A massive worldwide hit for Queen in the fall of 1977, “We Are The Champions” has been recorded and performed by dozens of other artists since then, but no version of Freddie Mercury’s triumphant anthem was ever delivered with quite the same je ne sais quoi that the Big Blue Wrecking Crew brought to the table (and the recording studio) in November 1981.
“A bunch of guys on a championship team got an idea and decided to have some fun with it,” was how Jay Johnstone described the single, which featured the decidedly-less-than-championship-caliber vocalizations of Johnstone and his Dodger teammates Rick Monday, Jerry Reuss, and Steve Yeager.
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Recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood just a few days after the Dodgers beat the Yankees to win the ‘81 World Series, the Big Blue Wrecking Crew’s rendition of “We Are the Champions” — assisted by such noted L.A. session cats as bassist Lee Sklar and Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro — was about as convincing as Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s tale of getting into an elevator fistfight with Dodger fans following Game Five. (Steinbrenner probably punched another wall after hearing the single’s flip side, a gleefully disrespectful “New York, New York”.)
Not that these gentlemen were possessed of any particular delusions of grandeur on the musical front. “Yeager was by far the best singer,” Johnstone later recalled of the recording session in his autobiography, Temporary Insanity. “Of course that was after they added an echo chamber and backup singers to drown him out.” In Jerry Reuss’s recent autobiography, Bring In the Right-Hander!, the pitcher recalls that after the Big Blue Wrecking Crew performed the song on The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson deadpanned, “I think people thought you were going to be bad.”
That performance sadly seems to have been lost to the sands of time, but thankfully their hilarious appearance on the TV show Solid Gold still exists. After an introduction from show hosts Andy Gibb and Marilyn McCoo, our heroes deliver a hysterically clunky choreographed routine that comes off like a cross between an Anchorman outtake and an all-male strip revue. Thankfully — or not, depending on whether you’ve ever Googled Yeager’s 1982 Playgirl spread — ripping off upper layers of clothing to reveal blue Dodgers t-shirts is the closest they get to an actual “full monty”. Behold!
All profits from sales of the single went to benefit the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, so at least something good came out of it.