire from 1994 by Eric Bana so “special” (as Bruce McAvaney would say but Bana for some reason didn’t include).
Hands up who’s waiting for a similar outtake on Brian Taylor, Cameron Ling and Basil Zempilas?
1994: Greg Champion – That’s The Thing About Football
‘Champs’, everyone’s favorite footy fun-finder and Saturday satirist, gave Brady a run for his money as the king of the get-the-blood-pumping footy anthems.
Lyrics like “show me the crowd and I’ll take my place, I’m hungry, I’m hungry for the taste of it” are so obvious, yet so emotive that there’s no way you can’t relate to them if you’re a footy fan.
1995: Weddings, Parties, Anything – Monday’s Experts
Far from being a dig at Caro, Hutchy, and the Footy Classified team, Monday’s Experts are “nearly everyone you meet” in the words of this song.
Of all the tunes on this list, this is arguably the one that is the biggest sign of the times. As footy was starting to move from Saturday to every day of the week in the 90s, so too was the time when people debated it.
1996: Kevin Johnson – Aussie Rules I Thank You
Written to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the VFL/AFL competition, Aussie Rules I Thank You is a rewrite of Johnson’s biggest hit, Rock and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life, from 1973.
While it’s similar to Brady and Champ’s works for trying to encapsulate the spirit of the game, Johnson’s song treats footy less like a pastime and more as a sacred part of Australian culture which, you’d have to say, is exactly what it is.
1999: Austen Tayshus – Footyana
Another satire and another remake of an established classic song. Jewish-Aussie comedian Alexander Jacob Gutman turned his arsenal of groan-worthy puns away from Australiana and on to footy players of the late 90s, with results such as “we passed Liam the Burger Rings. Come on Liam, pick a ring!”
We can only imagine what he would have done with today’s players, but my money would be on Tyson Goldsack getting an early mention.
2010: McKenna – Last Ones Standing
When you’ve got a song with lyrics penned by Dennis Cometti, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be a footy classic.
And so it was that when music buff Cometti teamed up with LA musician James McKenna in 2009, a song worthy of its own place in footy music history was born.
“Last Ones Standing” embodies the unbelievable relief and joy experienced by the premiership team moments after winning the Grand Final, and was meant to be the song played after three rounds of the winner’s club song at the 2010 Grand Final.
The irony – which surely wouldn’t have been lost on the sharp-minded Cometti – was that the match ended in a draw, and his line “when the clock runs out, one side takes it all…” was disproven.
Though Collingwood eventually won the flag, they never got to hear the song. So let’s right an old wrong. This one’s for you, Pies supporters!
And a special mention to…
The Richmond club theme song (written by Jack Malcolmson in 1962)
I know it seems unfair and a cop out to include a club song on a list of the best footy songs, but really, this is one of the best.
The savage cry of “YELLOW AND BLACK!” that reverberates around the ‘G after every Richmond win is a spectacle that evokes passion, camaraderie and unbridled joy in tens of thousands of people, and for that reason the song is a reflection of footy itself.
We don’t get to hear it every week, but I guess that’s not a problem if you support the other team!