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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The coolest song of every summer

June 26, 2008 |  2:22 pm

Everyone has their favorite summer song, from Sly's "Hot Fun in the Summertime" to Bananarama's "Cruel Summer" to Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer" to Justin Timberlake's "Summer Love." But there's only one song that is a hit every sultry night of every summer: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The song is having its 100th anniversary this summer, which has a special resonance for us Cubs fans, since it's also the 100th anniversary of the last time the Cubs won the World Series. Written by Albert Von Tilzer and Jack Norworth, two vaudeville vets who'd never seen a baseball game, "Take Me Out" is now a staple at all ballparks. (To learn more about its unusual history--and see the rarely sung verse about "baseball mad Katie Casey"--go here.)

Anyone's whose spent a summer at Wrigley Field is used to hearing all sorts of visiting celebs, actors, comedians and nutjobs take a whack at the song. The other night, the Cubs-Orioles game was interrupted by some god-awful yowling by "Dancing With the Stars" regular Julianne Hough (sadly, no relation to knuckleballer Charlie Hough), who has released a country album--and recently sang the national anthem at a NASCAR race-- but after hearing her off-key rendition, I wouldn't bet on her future as a singer.

But enough complaints: If you want to hear some amazingly good versions of "Take Me Out," tune in the "Take Me Out" battle of the bands that's been running on ESPN. The sports network has recruited a host of cool groups, who all perform wonderfully idiosyncratic versions of the song. Highlights include a jazzy instrumental version by Branford Marsalis (a Mets loyalist), a bluegrass rendition by the Punch Brothers (who wear Cubs caps) and a rousing "Take Me Out" by Ozomatli, Dodgers loyalists who perform the song salsa-style, with congas, saxophone and stand-up bass. (That's their version at the top of this post.)

ESPN is letting fans vote on nine different performances (still to come, Saturday at 7 p.m., is a new rendition by Candlebox), with a winner announced on July 13. (Go here for more video clips of the performances.) My vote, so far, goes to Ozomatli. If the Dodgers marketing wizards are paying attention, they should invite the band to play the song during the 7th-inning stretch at an upcoming game. The way the team is going these days, any musical inspiration might be a good thing.

To see the all-time, century-worst "Take Me Out" performance, continue reading:

Here is Ozzy Osbourne, live from Wrigley Field, giving it his all (don't miss the expression on Cubs hurler Kerry Wood's face when they cut away to the dugout--he looks like he's expecting Ozzy to bite the head off a bat at any moment).

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