Time for the Winter Olympics! I love the Olympics in general and the winter games in particular. Perhaps this is because the closely-spaced winter Olympics in 1992 and 1994 occurred for me at that age when your brain's connections are really forming, locking in associations and memories,* or because, to be honest, I was watching a hell of a lot of tv at that age, and saw much of these games. I also have the Minnesotan, growing-up-playing-in-the-snow thing contributing.
Anyway, if you're like me, you're going to be walking around with Olympic music stuck in your head for the duration. Back in the early 90s, I made a copy of a tape someone in my family (either my aunt or grandparents) had of music by film composer John Williams, performed by the Boston Pops under the composer's direction. I was already a fan of Williams' music for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series, and knew his Superman theme. But listening to this tape, I learned about Williams' long collaboration with Steven Spielberg and the non-movie music he composed, including the first cut, the "Olympic Fanfare and Theme":
Williams composed this theme for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. It has become one of the most well-known themes for the Olympic Games in the US. As it turns out, NBC has an exclusive license to use Williams' music in their broadcasts. So when CBS covered the games in '92 & '94, this music was not used. Williams has had a long association with NBC: he also composed the "Mission" Theme for their nightly news.
At some point Williams re-arranged his 1984 theme as a medley beginning "Bugler's Dream" theme from a 1958 suite of sports music by Leo Arnaud. This has become the most prominent cut used among NBC's musical selections during recent Olympics. Arnaud's piece alone has apparently also been used by ABC when they've had the games.
Williams has composed a few other pieces of Olympic music, used to varying extents by NBC. First is "The Olympic Spirit," comissioned by NBC Sports for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. This is a sentimental favorite of mine from when I was in a brass quintet in high school and we played a fun arrangement of it. Here's the orchestral version:
When the Olympics returned to the US in 1996, it was time for another Williams theme. This one was called "Summon the Heroes," and has continued to be all over NBC's coverage:
I picked up the 1996 Olympics CD even before the games started, and listened to it during a college-shopping road trip with my family while they were going on. That coming school year I was to be the drum major of my school's marching band, and I ended up ordering the marching band arrangement of this piece and splicing it together with some of the other Olympic themes we had in the music stacks for our homecoming halftime show.
Williams composed one more Olympic theme, this one for the 2002 Salt Lake City winter games. It's called "Call of the Champions," and I can't say I'm familiar with it. If NBC uses it for their broadcasts, it's not in an extensive manner:
In 2006 during the Torino games, I noticed that NBC was frequently using one particular piece that I recognized, and remembered liking, but couldn't quite put my finger on. Then it came back in a flash of SIRE (sudden instant recall effect) -- it was the theme from the early-mid-90s FOX Bruce Campbell vehicle, the sci-fi/comedy western, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. The theme, by composer Randy Edelman, fits quite well with Williams' music, and has apparently also been used by NBC for the World Series and MLB All-Star Game when they carry those. I should note that the recording and arrangement of the NBC version are a little less cheesy than the one used in the original series' opening titles:
Finally, there will undoubtedly be at least one overplayed commercial during the Olympic broadcasts that you will have stuck in your head for some time. For me two years ago during the Summer Olympics, it was some local ad for a furniture or mattress store featuring a classic rock sound-alike. Can't remember what song it was imitating, or the store (unfortunately?). In any case, the repeated music is unlikely to be as good as the earworm of the 2006 crop, "Galvanize" by the Chemical Brothers featuring Q-tip, which was in Budweiser Select ads and quickly made it into that year's Beukemix:
*I remember hearing somewhere that there's a theory that because of the timing of neural connections, you are likely to maintain a lifelong affection for the music of your early teens, even if you later decide it was terrible music. Three words: "Informer" by Snow