Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony: Music Hits, Misses Include Punk, Paul and Syria's Ill-Timed March to 'Where the Streets Have No Name'

What did the London 2012 kickoff get right and where did it go woefully wrong? THR assesses the Danny Boyle-directed spectacle's soundtrack.

A $40 million production budget bought the London 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony one heck of a spectacle, but when it came to the soundtrack, the event’s musical choices left some watching at home -- and commenting online -- a little miffed.

To be fair, encapsulating five-plus decades of British music is no small task, but how do you explain a minuscule nod to Led Zeppelin? Where was Robbie Williams? The Police? Depeche Mode? Even the ever-reliable Sir Elton John, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II herself, seemed embarrassingly absent. And what, was Cheryl Cole busy on Friday night?

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Then again, the Danny Boyle-directed show had some curious nods as well -- most notably, a wink-wink to Her Majesty with a snippet of Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” one of two songs highlighted by the short-lived punk band, and the surprising inclusion of The Jam’s “Going Underground.”

What did the ceremony get right and where did it go woefully wrong? Read on for THR’s assessment of the musical hits and misses -- and don’t even get us started on those Team USA berets…  


Punk gets its due … sort of.  Knowing that the anthemic “Pretty Vacant” was within earshot of British royalty is reason enough to bow down to Boyle, and while punk was but a blip in the program (The Clash’s “London Calling” is an obligatory inclusion at this point, but the Specials' “A Message to You Rudy” was pleasantly unexpected), the Olympics gets points for balls. (Credit is also deserved for including new wavers Duran Duran and OMD, the sometimes controversial MIA and Prodigy, the respected New Order, East London native Dizzee Rascal and the late Amy Winehouse, who died a year ago this week.) 

Britain bows to Bowie: A highlight of the parade of nations is always the host country, but for London 2012, Great Britain couldn’t have picked a better song to march to. David Bowie’s “Heroes” said in eight words what eight years of tireless training has signified to the 500-plus athletes competing for the U.K., making the 1977 hit not only poignant but wholly appropriate.

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Paul McCartney brings it home: There’s nothing like a Beatle to close a show that’s being beamed to billions while also spreading the Olympic ideal of “all you need is love.” Sir Paul delivered on both fronts, even if he did fudge “Hey Jude” a bit with an unexpected laugh.

Dream of a song… The lighting of the cauldron featured perhaps the most moving moment and music of the night. "Caliban's Dream," performed by Alex Trimble, frontman for Irish band Two Door Cinema Club, and written for the ceremony by Rick Smith of Underworld provided an ethereal end to a dreamy procession.

Fireworks. Floyd. Need we say more?

All of the bells: Among the most impressive acts to usher in London 2012 was one that didn’t take place in the stadium, but rather, around the country where churches and citizens all rang bells simultaneously (some simply banging on pots and pans), creating a magical cacophony of chimes to mark the start of the Games. The sonic experiment was a popular topic on Twitter, where a few audiophiles even posted their own recordings of the moment (listen below):


Arctic comedown: Sure, there are plenty of bands that Brits obsess over who are only marginally known in the States -- your Kasabian, the aforementioned Robbie Williams, Tinie Tempah -- but of all the artists at Boyle’s disposal, were the Arctic Monkeys really the best choice for a Beatles cover? To their credit, the “faithful rendition,” as Bob Costas described their take on “Come Together,” delivered -- that’s when you could hear it. As one viewer tweeted, “Hey Bob Costas, if the Arctic Monkeys is your favorite part, why do you insist on talking over the entire performance?”

A very brief history of British music: No doubt much will be said about the bands and artists who didn’t make the cut for reasons unknown. Among the glaring omissions: Rod Stewart, Dusty Springfield, Def Leppard, The Cure, George Michael, The Smiths, Black Sabbath, we could go on. Still, some took comfort in small blessings: like no Spice Girls.

Marching madness: The Hollywood Reporter's own David Rooney said it best when he questioned the logic of pairing the Bee Gees with athletes from Fiji – wondering if it was in essence some Olympic Committee stoner’s attempt at a haiku. Other country-artist pairings also didn’t seem to make much sense -- China with the Pet Shop Boys, Poland with Fleetwood Mac, U2 with Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey and the ill-timed “Where the Streets Have No Name” while Syria made its entrance.

Everyone’s a critic: Inevitably, there will be those who poo-poo everything, even a beloved Beatle -- “No one can ever accuse Paul McCartney of lip-synching at the Olympics,” read one snarky comment on Twitter -- but it’s precisely in hashtag times like these when we should be thankful another nasty Brit hasn’t made his Olympic presence known. As Daily Show executive producer Rory Alabenese tweeted:

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin