It never occurred to me to think the opening music of Michigan Replay strange. By the time I understood things like music and the 70s*, the Michigan Replay theme was so familiar I couldn't possibly evaluate it as anything other than what it was. It existed outside of time and context. I suppose I assumed that it had come from some discarded CD somewhere, its licensing fee a pittance to some obscure artist probably related to a member of the athletic department.
So it came as a shock to me when helpful reader Daniel Young -- now enshrined in the Reader Hall of Fame next to Penn State Guy Who Hates Me Guy and Guy Who Patiently Explains How To Spell "LeSueur" Whenever I Screw It Up Which Is Always Guy -- tracked down the entire, unedited song and emailed it to me. Strip away the state-of-the-art video highlight montage and listen to the blaring horns by their lonesome and like whoah. Cognitive dissonance, man. The Michigan Replay theme is funky. Not like white-boy funky. The kind of funk that alerts Orson to the presence of knee-buckling badonkadonk. Pam Grier funky.
Now that I've heard the thing in its natural habitat and arrived at the inescapable conclusion that it's more appropriate for "Blackula" or "Black Frankenstein" or, I dunno, "Black To The Future" than a couple of stodgy old crackers muttering about the latest football game, I can never go back. The incongruity is too much. Forever and anon the opening credits of Michigan Replay will cause girlish giggles unless we lose, in which case they will provoke nothing until my emotions re-engage sometime around Tuesday.
Here it is; the bits you might recognize kick in after about 35 seconds.
(You can download the file here; right click & "save as")
The reason the song is reminiscent of something Shaft could saunter to is simple: it's from an honest-to-god blaxploitation flick. As Mr. Young writes:
I've scoured the end credits on many occasions, but have yet to find any reference as to where the theme music comes from. Fortunately, I have a friend who's big into old school funk ... he was able to unearth the source of the Michigan Replay theme. It's a cut off the soundtrack to the 1972 blaxploitation flick Across 110th Street called (appropriately) "Across 110th Street Instrumental" by JJ Johnson & His Orchestra. How it ended up as the uncredited theme to Michigan Replay is anybody's guess (maybe Bo was big into funk back in the day).
I'm not sure if the instrumental is the same music as the identically-named title track that, according to Pop Matters, is part of the film's enduring cachet...
Like its cinematic compatriots, Shaft (1971), Trouble Man (1972), and Car Wash (1976), Across 110th Street owes much of its notoriety to a memorable theme song. Written by Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson and performed by Womack, "Across 110th Street" is a majestic soul-funk classic in its radio incarnation -- perhaps appropriately, the film itself presents a more downbeat version over its opening credits -- and one of the best of that era's numerous musical chronicles of inner-city pain. (Womack's single has since received further exposure from its somewhat incongruous use in Quentin Tarantino's 1997 L.A. noir, Jackie Brown.)
...but I damn well hope so, because when you think "majestic soul-funk," you think Michigan Football.
I personally owe Mr. Young even a bit more, because listening to the MP3 over and over -- and over -- triggered that pulse-quickening realization that was late in coming this year: football. FOOTBALL.
Let's git it aawwwwwn.
*(As much as anyone can possibly understand an era when lime-green corduroys seemed like a good idea.)