And so the champion made his exit, and the man born Cassius Clay, the ‘Louisville lip’, the three time Heavyweight champion of the world left us, surrounded by his family at the age of 74. Ever since winning Olympic gold medal at the 1960 games and turning professional he told us he was the greatest, and his actions in the ring only confirmed it. But his actions out of the ring, converting to Islam and changing his name to Muhammad Ali, being banned from boxing for three years in 1967 for refusing the draft, fighting tirelessly for black rights and black pride around the world, delivering medical supplies to embargoed Cuba, and travelling to Iraq to help secure the release of 15 US hostages among them (although there were a great many more) only enhanced his greatness, and highlighted his determination to do what he felt was the right thing.
Such was his impact on popular culture that even shortly after winning that gold medal he passed into popular culture. That there is, by the end of his 74 years, a slew of records that mention, or are specifically about Ali shouldn’t be surprising. So we’ll leave talk of his legacy to others, and instead give you ten of the best tracks involving or about Muhammad Ali.
1. Ali & his gang vs Mr. Tooth Decay: Theme from
Produced by Arther Bernard Morrison, this 1976 cautionary record saw Ali and his ‘gang’, which included famed ring announcer Howard Cosell, Frank Sinatra, Richie Havens, Jayne Kennedy, Ossie Davis, and a bunch of kids, warn against the danger of too much sugar. Best thing about it was this funky theme tune, especially as it’s nothing at all to do with tooth decay (sorry, Mr. Tooth Decay) at all.
2. The Alcoves – The Ballad of Cassius Clay
From 1964 from The Aloves, who seem to have released virtually nothing apart from this single, backed by Heaven which dropped on the Carlton label. A shame really as its a fun soul romp, with a healthy dose of doo wop.
3. Eddie Curtis – The Louisville Lip
Now this is real cracker, a real gospel soul slammer from the man more famous for getting co-writes on Steve Millers The Joker and Shaggy’s Angel (no, seriously). Resist this 1971 belter if you can.
4. Dennis Alcapone – Cassius Clay
Legendary Jamaican toaster Dennis Alcapone dropped his own tribute to the greatest on his 1974 album King of the Track, which (incidentally) is worth picking up anyway – if you can find it. Alcapone drops his toasts all over a rocksteady backing, with some great bass and great funky organ.
5. Trio Madjesi – 8ieme Round
A tribute Rumble in the Jungle, which took place in Zaire on October 30th, 1974 and which Ali won by knocking out George Forman in the eighth round, after employing his rop-a-dope tactics. It’s by respected Zaire born Trio Madjesi and is a bubbling slice of African pop, brass heavy and with some brilliant vocal harmonies.
6. The Best Ever & Muhammad Ali – The People’s Choice
I can’t tell you a great deal about this, or the Best Ever, apart from it came out on Polydor records in Europe in 1975 but it’s plenty funky, with brass and horns all over it, and these female vocals laying down quite a vocal joined by chanting from a ‘crowd’ and Ali himself (albeit briefly).
7. Sir Mack Rice – Muhammad Ali
The prolific songwriting of Sir Mack Rice was overshadowed by his The Falcons bandmate Wilson Pickett when they both went solo, but Pickett at least did him the courtesy of covering the song he’s probably most famouse for, Mustang Sally. Check out this slice of deep funk from 1976 on the May Day label. Punctuated with a great Sax solo, its heavy with synths, this fantastic guitar sound and the brass stabbing their way through the changes.
8. Faithless – Muhammad Ali
Taken from Faithless’ third album – 2001’s Outrospective, Muhammad Ali was Maxi Jazz’s tribute to his hero, a man who had enabled him to believe in himself and rise above racial abuse. It was released as a single the same year and crept into the top 30 of the UK charts. It drops another fine funk backing while Maxi Jazz reveals the stories behind his admiration.
9. Ben Folds Five – Boxing
Written from the point of view of Ali, contemplating quitting boxing whilst chatting with Howard Cosell, Ben Folds write the song because his Dad was such a great boxing fan, and its full of that usual Folds humour, pathos and melody. Find it on the Ben Folds Five debut album.
10. Cassius Clay – Stand by me
We’ll leave the last word to the man himself, and his version of the Ben E. King standard, released on Columbia / CBS in 1964.
RIP Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali /The Louisville Lip / The Greatest.
Did we leave out a classic? There were lots to choose from, and maybe a few more we didn’t know about. Send us a comment.