Some of the best…
Baddiel, Skinner & the Lightning Seeds – Three Lions
Mundial-reading hipsters will make a compelling case for New Order’s World in Motion being the greatest England football song, but any pub argument will always finish up around Three Lions. Major tournaments always require a certain cognitive dissonance on the part of England fans, and Three Lions’ brilliance is in admitting that, acknowledging frailty while shamelessly stoking hope in a misty-eyed “what if” of a song.
New Order – World in Motion
Well, maybe the hipsters have a point. Released for Italia 90, New Order took the gooey, face-touching high of ecstasy that had been powering the UK rave scene for the previous couple of years and parlayed it into love for one’s country instead. It’s one of the best songs of the early 90s in any arena: the band’s tendency towards paranoia melts away under the floodlights and John Barnes’ rap is hugely endearing.
Fat Les – Vindaloo
Some may think this belongs in the “worst” category below: its martial drum beat and proud “we’re from Eng-er-land” pronouncements could suggest the country at its arrogant, violent worst. But the perfect chanted melody, and the joyous simplicity of “we’re going to score one more than you”, stops you overthinking it. It’s essentially the evil child of 1970’s rousing Back Home, and the video, a piss-take of the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, was wittily done.
Spice Girls feat England United – How Does It Feel (To Be On Top of the World)
By France 98, Britpop’s energy was curdling into the stodgy whey culture that bred Travis, Starsailor and more, and this track with Echo and the Bunnymen, Ocean Colour Scene and Space was in danger of doing the same. But this is a breezy, well-balanced anthem, co-written by Johnny Marr: just as Ian McCulloch’s downward-turning verses seem to admit defeat, the spirited Spice Girls chorus tells him to stop being such a killjoy. The half-time England mood in song.
England Football Team – All the Way
Just as World in Motion evoked the loosened up rave era, All the Way is the epitome of pre-rave uncool: Stock Aitken Waterman’s synths are are rigid as a starched shirt, and the players’ nervous reluctance to be in the video really lunges out of the screen, despite Lineker, Beardsley and Mabbutt gamely mugging around a microphone. It got to No 64 in the charts. And yet! The central melody has the kind of happy innocence that defines the childhood excitement around the start of every tournament, soon to be extinguished by lived experience, and is charming for it.
… and the worst
Shout for England, Dizzee Rascal and James Corden – Shout
This is not so much a case of too many cooks as an entire culinary school, its benefactors, architects and landowners being brought to bear on a very wobbly souffle. To sample Blackstreet’s No Diggity, Tears for Fears’ Shout and the entreaty “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” is already way too rich, even before you consider that the Corden-sung chorus to Shout is an expression of deep psychological malaise. Along with Dizzee’s castigation regarding Wags and champagne, it became a demotivational anthem for the 2010 World Cup.
Ant & Dec – We’re on the Ball
There’s a queasy lurch of nostalgia on hearing Dec lauding Sven Göran-Eriksson, the “super Swede”, and the line about “the cup of eastern promise in the land of the rising sun” would have had Edward Said tearing his hair out. The jaunty ska backing also sounds like it was made in a hurry.
Chris Kamara – Sing 4 England
Helmed by one-man banter vector Chris Kamara, this 2012 effort had promise on paper – but the lyrics sound like they’ve been generated by an underfunded AI that’s been fed all the above songs (“let’s cheer the winning goal”), Kammy’s voice is game but reedy, and it has about five half-chance choruses rather than one proper shot on goal.