Ah, the Olympics: perspiration-soaked jocks of all races and creeds, tie-in products from McDonald’s. Music doesn’t instantly pole-vault to mind, but the record business, in cooperation with the U.S. Olympic Committee, wants to change that perception this year. Five Games-related albums are now competing for your dollars, the most star-studded of which are the Nashville-made One Voice and the R&B-flavored Rhythm of the Games. (Albums steeped in classical and Latin music are also in stores, and a collection of Olympic-inspired jazz will be released in a few weeks.) In the spirit of the occasion, we put highlights from these two compilations through our own rigorous contest, with songs judged in the categories of artistic impression, technical merit, and degree of difficulty. May the best musician win.
Artist/Album Amy Grant and Patty Loveless: One Voice
Song: ”Every Kinda People”
Artistic Impression: Robert Palmer’s white-calypso oldie remade as world-beat supermarket music.
Technical Merit: Hard to imagine a paler calypso singer than Robert Palmer, but Grant and Loveless go for the gold with ease.
Degree of Difficulty: Material mostly requires vocal bounciness — so why does this tag team need four pumped-up background singers?
Artist/Album Boyz II Men: Rhythm of the Games
Song: ”The Star Spangled Banner”
Artistic Impression: Possibly the most polite, least grandstanding version ever of the national anthem, by the new-jack barbershop quartet.
Technical Merit: Limp, surprisingly thin harmonies, even for the Boyz: If this rendition had been around during the War of 1812, the Brits would have kicked our butts.
Degree of Difficulty: Not even agile soloist Wanya Morris can tackle the notorious vocal-cord-slaying phrase ”and the rockets’ red glaaaare…” without signs of strain.
Artist/Album: Trisha Yearwood: One Voice
Song: ”The Flame”
Artistic Impression: Lite FM love song (”O come ye now unto the flame/Keep it through the night”) that doubles as paean to the ceremony’s hunk-a-burnin’ torch.
Technical Merit: Orchestral intro exceeds time limit, but Yearwood’s poised, confident delivery clears that hurdle and triumphs over the watercolor blandness of arrangement.
Degree of Difficulty: Yearwood overcomes handicap of being the first country singer to have to sing the word ”ye” in a non-Christmas song.
Artist/Album: Tony Rich: Rhythm of the Games
Song: ”You’re a Winner”
Artistic Impression: Taut, evocative slice of slinky soul. Bonus point: Underlying tone of resignation could double as consolation theme for losers!
Technical Merit: Newcomer pulls it off without breaking a sweat and is now ready for an even greater challenge — sustaining a career.