The Vancouver Olympics theme, "I Believe," is infectious, no doubt about it.
The upshot with an Olympic Games theme song is that it doesn't even have to be good to get lodged in people's craniums; call this the Black Eyed Peas principle. Young and talented Nikki Yanofsky's rendition of "I Believe" is No. 1 on the Canadian iTunes chart in the short run. Beyond that, this feels like music by focus group.
How will Vancouver's theme hold up in a couple months, a few years, a couple decades? For clues, let us review some of the best and worst Olympic themes dating back to 1988, the last time Canada welcomed the world. Here are four that worked splendidly and four that, well, if you can't say anything nice ...
(All are in chronological order — not a ranking.)
Calgary, 1988: "Can't You Feel It?"
Canadians of a certain age might get some goosebumps hearing David Foster's composition. This is profound for 1980s music-making: a piano-driven, horn-section infusion of spirit and can-do attitude that only Canadians could love. Love those 1980s tracksuits and big hair, too.
A better feeling comes from seeing David Foster perform it:
Barcelona, 1992: "Friends for Life"
Matched its era perfectly, as a kind of throwback to a more carefree, innocent time. This was the first Summer Olympics following the end of the Cold War, so that was a vibe worth capturing.
Sydney, 2000: "Heroes Live Forever"
This is like the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" of Olympic themes. Nice and easy.
Athens, 2004: "Olympic Flame"
Greece, unlike Vancouver, had the stainless-steel cojones to try something novel instead of going for the non-specific comissioned theme song.
Now get the aspirin ready ...
Seoul, 1988: "Hand Over Hand"
Way, way too bubblegum, even for that era.
Lillehammer, 1994: "Welcome to Lillehammer"
Then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch called Lillehammer the best Winter Olympics ever. He obviously had earplugs in for this tune, which starts out with poetry straight out of a Grade 8 love note ("People holding home and sharing dreams / Nations playing together as a team") and just goes steadily downhill.
Atlanta, 1996: "Summon the Heroes"
John Williams is the Derek Jeter of classical music. He's not the best but he's still highly rated, and calling him overrated doesn't give you a badge of coolness. Williams' composition really symbolized the over-the-top bombast of the Atlanta Olympics, the kind of chest-thumping uber-Americanism that Will Ferrell and Stephen Colbert have gotten rich off of skewering.
Salt Lake City, 2002: "Call of the Champions"
As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. Ladies and gentlemen, John Williams: