Friday, October 16, 2015

The Hottest Music from The Last Time Chicago Sports Teams Won a Championship...

[Originally written for CHIRP Radio. Hoping that it will soon be rendered outdated by a Cubs World Series championship...!]

There are many years in Chicago when the arrival of Autumn means it’s time to wrap up two disappointing baseball seasons and get ready for a disappointing football season. That’s not the case in 2015, though. The North-Side baseball franchise is battling for a spot in the playoffs, and the local gridiron team is showing signs of life after two years of being led by a well-meaning but novice coach. Fall is also the time when artists and bands come off the outdoor festival circuit and release their end-of-the-year albums. This annual transition of sports and music got me thinking what were folks listening to when Chicago’s five pro sports franchises went all the way?

Here’s a list of what the world was listening to the year each of the city’s five major sports franchises last won a championship, from two perspectives: the top album on the Billboard 200 chart, and other albums released during the year that are now, thanks to time and the perspective/wisdom it brings, regarded as classics:

Chicago Blackhawks: 2015

Once upon a time, not so long ago, they were the worst franchise in professional sports. But now they’re the hottest ticket in town thanks to three Stanley Cups in five years and no reason to think they can’t win a couple more in the near future. Chicago fans owe a huge “THANK YOU!” to club owner Rocky Wirtz, who not only completely turned his team around but also, by setting a new standard of excellence in all phases of franchise ownership, forced the city’s other mediocre teams to get off their butts and at least try to start winning.

BIGGEST ALBUM: So far, Taylor Swift’s 1999 (4 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard chart) is the best-selling album of the year, although we still have the holiday season to go. Along with a very few other Pop stars (Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, etc.) Swift appears to have a stranglehold on American Pop music, for reasons I have yet to understand. I have a feeling that somewhere, Garth Brooks is biding his time, waiting to strike…

BEST ALBUMS: CHIRP Radio’s Best Albums of 2015 won’t be out until December, but there’s already a lot of material to choose from, including Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Currents by Tame Impala, Depression Cherry by Beach House, Compton by Dr. Dre, Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples, Vulnicura by Björk, Wildheart by Miguel, and Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett.

Chicago White Sox: 2005

A regional team in their own city, the Sox managed to put it all together in ’05 for their 3rd World Series title in 104 years with a squad led by Manager Ozzie Guillén and assembled by General Manager Kenny Williams and owner Gerry Reinsdorf. Paul Konerko and A. J. Pierzynski became local folk heroes, and for a brief, fleeting time, every ESPN baseball broadcast from Chicago didn’t start with “We’re live at Wrigley field…!”

BIGGEST ALBUM: 50 Cent’s The Massacre (6 weeks at #1) made it to the top and would prove to be the height of the rapper’s career as changing tastes in Rap meant fans became less interested in gritty tales of life in the street.

BEST ALBUMS: Other rap albums released that year included Tha Carter II by Lil Wayne, We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 2 by Clipse, and Late Registration by future Presidential candidate Kanye West. Fans of Rock, Dance, and “Other” music also got treats for the ears with albums like Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers, Z by My Morning Jacket, The Woods by Sleater-Kinney, Feels by Animal Collective, Arular by M.I.A., Separation Sunday by The Hold Steady, Alligator by The National, Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens, and eponymous debut records from LCD Soundsystem and Robyn.

Chicago Bulls: 1998

1998 marked the last of the six titles won in the 1990s by Michael Jordan and some other guys (OK, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Toni Kukoč were pretty good). They were led by head coach and self-styled guru Phil Jackson, who used his time in Chicago to perfect a full-proof formula for winning championships he would take with him to Miami and Los Angeles – Believe in yourself. Play selflessly and with spirit. And make sure to always have the current best player on the planet on your team.

BIGGEST ALBUM: NO ONE escaped the soundtrack to the mega-blockbuster movie Titanic featuring “My Heart Will Go On” by CHIRP Radio Book Club subject Celine Dion (16 weeks at #1). James Cameron was King of the World. Leo DiCaprio made enough money to keep his posse well-funded for decades. And Dion’s dominance of the uncool yet ubiquitous global subconscious need for schmaltz was complete.

BEST ALBUMS: While Pop was achieving Titanic proportions at the end of the feel-good ‘90s, music fans looking for adventurous excursions elsewhere could spin Mezzanine by Massive Attack, TNT by Tortoise, Aquemini by Outkast, Moon Safari by Air, Music has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada, and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.

Chicago Bears: 1985

The '85 Bears are the best team to ever win a Super Bowl. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. They also had swagger to spare, as evidenced in their video for the ages, “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” In our current world of ever-present Social Media, it’s hard to appreciate just how in-your-face that song and stunt were.

The fact of this team’s dominance for this one year helps deflect attention from the other fact that this this team probably should have won one or two more championships during that time if not for factors like an ongoing feud between Head Coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. How bad was it? In the Bear’s only loss of the season, those two got into a fist fight on the sideline. Ryan left the following year, and without his expertise and leadership (and with age and injuries) the book was closed on an era.

BIGGEST ALBUM: With Brothers in Arms (9 weeks at #1) Dire Straights leapt from ‘70s Pub-Rock to ‘80s FM Radio heavy rotation with bulletproof Pop songs like “Walk of Life,” “So Far Away,” and “Money for Nothing” (featuring Sting on backup vocals), one of a select group of songs MTV managed to suck the life out of by playing it 27 times a day. This album tied for most weeks at #1 that year with the Soundtrack to the smash-hit TV show Miami Vice (9 non-consecutive weeks at #1), a half mixtape/half original songs collection that included “Smuggler’s Blues” by Eagles’ member Glenn Fry (a song and video that’s so ‘80s you don’t even KNOW how ‘80s it is), “Better Be Good to Me” by Tina Turner, and Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”

BEST ALBUMS: Albums catching fire overseas and underground on the left end of the radio dial included Hounds of Love by Kate Bush, Los Angeles by X, Up on the Sun by Meat Puppets, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash by The Pogues, Tim by The Replacements, Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Rain Dogs by Tom Waits.

Chicago Cubs: 1908

The longest title drought in professional sports carries on, although there’s hope on the North Side as a bunch of high-achieving kids, a more-than-competent manager in the prime of his career, and a wunderkind General Manager seem to have something cooking at Wrigley.

BIGGEST ALBUM/BEST ALBUMS: Here’s where my article format breaks down. Albums, as we know them today, didn’t exist in 1908. Pop music did, though. Tin Pan Alley was king, and plenty of classical, Jazz, Blues, and Broadway show tunes were being preserved in recorded mediums. " The Small Town Gal" by George M. Cohan and "All She Gets from the Iceman Is Ice" by Ada Jones are two of the highlights from that year. Interestingly enough, 1908 also marked the debut of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" by Jack Norworth m. Albert Von Tilzer, a song that’s still used, and in this writer’s opinion, overused by the Northside club during their 7th inning stretch. Maybe losing that part of the Friendly Confines experience would break the curse?

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