One of the greatest things ever is sitting in the bleachers, keeping a box score, and spittin’ some seeds. With opening day pushed back, we’ve been enjoying baseball songs more than ever and made a new Music Discovery playlist centered around some key songs.
For those keeping score at home, the Rockies open up in Texas on Friday, July 24. Bring home a sweep boys, and stay safe!
Bruce Springsteen | “Glory Days”
We start the playlist with the ace, Springsteen, and his awesome “Glory Days,” from 1984’s Born In The USA. The song is about the Boss’s friend, revealed in 2011 to be Joe DePugh, who could “make you look like a fool, boy” with his fastball. In the song, the mates run into each other at a roadside bar a few years later, talking about those perfect glory days, which pass you by “in the wink of young girl’s eye.” Springsteen shouts out his dad in one verse too: he worked at the Metuchen Ford plant in New Jersey, making this a union song and a baseball song, with that perfect organ line.
The Baseball Project | “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”
The Baseball Project’s “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” should be the one you hear in stadiums this summer. Formed in 2007, The Baseball Project features some of the great sonic-creators of our era, with Peter Buck, Mike MIlls, and Scott McCaughey at the bat. Their one-minute version of “Take Me Me Out To The Ballgame” has to be the finest rendition out there, with buzzy guitar, surf rock, and go-go handclaps. When they sing “I don’t care if I ever get back,” they actually mean it – you better not get to strike three, folks.
Chuck Berry | “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”
“Take Me Out To The Ballgame” sets the table for Chuck Berry, the skipper, who taught us all how to rock and roll. And here, on “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” Berry infuses social commentary in the form of a baseball song. This 1956 Chess hit (whose A-Side was “Too Much Monkey Busines”) sees a brown eyed handsome man rounding his way home, after hitting a dinger on a “two-three … count with nobody on.”
Natalie Cole | “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?”
You can’t talk about baseball without talking about the GOAT, Jackie Robinson, who changed the game forever. Based on Buddy Johnson’s original, Natalie Cole (daughter of Nat King) captures the smoothness of Jackie’s strides and honors other historic black ballplayers: “Satchel Paige is mellow, and so is Campanellow.” Robinson is the only player whose number (42) is retired forever. As Cole sings: “Jackie’s a real gone guy.”
Macklemore | “My Oh My”
About fifty years later, Ken Griffey, Jr. was rounding third to send the Mariners into the American League Championship Series. “My Oh My,” from Seattle hip hop artist Macklemore shouts out the M’s, but this song is really about his dad. Macklemore would “huddle around the radio, twist the broken nob” to pull in KJAR with his pops. The radio call sampled in is pretty cool too, and father and son celebrate: “Laces woven, barely holdin’ that stitch / The creases of time amongst the grime and the grit.”
Todd Snider | “America’s Favorite Pastime”
In 1970, Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis achieved the unachievable: throwing a no-no while hallucinating. Todd Snider gives a swampy-rendition of this moment, when “back in 1970 … he and his wife took a trip to the ballpark a little differently.” Over the course of nine innings, Snider has Dock seeing snakes and silver bullets. But no one could touch him, not on the day Dock “threw a no-hitter on LSD.”
Dropkick Murphy’s | “I’m Shipping Up To Boston”
From there, we keep the energy going with Dropkick Murphy’s “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” from 2005’s The Warrior’s Code. Bo-Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon took the song to a new level when you could find him charging out of the Fenway bullpen in the aughts. Or, doing an Irish Jig to the song. It reminds us of Mariano Rivera’s shutdown song, “Enter Sandman,” as well. This is actually an unrecorded Woody Guthrie song and Dropkick Murphy’s knock it out of the park.
Beastie Boys | “Sure Shot”
The Beastie Boys “Sure Shot,” has to get in here because of the immortal line: “I’ve got more action than my man, John Woo. And I’ve got mad hits like I was Rod Carew.” It doesn’t get better than that. Carew is our kind of hitter too, ending up with 3,053 hits (and an incredible .328 average) in his career with the Twinkies and Angels. Of course, the Beasties’ Ill Communication from where this appeared slaps pretty hard, too.
Pavement | “Major Leagues”
Pavement’s “Major Leagues” is next, from 1999’s Terror Twilight. The song finds Stephen Malkmus angling on relationships (“hey, hey, hey,”) more than baseball, but perhaps he’s referencing Willie Mays here – who knows; it’s Malkmus at his most dada-ist. But what’s for sure is the song has a perfect dream-pop feel all the way through, before dream-pop meant much. This has always been one of Pavement’s underrated songs in their catalog, from one of their finest albums.
Magnolia Electric Company | “31 Seasons In The Minor Leagues”
Baseball humbles you, too, the subject of Jason Molina’s song on never quite making it big. From 2005’s Hard To Love A Man, this is about a down-and-out everyman who is afraid to take a swing at his luck, and when he does, he ain’t even close. Molina sings: “You ain’t ever gonna win the game. Hell kid, you don’t even know the coach’s name.” It’s a learning experience though, and the minor leagues aren’t always so bad.
Bob Dylan | “Catfish”
Yes, Dylan has a baseball song, and it’s pretty bluesy – all slide guitar and harmonica. It comes off of The Bootleg Series Volume 1 -3 (Rare And Unreleased): 1961 – 1991. Dylan’s “Catfish” is presumably about all-time great pitcher Catfish Hunter. Of course, this Catfish works on Mr. Finley’s farm, a far different system than Maggie’s, to be sure. He runs away to join up with the Yankees, and with that curve, Dylan sings: you “got to eat what Catfish serve.”
Eddie Vedder | “All The Way (Live In Chicago)”
Eddie Vedder was born right up the road from Chicago. When he first began performing this song, the Cubs hadn’t won a World Series since 1908. If you’ve ever been to Wrigley, you know the feeling: “When you’re born in Chicago, you’re blessed and you’re healed, the first time you walk into Wrigley Field.” The Cubs have a World Series since. Still: “We are one with the Cubs, with the Cub’s we’re in love.”
Wilco | “Joe DiMaggio Done It Again”
We’ll round it out with another Guthrie song, performed by Wilco on the Mermaid Avenue collection alongside Billy Bragg. This is basically a children’s rhyme set to bluegrass, with DiMaggio coming through time after time. Interestingly, DiMaggio suffered a heel injury in 1949, which Guthrie references in the line: “I’m gonna tell you just the way I feel. Man can’t run without his heel.” Don’t ever doubt Joltin’ Joe: “Looks like a cyclone sliding in. Joe DiMaggio’s done it again.”
Other good baseball songs for further listening:
John Fogerty | “Centerfield”
Warren Zevon | “Bill Lee”
Sister Wynona Carr | “The Ball Game”
Echo And The Bunnymen | “Baseball Bill”
Guided By Voices | “Look, It’s Baseball”
The Intruders | “Love Is Like A Baseball Game”
Belle and Sebastian | “Piazza, New York Catcher”
The Mountain Goats | “Cubs In Five”