Today’s disc is a fine example of that age-old mantra ‘sports stars cannot (and should not) sing’. It’s also a sobering ‘there but for the grace of God’ tale…and it highlights my dislike of Queen (but that’s another story). A triple whammy.
Former Detroit Lions player Jimmy ‘Spiderman’ Allen was born in Florida in 1952 but was brought up an aunt and uncle in Los Angeles. An exceptional athlete, while studying at Los Angeles City High School Allen shattered all city records in several swimming events and, in 1972, he even tried out for the Olympic team.
As well as swimming, he played for his high school football team, earning the nickname “Spiderman” due in part to his coverage abilities. He went on to play for the UCLA Bruins alongside quarterback Mark Harmon, whose would find greater fame on TV in shows such as St Elsewhere and NCIS.
After playing for UCLA he went on to join the Pittsburgh Steelers and, finally, the Detroit Lions, And it was while he was with the Lions that he recorded this little nugget, an early ‘rap’ version of the Queen hit Another One Bites the Dust with team-mates Dave Hill and Jimmy Hunter backing him up. The story has it that Jimmy heard the original song whilst driving out to the airport and thought it would be worth adopting as the Lions’ theme song. Unfortunately for the team they took ownership of the song at exactly the wrong time: the Lions lost match after match, and Another One Bites the Dust instead of being a celebratory ‘come and have a go at us’ anthem became a major embarrassment. The video – which features Allen flicking a feather duster around in an all-too literal reading of the lyrics – seems to have vanished form the face of the earth. Well, it ain’t on Youtube!
Backed with the short Spider’s Delight, a brief bit of freestyle with more than a nod to the Shugarhill Gang, the single was a local hit in Detroit and – apparently, although I’ve been unable to find any evidence - Allen’s son Jimmy Jr. followed his dad’s lead into the rap and hip-hop scene.
It’s horrible. Sure, other sportsmen (and women) have done worse, but it’s a prime example of what not to do when let loose in the recording studio. It’s a reasonably passable cover of the song (the cheap click track backing aside) and not to embarrassing a performance – that is until Jimmy starts to rap: clearly the man was the inspiration for our own John Barnes and his ridiculous performances on World in Motion and The Anfield Rap. And what’s with the weird animal noises? I assume they’re supposed to be (Detroit) Lions’ roars – I certainly can’t imagine a spider making that kind of noise. Unless it’s a giant spider from a 50s B-movie of course.
Jimmy’s professional career ended with the 1981/2 season. In 1982 the Lions traded Allen to the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was revealed to have an irregular heartbeat and never played for the team.
It’s here that Spiderman’s story plumbs darker depths.
This abrupt end left Allen unprepared to meet the challenges of life after a successful sports career. Returning to Los Angeles he invested his savings in a laundromat, but the business went under after a few years forcing him to sell the family home and move his wife and children into a small apartment. As the years passed he began to struggle with his health and spiralled downwards into substance abuse; he separated from his wife Cora in 1992.
Jimmy found some temporary work working for the city of Los Angeles as a lifeguard but by 2000 he had become homeless, living on the streets of Los Angeles and occasionally turning up at the home of a friend or a relative. Now 62, photographer Kevin McCollister took a portrait of him on the streets of LA last year, still very obviously down on his luck.
I wish him well, and hope he gets his life back on track. I just hope he doesn’t decide to record again.