There will be a lot of music in Sunday’s Super Bowl LVI telecast, and no, we’re not talking about the halftime show — rather, the music at the start of the show and throughout the game itself.
John Williams’ “Sunday Night Football” march is expected to open the broadcast. “That’s our theme,” says Super Bowl executive producer Fred Gaudelli. “There’s a grandeur to it, an importance, that lets you know that a big game is about to begin. And there is no bigger game than the Super Bowl.”
But, Gaudelli adds, a great deal of other music will be heard as the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams take to the field, much of it in the tradition of televised sports themes dating back to the 1960s: appropriately muscular music to accompany modern-day gladiators into the arena for battle.
“It’s all storytelling,” says Adam Taylor, president and CEO of APM, the production music house that supplies music to all of the networks, the National Football League and nearly every individual NFL team. “It’s really the drama, the story. The purpose of our music is to inform storytelling, to strengthen it and capture the emotions of the moment.”
APM controls “Heavy Action,” better known as the “Monday Night Football” theme still heard on ESPN but which dates back to its 1975 debut on ABC during the heyday of Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson and Don Meredith. Its opening four notes have become synonymous with football on TV.
Unlike the Williams music commissioned by NBC in 2006, “Heavy Action” wasn’t originally written with pigskin in mind. British bandleader Johnny Pearson penned it as a generic library track, and its adoption for the BBC sports competition show “Superstars” in 1973 brought it to the attention of ABC programmers and its eventual, now iconic, use for American football in prime time.
By comparison, the original 1970 “Monday Night Football” signature was specifically written for ABC, composer Charles Fox recalls. Its jazz-based Hammond organ and electric guitar licks provided a hip sound at the time and lasted until “Heavy Action” replaced it.
APM also represents key tracks from what its director of sports entertainment Matthew Gutknecht terms “the crown jewel,” the NFL Films music library, including the big brass and pounding percussion of composer Sam Spence that scored hundreds of NFL highlights shows throughout the 1970s. These pieces — filled with the heroism and glory of the game — set the tone for sports music forever after, Gutknecht points out.
“It’s building anticipation, very much like trailer music,” Gutknecht adds. “The players are running out of the tunnel, the steam and the fire are coming out and the fireworks are going up — it’s the same payoff.”
NBC’s Gaudelli says that the various music selections made by his audio engineers “really fit the mood of the game, and what’s transpiring. It’s the exclamation point to a segment or an event or a play or a person.”
And whether the music is hip-hop or country or heavy metal — all which of turn up in today’s football music — “you have to feel the energy, and the many different emotions within a game,” says APM’s Taylor. “Not just rah-rah, but moments of sadness or disappointment.”