Chariots of Fire, the drama depicting two British Olympian runners, was released in 1981 — 40 years ago this spring — and left us with an enduring cultural treasure: its musical theme. The pulsing, instrumental anthem summoned the will to accomplish our dreams and served as the soundtrack for the world's fake-slow-motion running activities for a generation.
The 1980s also gave the world another musical gift of Olympic proportions — this time for the real-life Summer games: The Official Music of the XXIIIrd Olympiad Los Angeles 1984. The lesser-known album served, and serves, not only as an historical souvenir but as the definitive collection of athletic event and ceremony themes crafted for the occasion — including the debut of John William's beloved and perennial composition, "Olympic Fanfare and Theme."
Lost to the vagaries of time and digitization and only available through piecemealed tracks and YouTube links, The Official Music was an ambitious undertaking, led by Hollywood all-star producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters, who played off the glossy, neon-clad excess that the world of 1980s entertainment had in piles.
The top of the album leads off with the traditional "Bugler's Dream (From Charge Suite)" by Arnaud, followed by a moody synthesizer swell. Then, a male vocalist gets on the mic: "You know you paid the price / you made every sacrifice" and bam, "Nothing's Gonna Stop You Now (Team Sports Theme)."
The artist lineup was a who's-who of '80s musical legends and also Loverboy, each in turn contributing to a string of montage-worthy anthems: Toto's "Moodido (The Match) (Boxing Theme)," Foreigner's marathon theme "Street Thunder (Marathon Theme)," Bill Conti's "Power (Power Sports Theme)" and montage hall-of-famer Giorgio Moroder's "Reach Out (Track Theme)." What would equate, in 2021 terms? Mike Dean's skateboarding theme? Lizzo on a flute solo in the middle of the artistic swimming theme?
Music of the XXIIIrd Olympiad wasn't just wall-to-wall rock numbers — there are some notable genre-hopping curiosities, too. Keyboardist and composer Bob James scored extra points for the sampling of basketball dribbles on the bouncing "Courtship (Basketball Theme)"; Herbie Hancock mixes international instruments and rhythms into a post-"Rockit" composition of pure synthesizer bliss for "Junku (Field Theme)"; Christopher Cross and Burt Bacharach teamed up to write "A Chance For Heaven (Swimming Theme)," which rocks as soft as water and, oddly, is mostly concerned with the climbing of mountains in its lyrics.
But it wouldn't be an '80s production without a contribution from Quincy Jones, whose digitally orchestral "Grace (Gymnastics Theme)" evokes the athletes' nimble, sweeping movements. (The track also appeared as the B-Side to 1985's "We Are The World," in case the Summer Olympics wasn't a global enough event for Quincy.)
The concept of unity was strong throughout, both musically and within the liner notes from the artists printed on the verso of the record sleeve. "I can think of no event to compare with the Olympic Games which makes us so conscious of our shared humanity, our common fate" wrote Philip Glass, who composed "The Olympian - Lighting Of The Torch," the closing track of the album. And he's right. The Olympics offer an opportunity for the world to come together in competition and celebration – but there's one thing I hope we can all be united on: This album slaps.
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