A Young Man’s Quest for Pump: “Jock Jams”

It was the Summer of 1995 and even at the the tender age of ten I knew something was wrong. I would wake up every day decidedly unpumped for the upcoming day. After dragging myself out of bed, I would look at my Michael Jordan poster and wonder why I could not constantly live the excitement of watching giant millionaires play sports.

As I unenthusiastically wandered around the local mall that July, a beacon of hope drew me in. A partnership between Tommy Boy Records, who launched the careers of artists like Digital Underground and Queen Latifah, and ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” lead to a compilation album that would eventually yield nine volumes, including three rock focused albums and a “best of” CD.

Jock Jams helped energize an entire generation of music listeners and helped to establish the “arena rock” genre that bands like Fallout Boy continue to occupy.

Fifteen dollars later I was pumped to be pumped. I got in my Mom’s sedan ready to feel the arena energy in the car, before realizing she did not have a CD player. Those twenty minutes were the longest of my life, but twenty minutes of adult contemporary radio could not dampen my desire to feel like I was in my favorite arena.

When I got home I ran up to my room and found my Discman. Even before pressing play I could smell the stale pretzels and hot dogs, which I later realized was from a lunch I had the week before that I left under my bed. Finally the CD starts, “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” bellowed out of my headphones. Now I could hear Michael Buffer’s voice wherever I needed to ready myself for random violence.

Then a dance beat began to play before 2 Unlimited asked me “Are You Ready for This?” Before I could answer “I am not sure” the beat quickened and it felt like my favorite sports squadron was coming out of a time out, ready for a big comeback.

The three and a half minute song already had me winded, but looking at the album cover I had 18 more tracks to get through, testing my maximum pumpedness. In track three, Denver group Tag Team was certainly back again (although I did not realize they had arrived the first time) letting me know where it was with a Whoomp! Then before I knew it Black Box was telling me to “Strike it Up” and I was clapping along while also looking over my shoulder for a mascot to make sure I was not transported to an actual arena.

The Florida based 69 Boys, whose name I assumed was related to how many times they attended church each year had me eating Tootsee Rolls, which I know now was probably not the point of the song. This was followed by a short interlude that reminded me to Go ‘Head and Pump it Up, which admittedly I was unsure I should still be doing at this point in the album.

Next K7’s Come Baby Come, which I think is about childbirth, had me grooving and ready to cheer my favorite team to a game winning goal point. Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock let me know that “It Takes Two” further pumping me up while increasing my crushing loneliness as a preteen.

Gridiron Groove gave me the 15 seconds I needed to catch my breath and ready myself since C & C Music Factory, which I later found out lacked a union for its employees, was going to force everyone to dance, not later but now. They lived up to their promise to make me sweat before Naughty by Nature had me waving my arm while singing Hip Hop Hooray. Since I did not stretch earlier I did injure myself, tearing my rotator cuff, but adrenaline helped me ignore the pain and continue my quest for the pump.

This would not be the only injury I would endure as I followed MARRS’ suggestion to Pump up the Volume, leading to some hearing loss. Helping me fight through the pain was Snap!’s assurance that I did in fact have the Power. Not even cultural appropriation could stop my journey as 20 seconds of Uh, Ungawa allowed me to refocus for the final stretch of becoming fully pumped.

EMF let me know I, or some random person from their life, was truly Unbelievable as I imagined my favorite Sports Athlete Person making the game saving play. All of the sudden I was taken back in time for some old school pump with the Village People singing Y.M.C.A. as the extolled only the wholesome values of the collection of Christian community centers. Traveling back to the Nineties, hip house pioneers Technotronic were suddenly telling me to Pump up the Jam, leading to further hearing loss.

Unexpectedly 2 Unlimited returned taking me to a Twilight Zone of dancing and excitement as I begin chugging Gatorade to avoid dehydration, ingesting the large amount of sugar I needed to get me through the last couple of tracks. ESPN and Tommy Boy refused to let me think I was anywhere outside a $100 million sports arena inviting Madison Square Garden organist Ray Castoldi to play an interlude that had me thinking there was someone behind me yelling offensive and vaguely racists comments to the players below.

I was ready to take off my earphones and hit the ice bath before the familiar guitar riff of Gary Glitter forced me to dig deep and find the little bit of pump I had left. I was concerned since I had lost my voice on the previous track yelling for my favorite basketball guild to win the important match game I imagined myself attending throughout the album, but fortunately the compilers recognized this might be an issue for all listeners so they chose the nearly lyric-less Rock and Roll Part 2. I was able muster the necessary “Hey,” allowing me to feel the full pumping up abilities of the classic glam rock hit.

Although I had to spend three days in the hospital recovering from exhaustion as a result of becoming over-pumped, I would not have traded the experience for anything in the world. A previously dark world shined bright for me knowing anytime I needed to feel the excitement that can only be provided by watching other people participate in strenuous activity I could pick up Jock Jams and leave the doldrums behind.

By Jared Browsh