Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

With the World Series starting tonight, what better time for a baseball playlist?

Baseball has a special place in American culture.

In a country with so little history, at least relatively speaking, this is a game that has passed from father to son, and one that embraces its past as a way of renewing itself and keeping itself new.

It is held in a regard like no other sport in the country, a regard that means that, even thought the NFL has risen to eclipse it as the most popular league, baseball can keep a straight face while referring to itself as America's pasttime.

That status is reflected in the number of songs written about baseball. As we've covered before, writing songs about sport is dangerous territory, but baseball seems to be safer ground than most, as evidenced by the tracks here.

So as the New York Yankees get ready to take on the Philadelphia Phillies, slip yourself into the right mood by listening to these.

John Fogerty - Centerfield (Centerfield, 1985)

The quintessential baseball song, heard all summer long at ballparks big and small across America. It might not be a patch on some of the great Creedence classics, but this track has probably earned Fogerty more than many others in terms of royalties. And it's the only place to start this list.

The Baseball Project - Harvey Haddix (Vol 1: Frozen Ropes And Dying Quails, 2008)

This supergroup, featuring Peter Buck, Steve McCaughey, Linda Pitmon and Steve Wynn, was, as you can tell by their name, formed exclusively to pay homage to the great game of baseball. Their only album to date was a mixed bag, often filled with dirge, but this one has always stood out for me. The perfect game - in which the pitcher allows not a single man to reach base - is that rarest of baseball achievements - there have been only 18 in the history of the game, and pitching is much harder today than it once was in the so-called "dead-ball era". But that list has never included Harvey Haddix, who went further than just nine innings, tossing 12 perfect innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Milwaukee Braves in 1959. But he was denied his place in history as none of his team-mates could score either, and the Pirates ultimately lost the game in the 13th, meaning Haddix's line did not fit the strict definition of a perfect game.

The Felice Brothers - Cooperstown (Yonder Is The Clock, 2009)

A musical biography of Ty Cobb, the Detroit Tigers great, sounds like a concept too awkward to pull off, but the Felice Brothers once again show off their superb storytelling ability in this beautiful track from their latest album. Tracing Cobb's life from rural Georgia to "the great Hall of Fame" in Cooperstown, its a song that evokes some wonderful imagery. Cobb, a menace on the diamond, has "a game like a war machine", his achievements measured when "the scoreboard sweetly hums". But my favourite line comes when looking at his never-say-die attitude: "I'm on First/And you're on Third/And the wolves are all between/And everyone's sure that the game is over." Of course, Cobb comes through, "And tomorrow, you'll surely know who's won."

The Be Good Tanyas - For The Turnstiles (Hello Love, 2003)

I've posted Neil Young's original on here before, so here's a nice wee cover of the classic. Interpreted as a lament of the way the music industry chews up and spits out musicians, Young used the imagery of minor league baseball players, men who either failed to make the majors or who's skills let them down before they retired, they are "left to die on the diamond".

The Hold Steady - Take Me Out To The Ballgame (Unreleased, 2007)

This track could have had a great deal more resonance on here had not the Twins been eliminated early in the play-offs. Although known as a Brooklyn band, the Hold Steady's roots are in Minneapolis, and they salute the Minnesota Twins here with their own take on the baseball standard, recorded in 2007 for the team to use at the Metrodome and then made available as a free internet download. The Twins lost to the Yankees in the first round.

Whiskeytown - Empty Baseball Park (Faithless Street Expanded Edition, 1998)

We'll finish here, with the track that lent its name to what became known as Whiskeytown's Baseball Park Sessions, released on the repackaged Faithless Street. This song places baseball back in its most natural setting, the community facility in the American small town. When the first pitch is thrown at the grand cathedral in the Bronx tonight, baseball will be on its greatest stage - it seems fitting to end with a celebration of its most humble.

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