Perfect Pitch: World Cup Fever Has Human Nature Seeing Parallels Between Sports and Music

Posted by on Friday, June 13th, 2014

If it seems like the boys in Human Nature are displaying a little extra Australian pride this month, there may be an easy explanation. Yes, World Cup fever has spread all the way to the deserts of Las Vegas, and like just about every other soccer/football fan on the planet, your favorite crooners will be keeping long-distance tabs on the goings on down in Brazil (as it happens, the Australian team is in a mighty tough grouping with Chile, the Netherlands, and Spain). With all this in mind, we thought it’d be a suitable time to look at the greater parallels between sports and music, and how Human Nature compares their own line of work to the kind you find out on the field of competition.

Arena Amazônia

Arena Amazônia will host several of the 2014 World Cup matches. The members of Human Nature appreciate the similarities between athletes and singers.
Image source: Portal da Copa/Governo do Brasil via wikimedia.org

“I’m definitely a bit of a sports nut, myself,” says Phil Burton. “When I was a kid I played a whole bunch of sports– rugby, soccer, softball, cricket, golf. I’d give anything a try. Nowadays all I get time to play is golf, but I still love watching almost any sport. Having met a lot of athletes over the years, I’ve found that musicians and athletes always seem to want to switch places! I think we see the same passion and work ethic in each other’s careers– as well as the cheering fans, of course. There really are a lot of similarities.”

For evidence of Phil’s observations regarding sports and music, look no further than the number of footballers who’ve taken time off the pitch to record pitch-imperfect pop singles over the years—from British stars Kevin Keegan, Paul Gascoigne, and Andy Cole, to Australian Rules Football standouts Peter McKenna, Graham Cornes, and Mark “Jacko” Jackson. There are similar cases in American sports, as well, perhaps best symbolized by basketball star Shaquille O’Neal’s attempts at conquering the world of hip hop.

Australian Rules Football Hall of Famer Graham Cornes tried his hand at pop music with this 1977 single “Untying the Laces”.

On the flip side, plenty of successful musicians have longed for the greener grass of sports fame, too. The avid basketball fans in Pearl Jam famously named their debut album “10” after the jersey number of their favorite NBA player, Mookie Blaylock. Justin Timberlake is a lifelong golfer who once dreamed of going pro. And a young Rod Stewart had to give up his pro soccer dreams to settle for life as an internationally famous rock n’ roll icon. 

“I have such admiration for sports people,” says Toby Allen. “They are incredibly disciplined. I find it very easy to become absorbed into events like the World Cup or Summer Olympics or Tour de France. The main difference I imagine– or probably ever think about—between being an athlete and a musician is the diet [laughs]. If you are good enough, you could probably still get by as a fat singer– not so much if you were a swimmer! I’ll stick to singing, thanks.”

Okay, so maybe not every musician has his mind set on making the leap to athletics. But beyond the obvious commonalities—practice and preparation, the pressure of the live performance, cheering stadiums—there are more subtle threads that tie these worlds together, too. Particularly as it relates to the concept of the “group” and the “star.”

Besides tennis and a handful of other clear-cut “individual” sports, most athletes find themselves having to learn the delicate balance of performing as part of a team. This often involves discovering that one’s own personal talents are best utilized in harmony with those of their teammates. Rather than looking for the personal glory of a World Cup goal, for example, the best soccer players consider themselves part of a larger organism that will find success when all of its components are working together selflessly.

This same concept helps explain why a group like Human Nature has been performing together for 20 years, while countless other music acts have gone by the wayside. Just like an athlete hogging the ball and alienating his teammates, pop music is full of stories of bands collapsing under the weight of their individual egos. This isn’t to say that successful bands don’t have their “superstar” personalities, too. But more times than not, a great group features remarkably talented, highly confident, “team-first” players who respect one another’s vital roles in the greater whole.

So it seems fitting that when we ask Phil Burton which pro athlete he’d most like to switch places with for a day, he chooses one of the most respected team players from his homeland.

“I think if I were to swap places with one athlete, it would be Michael Clarke– the captain of the Australian cricket team,” he says. “I’ve always loved cricket and wish I were good enough to play it professionally. And the captain of the Australian team is a pretty high honor. It’s often jokingly referred to as the ‘second most powerful position in the country’ behind the Prime Minister. Some would even say it’s the other way around!”

A profile of Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke. 

For Toby Allen’s part, meanwhile, his athlete-for-a-day scenario would involve a star from an even bigger team—Team USA.

“I have always loved to swim, and I played water polo for all of my high school years,” Allen says. “And the one thing that always eluded me was to be able to swim a graceful butterfly stroke . Well, there is no one better than Michael Phelps when it comes to that. He managed to break his own world record seven times in eight years. I wouldn’t expect that success, but I’d love to be able to just swim it!” 

Admittedly, Toby’s sports dream sounds just a tad less team-oriented in nature. But, if you think about it, that is at least one advantage that a musician has over most professional athletes. You can always go solo! And no matter how great Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, or Wayne Rooney might be, not a single one of them could field a World Cup team on his own.


3 responses to “Perfect Pitch: World Cup Fever Has Human Nature Seeing Parallels Between Sports and Music”

  1. Amy S says:

    SUPERSTARS always in my eyes….TEAM HN !

  2. Alicia E says:

    I can’t imagine music from you as solo(s)! You’ve done individual things on the Here and Now DVD, and that had it’s merits! But your best side is as a team. The blend is angelic and your timing is spot on. The way you work an interview in perfect unison. And when you are dancing on that stage knowing where each person is at every minute. It is a dance well perfected over the last 25 years and it won’t work any other way than as a team! So grateful you guys stuck it out and I will be a cheerleader for life for Team HN! Cheers mates. xx

  3. Judy Trujillo says:

    Saw you for the first time at of all places–the Rotary Convention in Australia…three CDs later and a search for tickets in Vegas–you four are terrific! Keep it up!

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