As 2024 gets underway, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd will be continuing their “Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour,” an amalgamation of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” It causes me to wish that somewhere, someone would combine Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” with the Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No” to start a “Sweet Caroline, No” movement.
If you are a sports fan, it is almost impossible not to be chased down somewhere by the admittedly happy and upbeat “Sweet Caroline,” complete with “ba, ba, ba” and “so good, so good, so good” thrown into the mix. What started innocuously at Fenway Park in 1997 has now become a global, musical virus at sporting venues. Don’t get me wrong: I have always enjoyed “Sweet Caroline.” Its rollout at Red Sox games — making it part of the Fenway Park experience — was fine with me. But now it is seemingly everywhere — the University of Pittsburgh, the Carolina Panthers, England soccer, cricket and rugby matches, Jim Beam commercials (to name a few), and a somewhat creepy Adobe commercial with a young girl named Caroline. Did they not listen to the lyrics?
It has even found its way into sports theater. I attended a play entitled “Dear England” in London recently starring Joseph Fiennes as England soccer manager Gareth Southgate that ended with a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline” in which the theater crowd joined. (The play’s run ended January 13, so no spoiler here.) A feel-good moment, no doubt, but we are far past the saturation point.
One problem I have with the whole trend of sports teams adopting the signature song of another sports team is that it prevents a team from sports musical innovation. There is nothing amoral or unethical in adopting another team’s signature song, but why take the lazy way out? We Stanford alums were somewhat aghast when USC started playing “All Right Now” (by the English band Free) after each touchdown, which the Stanford band had done for at least a decade before.
I will note that I do not have a problem with the use of a conventional and simple guitar riff being played at multiple sports venues. The opening chords of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” is the perfect accompaniment to the initial puck drop at an NHL game, and many arenas use it. It’s short, punchy and somehow doesn’t seem as insidious as “Sweet Caroline” has become. I am also fine with “We Are the Champions” being played for the champions — if, indeed, they are the “champions of the world” and not just of a single nation (e.g., the USA).
As his iconic song “Hallelujah” was starting to suffer from overexposure, Leonard Cohen once remarked: “It’s a good song. But too many people sing it.” Perhaps Neil Diamond could encourage a moratorium, or at least a dialing down, of “Sweet Caroline,” but he would seemingly have little incentive to do so. Or perhaps sports teams could be a little more creative in finding a song that appeals to their fan base. The Chicago Blackhawks, for instance, imported “Chelsea Dagger” (which admittedly had been deployed by several soccer teams in the UK) and used it to great effect during their Stanley Cup runs in the 2010s. That, of course, caused other hockey teams in the college and pro ranks to start using it as well. However, it has a long way to go to reach the saturation point that “Sweet Caroline” has.
I hereby offer a challenge to sports franchises and venues to experiment with the music that might fuse well with their own team, and eschew the musical cliché. That would be “so good, so good, so good.”
Bob Latham is a partner at the law firm Jackson Walker, L.L.P., and a World Rugby board member. A compilation of his best columns titled “Winners & Losers: Rants, Riffs and Reflections on the World of Sports,” is available for purchase at amazon.com.