Readers recommend playlist: songs about winners

Our reader picks from the songs you championed for a victory-tinged playlist that spans musical genres

Below is this week’s playlist – the theme and tunes picked by a reader from the comments on last week’s callout. Thanks for your suggestions. Read more about the format of the weekly Readers recommend series at the end of the piece.

Let’s begin our journey through the subject of winners with a wordless, punchy slice of soul music. Northern soul to some, Memphis soul to others. Either way it’s – erm – The Champion. Trumpeter and bandleader Willie Mitchell produced and arranged much of Al Green’s prodigious output. This single (full title The Champion: Part 1), released under his own name, powers relentlessly along, the funk capturing the inexhaustible mood of a champion of the ring or field.

The YouTube playlist.

Next, Ian Hunter’s still writing songs? Songs like Win it All? Well, he was in 2009 but still, at his age (and mine), that’s recent. You’ll be telling me the Monkees have reformed next. Heroes of my childhood and teenage years can still surprise me with a desire to prove themselves – when you’d really think they didn’t have to. Hunter still wants to be a contender. He wants the listener to feel the same way. “You can win. You can win it all.” I think this was my discovery of the weekend. Inspirational and moving in a way I honestly didn’t expect.

Ian Hunter - Win It All

Winning can sometimes mean getting your life back. This song, surely about depression, describes with subtle empathy what it means to suffer and get better again. Under many other songwriters the direct lyrics would seem trite, almost like mansplaining, but Hunter keeps it warm, human and compassionate.

By way of contrast ...

Rich Bitch by South African combo Die Antwoord nearly got consigned to the bin after the first 30 seconds. That accent. Those sentiments. I listened and watched in appalled fascination. Why does she appear to be singing most of this from the toilet seat in the video? Is burning down the house and possibly its inhabitants really the way to win the game of life? By the end, though, I was hooked – and played it three more times. Sublime, amoral, satirical – “I was a victim of a kak situation, stuck in the system with no fokken assistance. Now I’m a rich bitch!” All right, you win, you win. Now put those bloody matches away.

A more laudable and communitarian take on the whole concept of winners is mercifully provided by the Impressions. From 1967, We’re a Winner is a civil rights/black pride anthem beautifully sung and brimming with positivity. Dr John’s much nominated song about quitters and winners (A Quitter Never Wins & A Winner Don’t Never Quit) is far more individualistic (shades of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich) but equally stirring.

So, on to the game of love. There are quite a few love songs which use the symbolism of a battle where someone finally concedes defeat. Well dodgy if you ask me. There’s Abba’s Waterloo, of course, but also – and making this list – Peggy Lee’s sprightly Alright, OK, You Win, in which she doesn’t sound defeated at all. She never does, mind you. She just keeps dancing, breaks out the booze and has a ball.

Now we did songs about sport some time ago but a “winners” theme wouldn’t be complete without a few sporting references. “You’ve got to win the game. Play the ball, kick the ball,” says Lee Scratch Perry, who features on Fussball by the Orb, and he’s right you know. The Orb provide a perfect setting for his amiable precis of the beautiful game and how to win it. And why would you want to win anything other than a beautiful game?

“Your black eyeliner, is it your black magic? Victory to thee.” Yes indeed, we hear it during the final moments of the film Slumdog Millionaire. The game (the quiz) is over and the bad guys are defeated. The hero and his girl are together and over the end credits there is dancing to Jai Ho, by AR Rahman. And not a Pussycat Doll in sight.

More sport. Pool this time. It is a sport isn’t it? Rod Stewart (when he was still in the Faces) laments and celebrates the champ, the hero: Pool Hall Richard. The guy who tries to steal his gal as well. The guy he dreams of knocking off his throne.

Cricket is still something of a closed book to me but I could not resist Paul Kelly’s hymn to the great (Don) Bradman. The banter was better in those days. Hardly “sledging” at all. “Hey whitey, that’s my rabbit.” I had to Google that one – and I’m still none the wiser. It’s a glorious musical setting for an elegy to past glories and a world where nobody played cricket in anything but proper cricket whites.

Now we’re on the home stretch. Your Stewball is a horse. He might win the race and if you bet on him then you might win too. It’s a simple as that. Lead Belly in fine voice here as he lays out your options and their potential.

And finally Vangelis: Are you ready to start running along the beach? In slow motion? For your king and country? That’s the spirit of the Chariots of Fire, chaps. Or as the American sports writer Grantland Rice put it:

For when the One Great Scorer comes, to mark against your name
He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.

New theme

The theme for next week’s playlist will be announced at 8pm (UK time) on Thursday 1 September. You have until 11pm on Monday 5 September to make nominations.

Here’s a reminder of some of the guidelines for RR:

  • If you have a good theme idea, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist from readers’ suggestions and write a blog about it, please email
  • There’s a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.
  • Many RR regulars also congregate at the ’Spill blog.


Stephen Males

The GuardianTramp

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