Over the years, various professional athletes have made forays into popular music. These musical efforts may be solo projects, or they may be larger endeavours produced by teams, with one or more star players singing (or rapping) about their team, sport, and/or city. Particularly popular in the 1980s, these songs seem to be an extension of the role given to athletes who play team sports, that being a sort of cultural ambassador. The key difference is that while the athlete (ideally) possesses some skill at their given sport, their musical talent tends to be meager (if it exists at all).
One of the best-known examples of this kind of song is The Super Bowl Shuffle, recorded by the 1985 Chicago Bears shortly before their victory in Super Bowl XX.
Another example is the 1979 single Hockey Sock Rock, performed by John Davidson, Ron Duguay, Phil Esposito, Pat Hickey, and Dave Maloney of the New York Rangers, with the B-side Please Forgive My Misconduct Last Night by Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, and Dave Taylor of the Los Angeles Kings. (Both of these songs were apparently written by Alan Thicke.) In this case the songs were done for charity, and while neither song is explicitly about the team, the lyrics are most definitely about hockey. Excerpts from both songs can be found in the clip below:
The earliest song I know of recorded by a Toronto athlete is Honky the Christmas Goose, a 1965 Christmas single by Leafs star goalie Johnny Bower, although this song is not even about hockey, much less the Toronto Maple Leafs:
The year after Bower’s song, a group called Douglas Rankine and the Secrets released a song called Clear the Track, Here Comes Shack about popular Leafs’ forward Eddie Shack, although Shack does not perform on it:
The late 1980s saw The Ballad of Tom Henke, credited to the Section 15 Orchestra, written about the Blue Jays relief pitcher (nicknamed “Terminator”) although, again, the athlete does not appear on the recording:
Not quite in this category is Moxy Früvous’ re-working of The Association‘s “Windy,” with the words altered to make it about quarterback Doug Flutie. Although Moxy Früvous was from the Toronto area, this was recorded after Flutie’s time with the Argos, when he was playing for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills:
In recent years, of course, several Toronto sports fans have written and presented their own songs about Toronto athletes and put them up on YouTube, although none seem to have captured much public attention.
In terms of songs actually recorded by athletes, there is La Playa, which features former Blue Jays pitcher Kelvim Escobar, albeit recorded after he had moved on to the Anaheim Angels. I’m not really sure what this song is about, but the video suggests it’s neither about Toronto nor baseball:
To my delight, I finally found the sort of song I’ve been seeking: Shaker’s Rap, as performed by ’80s Blue Jays outfielder Lloyd Moseby:
This website indicates that it was released as a 12-inch single in 1986, and suggests that the record included a non-Blue Jays version of this song (?), an instrumental version, and an additional track called “Stick to It,” all apparently by Lloyd “Shaker” Moseby. The record was reportedly distributed by RCA. According to an article in the August 7, 1986 Toronto Star, “Stick to It” was actually considered to be the lead single when released on August 15, and according to Moseby “it’s about telling kids to stay away from drugs, stay in school, that scene.” He told Sports Illustrated that “I wouldn’t have done it if not for the message. I’m no singer; no way am I doing love songs or anything.” So far I have not been able to track down a version.
The Star‘s Peter Goddard wrote that Shaker’s Rap sounded like “a Japanese disco after midnight,” and that “[it] isn’t going to make anybody forget Michael Jackson. Or, for that matter, it won’t make anybody forget Roy Lee Jackson, the last Blue Jay to sing in public.” (Roy Lee Jackson was a pitcher with the Jays from 1981 to 1984, who on at least one ocassion sang the pre-game national anthems, an event immortalized on a baseball card the following season.)
Although “Shaker’s Rap (Blue Jays Version)” is a bit thin on lyrics, it is still, like all of these athlete-recordings, an interesting reflection of the time in which it was made, and an enjoyable piece of Toronto’s history. I’m glad this recording was uploaded by Toronto blogger Toronto Mike, and encourage readers to explore some of the content uploaded to his Soundcloud page, as he has posted several other interesting songs about Blue Jays players, including a song about outfielder Mookie Wilson (with the team from 1989 to 1991) set to the music of the Beach Boys’ “Help Me, Rhonda.”
I assume that any other songs officially produced by Toronto sports teams would have surfaced by now and be staples of our popular culture, but given that it took a bit of effort for me, a Jays fan, to find evidence of Lloyd Moseby’s rapping career this may not be the case. If you know of any other songs recorded by the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Argos, or Raptors, especially ones which are over ten years old, please leave a comment. (Also, if you know of a video for “Shaker’s Rap.”) We tend to forget about these sorts of things in Toronto, so it would be good to keep these songs in our collective consciousness.
In conclusion, allow me to present my favourite example of this genre, Get Metsmerized!, which features nine members of the 1986 New York Mets rapping as best they can about what it means to be a New York Met.
Update – rICK vAIVE & “Penalty Box Blues”
A nice gentleman with the Twitter handle @juicyjuicebob has alerted me to the existence of a 1984 recording by Maple Leafs forward Rick Vaive, called Penalty Box Blues. So far I have not been able to locate a recording of it online.
Penalty Box Blues was actually part of a charity LP called Team Rock All Stars 84/85. The album was put together by recording engineer Bob Leth and was an effort to raise funds for minor hockey teams. According to an article in the January 15, 1985 Toronto Star, the album included contributions by noted folk singer John Allan Cameron, the Good Brothers, and noted session drummer Bernard Purdie, whose website bills him as “the world’s most recorded drummer.” Other hockey players who reportedly recorded on the album were retired-Leaf (and City-TV sports reporter) Jim McKenny, Brian Glennie, and Doug Patey. As of the time of this article, albums were being sold to minor hockey teams at low rates, who in turn were invited to re-sell the album for $10 (about average price for an LP in those days) and keep the profits.
Without an available audio sample, the only clue to the sound of Penalty Box Blues comes from Bob Leth, who told the Star that Vaive “does an Elvis-type song… he’s got a real rockabilly voice.” Anyone have a copy of this album at home?