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We found New Zealand’s greatest sports song (and it’s not the one you’re thinking of)

In part two of The Spinoff Music’s two-is-not-a-thing sports series, Steve Newall goes in search of that most elusive beast: the great sports song.

Read part one, in which Gareth Shute writes a new All Blacks supporters’ song, here.

New Zealand has tried its hand at many a sporting song, with everyone from the Feelers to Franko doing their best to capitalise on our obsession with rugby. 

To be fair to Franko, ‘We Are One‘ has been variously described as an anthem for New Zealand, for the All Blacks, for the America’s Cup and the Christchurch earthquake, while all the Feelers did was somewhat controversially and definitely tepidly cover Jesus Jones for a rugby ad.

But the greatest local sporting song eclipses both of these efforts and all other comers, no matter what the sporting code. That includes rousing 1990 Commonwealth Games anthem ‘This is the Moment‘, the Carl Doy-penned and Ray Woolf crooned ‘Heading For the Top‘ (commemorating the 1982 All Whites), and even Israel Dagg’s rapping in Air New Zealand’s once unmissable, now unmissed, MiB safety video.

But the cream of the crop still sits in many Kiwi homes – though let’s be honest, perhaps op shops now. Reduced, in part, to a footnote after Smashproof’s chart-topping ‘Brother’ knocked it from the perch of longest-running number one New Zealand single, 1986’s ‘Sailing Away’ capitalised on the ’80s craze of group singalongs like ‘We Are The World’. In this case, it wasn’t raising money for charity, and ending world hunger wasn’t the rich man’s hobby it supported, but instead the KZ 7-starring 1987 America’s Cup.

That all-star effort, gamely pairing dreary yachting lyrics with a dragging singalong to the melody of Pokarakare Ana is eclipsed by its B-side, the criminally overlooked ‘Pick It Up’.

Like ‘Sailing Away’, ‘Pick It Up’ is in part the work of jingle genius Murray Grindlay. His advertising oeuvre of over 1000 works includes bona fide Kiwi classics like ‘The Cadbury Great Train Robbery‘, ‘BASF Dear John‘, and 1980’s ‘All Blacks Give ‘Em a Taste of Kiwi‘.

Clocking in at an economical 2 minutes 26 seconds (you can sense the hand of a composer used to working in 30 second increments), ‘Pick It Up’ manages to contain the two musical elements most enmeshed in the DNA of 80s NZ. 

Audaciously opening with Ka Mate, appropriated Te Reo quickly gives way to lyrics that are so simple, so direct. So… clunky?

The great New Zealand Challenge

To win the America’s Cup

New Zealand’s gonna pick it up

New Zealand’s gonna pick it uuup

“Are you with us?” ‘Pick It Up’ wonders next. “Join the crew,” it implores. Sometimes even “Joi-oi-oin the crew!” in glorious ’80s oversold vocal delivery that screams “cool car jingle”.

By the time it’s all over two minutes later, we’ve been ordered a dozen more times “New Zealand, join the crew.” Told “We’ll take the America’s Cup / We’re gonna p-pick it up”, the stuttering extra consonant sometimes repeated for additional emphasis (and to help crowbar the lyrics into the meter of the song?). Ka Mate has made another appearance, and, best yet, it has segued seamlessly into a wet as fuck lead guitar take on ‘God Defend New Zealand’, itself giving way to a fret-melting solo and in turn some reliably ’80s slap bass.

It’s simultaneously magnificent and misconceived, sitting in that sweet spot where you’re on the song’s side even when raising an eyebrow or smirk at it.

Maybe it’s rightfully overshadowed by ‘Sailing Away’ when it comes to cultural impact. Try to find it on YouTube for example ( I tried and failed so uploaded a version myself). Did anyone ever actually listen to it? Who can say…

Sadly Grindlay can’t remember much about writing or recording it, helping to further consign ‘Pick It Up’ to forgotten status even as it continues to lay claim to the mantle of greatest New Zealand sporting song of all time.

Read part one, in which Gareth Shute writes a new All Blacks supporters’ song, here.


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