There’s two ways to be a fan of this song. You can marvel at the bizarre mix of proto cockney rap and harmonica riffing arranged by an American funk and jazz legend, Or you can be an England football fan.
I’m most definitely the former as I couldn’t give a monkey’s about the footie. But I recall my Dad sitting my brother an I down in front of The Italian Job at a very young age and informing us it would be ‘an education’ for us to watch the movie from beginning to end.
The films he insisted we watch as part of my education all became beloved classics, Wrong Arm Of The Law tied in with the wacky sense of humour that ran in my family. Ice Cold In Alex helped us understand that you had to put in a days graft to really enjoy the pint at the end of a mission. The Blues Brothers taught us that you could get anything done anywhere against any odds if you kept your cool (and wore your sunglasses).
Easy Rider made us wary of The Man. American Werewolf In London made us wary of bad weather. Jaws made us wary of sharks. The Dam Busters taught us how a plucky Brit was supposed to behave and Rocky Horror taught us how our parents behaved. We figured out the similarities between the two. And so it was The Italian Job that inspired us to improvise a plan B if plan A was going tits up. It was the Italian Job that taught us to trust your mates in a scrape and it was The Italian Job that taught us that endings weren’t always neat and tidy conclusions. There could always be further opportunities.
What most of the films Dad educated us with had in common was a cracking soundtrack. Our house was full of Western Themes, Big War Movie Themes, 60’s Beat music and Soul & Blues reviews. Usually always movie related.
So Quincy Jones comes from Chicago and makes his name in blues and jazz and eventually funk and pop but all the while he’s as American as they come. How did he come to make a song that England Football fans adopted 30 years after it release and still chant and sing today over 50 years later?
Well. I’m guessing the more ‘terraced’ parts of the song were common fair pre-1969 and Quincy borrowed them for the song. The glamourous mix of swinging 60’s London, colloquialism and raw R&B that Q squeezes into the 3 minutes 45 seconds benefit from his cool American touch but all the ingredients were all ready very English.
Everyday easy to cotton on to, Southern English slang like ‘Get your skates on Mate’ rubs shoulders with more obtuse Rhyming slang like ‘Put on your Dickie Dirt and your Peckham Rye’ like it’s the listeners job to either get the meaning or not.
That shouty chorus of non singers (is it the cast of the film hollering the words? I’ve always assumed it is) paved the way for every novelty football record of the next 25 years. All the way up to ‘Anfield Rap’ and that bit in ‘World In Motion’ when one of them raps.