With a ripple of piano and the faint echo of a triangle being struck, its opening bars are unlikely to set the pulse racing. But less than two minutes and 35 seconds later, it’s clear that this is the song that should be adopted as England’s official World Cup anthem. If Rooney and co are to have any chance of slipping the surly bonds of earth and lifting a nation’s flagging spirits, this is the soundtrack that will inspire them – The Impossible Dream.
England, this green and unpleasant land of mass murder, neglected children, forgotten servicemen and shit weather, is also the country that failed to produce a rousing, heart-tugging, musical battle-cry for our boys.
But it’s not too late for every school canteen, transport cafe and corner pub in the kingdom to adopt The Impossible Dream as the unofficial anthem. And iTunes should do the decent thing and pump the MP3 file down the eastern Atlantic fibre optic cable to the England team’s hotel immediately.
Everything about the song is epic and uplifting. OK, it’s been covered by just about every two-bit lounge singer this side of Las Vegas, but its message – better to follow your dreams than live a life mired in drudgery – is timeless:
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause
If it’s good enough to be adopted as a rallying cry by Wolves fans (during their promotion season), German boxer Henry Maske (for his comeback fight) and car maker Honda (for their TV adverts), then the least we can do is blast it out over the pub PA system before every England game. It’s not only a damn sight more danceable than God Save The Queen, it’s also considerably shorter.
Having listened to most of the versions available on Spotify, I have to say Honda made the right choice with Andy Williams. Elvis, Scott Walker, Glen Campbell, Cher and The Temptations all tried – and failed – to capture that blend of yearning and unashamed romanticism so effortlessly achieved by “Mr. Moon River”:
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
Inevitably, there are some lines that shouldn’t be taken literally. The title, for one. But it’s the overall sentiment we are after, not individual details. So we can skip the lines about bearing “unbearable sorrow” and our quest being “hopeless”.
The story behind the song makes it an even more appropriate choice for our adopted anthem.
It’s the signature song from a 1965 Broadway musical called Man of La Mancha, which is based on the life of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. Cervantes, like his hero, was a bit of a happy-go-lucky dreamer who failed repeatedly in his ambitions. Sound familiar? But whereas Cervantes finally hit the big time with the publication of Don Quixote, England’s dreamers are still waiting for their jackpot…
"If Rooney and co are to have any chance of slipping the surly bonds of earth and lifting a nation’s flagging spirits, this is the soundtrack that will inspire them"
The musical was based on a successful TV play written by Dale Wasserman who was inspired by the parallels between his and Cervantes’ life. In his memoir, The Impossible Musical, Wasserman writes: “[Cervantes] was a writer who failed frequently, had a wandering life with no stability. I, too, had failed. I’m from a family which disintegrated when I was 10. I hopped my first freight train when I was 12 and spent practically my entire adolescence as a hobo.” So there’s something our number 10 can relate to straight away…
Wasserman, who also wrote the stage adaptation of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, originally employed poet W H Auden to write the lyrics for his musical. But for him finding the results “too cynical” and rejecting Auden’s work, The Impossible Dream – then called The Quest – could have been a completely different song (maybe more of a Nick Cave-style ballad).
Unlike Andy William’s lushly-orchestrated version 20 years later, the only strings featured in the original stage performance were a pair of acoustic guitars.
Wasserman’s musical went on to win a shedload of awards and earn this portentous review in Life magazine: “In a time when men complain about losing their identity, of being mere cogs and numbers in a computerised world, the spectacle of a rampantly individual Don Quixote is welcome. He [Quixote] has shown to what an important extent all men can, and must, create their own reality – and how inspiring and dangerous it can be.”
While the most dangerous thing England will be likely to encounter in the next few weeks will be a penalty shoot-out, they have the opportunity to inspire a nation:
And I know if
I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest
As for the last verse of the song, it’s almost as if it was specially written for one spud-faced England player in particular…
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star