Rapping for Engerland

"World In Motion"
New Order

In 1990, Keith Allen, New Order, and John Barnes created a template for the soccer pop song. "World In Motion" is still considered a timeless classic in England, despite the handicap of actually being kind of a terrible song.

These days, "World In Motion" seems to be the British press' go-to example of a brilliant football anthem. The NME recently called it ""Brilliant." The Telegraph called it the second-best England song of all time, ahead of "Three Lions" and "Vindaloo." The Independent went a step farther, voting it not just a top World Cup song, but one of the best World Cup moments of all time, on or off the field, describing it as "a true classic."

To anyone who didn't hear the song in England in 1990, this is a little mystifying. "World In Motion" was one of comedian Keith Allen's earliest attempts at writing a team song for England. We've already looked at some of his later efforts, "England's Irie" and "Jerusalem," and we'll look at his "Vindaloo" later in the year. In "World in Motion," Allen and New Order used many of the elements that he would use to better effect later, and some that would plague terrible team songs for decades. The track opens with audio clips of England winning the 1966 World Cup, and the chorus is sung by the team--including the shouted "En-ger-land!"

The most incongruous element, though, has to be the rap. By 1990, there was a small but growing hip-hop community in the United Kingdom. There was also a longstanding tradition of pop groups recording embarassing novelty rap singles, the most notorious of which may be Adam Ant's "Ant Rap" and George Michael's "Wham! Rap". "World In Motion: falls squarely into this category. The rap was written by Craig Johnson, who also wrote "Anfield Rap" for his club team, Liverpool. Liverpool and England midfielder John Barnes, who also appeared on "Anfield Rap," is featured here, and his subsequent reputation as a rapper is one of the most mysterious parts of the legacy of "World In Motion." Barnes is utterly devoid of flow, and Johnson's lyrics don't help much:

Catch me if you can,
'Cause I'm the England man.
And what you're looking at
Is the master plan.

If you can get past the rap and the England team's chorus, the rest of the track is a fairly paint-by-numbers New Order track, not up to the standard of their best work, like "Love Vigilantes" or "Bizarre Love Triangle." The verses sound suspiciously like an attempt to shoehorn sports into a song that was originally about something else; lyrics like:

Express yourself! you can't be wrong;
When something's good, it's never gone.
Love's got the world in motion
And I know what we can do

don't seem to call the England team immediately to mind.

Despite everything, thought "World In Motion" was an instant success, and was New Order's only number one hit in the UK. There was even a plan to re-record the song for the 2002 World Cup with David Beckham re-recording Barnes' rap, which thankfully was never approved by the FA. But as long as English music writers keep fetishizing New Order's 1990 hit the way English soccer writers do England's 1966 campaign, the threat of a David Beckham rap is something we cannot ignore.

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