OK, I enjoy the world cup, and understand the off-side rule, but generally prefer playing football to watching it. But when my friend from Great British Chefs posted a query: What’s The Best World Cup England Football Song? World in Motion or Three Lions? – for many days now I’ve been thinking about it. So much so that my response simply does not fit into a social media reply… Mecca, here’s your answer.
“World in Motion” works brilliantly as a standalone pop song, but is it ‘catchy’?
Harmonically, “World In Motion” is musically complex (apart from the ‘rap’) and there’s a lot going on in terms of chords, percussion and orchestration. It’s interesting, but also demands effort from the listener, meaning cognitively you have to think about where the song is going and pay attention to it.
Melodically, “World In Motion” is quite gentle – there’s no descending melodies or musical ‘jumps’; it’s tuneful but stays in one place. Yes, the rap segment was distinctive and served to make the song very memorable – but not for musical reasons.
“World In Motion” is also a little slow for singing along – most people sing football songs while excited, so their heart rate will be higher – faster tempo songs will come to mind more easily in a heightened state like this!
Apart from tempo, both songs have a lot in common – two choruses: ‘Love’s got the World in Motion / Let’s hear it for England’ and ‘Three Lions on a shirt / It’s Coming Home’, both largely in major (happy) keys, and both are quite sparsely orchestrated. Both songs also do not require particularly good vocal skills.
And so, to catchiness – have you heard anyone singing “World In Motion” in the street? Personally I haven’t, but “It’s Coming Home” is everywhere.
So what’s happening here? How are they different?
I think the answer lies in melody. Despite great orchestration and production of New Order’s “World in Motion”, the “Three Lions” musical phrases are much more likely to be sung in the wild. They are easier to remember, easier to sing along to and more physically pleasant to sing out loud.
I’ll tell you how this works: The descending tune of the “Three Lions on a shirt” call is followed by an upward response “Jules Rimet still gleaming”. Wow, super catchy and melodically pleasant – it’s a classic gospel song call and response: You know where it’s going, there’s a clear musical path that you only need to hear once to sing along, and you’re excited to hear it resolve. A great pop example of this is ‘Twist and Shout’
The second is the clincher “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…” – what an anthem! There’s a built-in melodic jump – you can hear these in a lot of Abba songs (Winner Takes it All, Take a Chance on Me) and many existing football chants. There’s also repetition – this simple phrase is a natural ear-worm, there’s no effort involved in remembering this even after hearing it once. Listening to this phrase takes low cognitive effort in contrast to “World In Motion”, plus there’s yet another embedded ‘call and response’ too.
Finally ‘It’s Coming Home’ is a semi-unresolved melody. Getting to the end of the phrase, you want to sing it again. You can see this unresolved effect at work in notable examples like ‘Song 2’ by Blur, ‘My Shorrona’ and ‘Living on a Prayer’. Catchy? Absolutely. And now you know why my considered answer is “Three Lions”, musically the most suited football song for England’s World Cup 2018 journey.