The Sweet Sounds of Success: Sports and Music

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

"Take Me Out to the Ball-Game" is one of the most instantly recognizable sports songs.  Image courtesy of KansasMemory, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

“Take Me Out to the Ball-Game” is one of the most instantly recognizable sports songs. Image courtesy of KansasMemory, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

From the marching band that takes the field at half time to the songs fans sing in the stands, music has been a key part of the sports experience in Kansas for a long time.

So when singer-songwriter Lorde revealed that she titled her smash hit “Royals” after a photo she’d seen of Kansas City Royals baseball player George Brett, it was just one more example of how music and sports often come together in surprising ways.

It makes sense: like sports, music taps into something deeply emotional in us. The joy of victory, the agony of defeat—both can be amplified by the right soundtrack.

Sports music tends to fall into two categories: songs that are about sports and songs that become associated with sports.

The first group features classics like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” but it also features songs like Kenny Rogers’s “The Greatest” (baseball), Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Are You Ready for Some Football” (football, obviously), and Warren Zevon’s “Hit Somebody!” (hockey).

More common are the songs that, for whatever reason, we come to associate with sports. These are the songs that can be heard at games across Kansas, no matter what team you root for.

When the home team is down and all hope looks lost, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” can keep the crowd going, even though its lyrics don’t have anything to do with sports. And defeating a rival feels even sweeter when the opponents leave the court to the sound of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye),” even though song is about leaving a lover, not athletic glory.

New songs are added to this list all the time. Sporting KC supporters regularly belt out the chorus to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes’ “Home,” another song that seems to have nothing do with sports.

Nothing, that is, until it’s being sung in unison by thousands of fans as a sign of support for the team they love.

Then the connection—and the melody—sound pretty clear.