I started going to NY Rangers games at The Garden with my dad when I was about 7 or 8 years old, and it was love at first, ah, skate. Hockey immediately became, and will unquestionably always be, my favorite sport. The moment when the players first take the ice just prior to the game is a rush like few other things in life. Every time. And, of course, that moment is always accompanied by music. My earliest memory of that critical song choice was ‘Rock and Roll (Part 2)’ by Gary Glitter, long before it was the clichéd arena celebration song it became (and also long before Glitter became best known for various child pornography offenses). Decades later I became friendly with Ray Castoldi, the long-time organist and musical director at Madison Square Garden, whose responsibilities include making these song selections (and who’s also the answer to an excellent trivia question: Name someone who’s played for both the Knicks and the Rangers). I’ve studied Ray’s astute picks over the years, finding something that maybe starts slow, builds quickly, then bursts big to help ignite the crowd as the players briskly circle the rink. It’s almost theatrical. Rockers like U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’, Aerosmith’s ‘Sweet Emotion’, and The Black Keys ‘Lonely Boy’ are just a few that come to mind from over the years, but the all-time best, a somewhat less obvious choice, was definitely ‘Stay’ by David Bowie. Just listen to the first 75 seconds of that song; It’s like Bowie composed it for the purpose.
For a dozen years I had my own version of this quest to most dramatically fuse hockey and music, for an only slightly less intense affair. My friend Mal initiated an annual game for families in our town on New Years Eve day: Full size rink, everyone on skates, and participants aged from about 5 to 50, with all on the ice together, a dozen or more per team at a time. But as a bit of a disruptive equalizer, the puck was replaced by an under-inflated schoolyard kickball and sticks were swapped for household brooms. And, most importantly, it became my self-appointed job to create the 90-minute playlist for the event, The Skate CD (volumes I – XII). Compiling potential song candidates took place throughout the year, preliminary cut-down and planning would generally begin around Thanksgiving, then final strategy sessions were held with the family over Christmas break. Looking for the perfect songs. Starting with that first jump-on-the-ice one.
Now, as John Cusack’s character Rob Gordon dutifully explains in the movie “High Fidelity”, “The making of a great compilation tape is a very subtle art, many do’s and don’t’s…You gotta kick it off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch. But you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you gotta cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.” With Rob’s sage words in mind, and after much hard labor, I would eventually emerge with a disc, present it to the attendant at Murray’s Rink in Yonkers, lace ‘em up and head out to the ice. This was one of my favorite starters: ‘Joy’ by Apollo 100. It’s got the fade-in, easy-going start, the slow build, increased tension, and then, maybe not a dramatic explosion, but the majestic ‘70’s keyboard interpretation of that ultimate rocker, Johann Sebastian Bach (and speaking of dramatic and majestic, you may also recall it’s soundtrack placement as we get our first look at Dirk Diggler’s package in “Boogie Nights”). Anyway, whether at Murray’s or at MSG, that’s damn theatrical.