Mark Ronson and athletics haven’t always mixed well. A year after moving from London to Brooklyn, the DJ, artist, and Grammy-winning producer managed to head in the wrong direction at a relay race during fourth-grade field day. He spent the final three years of elementary school saddled with the nickname “Wrong Way Ronson.” More than a quarter-century later, Ronson will earn some redemption and be inescapably linked to this summer’s London Olympics after teaming with dance-pop singer Katy B to write “Anywhere in the World,” the centerpiece of a global Coca-Cola ad campaign in which the musicians will also star.
Coca-Cola approached Ronson at his Brooklyn studio in the hopes of enlisting him to create a pop song built in part from samples of Olympic athletes in training. Best known for crafting warm, classicist sounds with Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Lily Allen, he wasn’t a natural choice to work with a dance star and innovative sampling techniques, but that’s exactly what drew Ronson to the project. “I’d kind of enjoyed the challenge of a different way of recording,” says Ronson. “It’s kind of a science project. That’s what makes it fun to me. That’s what stimulates my brain.” (Ronson is also following in the footsteps of his stepdad, Foreigner’s Mick Jones; his band’s “Street Thunder” was the official marathon theme at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.)
Ronson himself was charged with selecting a vocalist, and in Katy B – fresh off the critical and commercial success of her On a Mission LP – he got his first choice. “I think Katy B encapsulates Young London in a way I never could,” says the London native, who splits time between the U.S. and the UK. “She reps London harder than anyone song-wise since Lily Allen.”
To provide the track’s unique rhythm, Ronson traveled the world and conducted field recordings of Olympian hopefuls: American hurdler David Oliver, British table tennis player Daruis Knight, Russian middle-distance runner Kseniya Vdovina, Mexican taekwondo practitioner Maria Espinoza, and Singaporean archer Dayyan Jaffar. “[The athletes] were excited but at the same time they are in the middle of training,” says Ronson. “They’re some of the most focused and determined people I’ve ever met in a way that makes musicians look like slackers. Which we are.”
Despite the challenges of having an unfamiliar recording process imposed on him, Ronson – with help from longtime Olympics sound designer Dennis Baxter – found creative ways to capture everything from grunting to the distinctive sounds of a table tennis volley. Vdovina ran on a treadmill, with a microphone and a stethoscope attached; her heartbeat recorded at 120 bpm provides the literal pulse of the song.
Ronson, Katy B, and four of the five athletes recently staged a live performance of the song in order to film ads that will serve as the centerpiece of an extravagant Coca-Cola Move to the Beat™ London 2012 Olympic Games campaign. The resulting spot, filmed in the shadow of London’s Olympic Stadium, looks like a live-action Busby Berkeley musical with Ronson directing elaborate choreography designed to bring different elements of the track to life. Ronson will also have the honor of carrying the Olympic torch on part of its journey to the Opening Ceremony at East London’s newly constructed Olympic Stadium on July 27.
Coca-Cola has a long history with pop music, starting with the famous, Haskell Wexler-directed “Hilltop” ad that propelled “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” to the top of the charts in 1971. Even if “Anywhere in the World” doesn’t match that, songs linked to high-profile athletic competitions have fared well in recent years. Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” written for the 2010 World Cup, hit Number One in more than a dozen countries. So too did Junkie XL’s remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” after it was featured in Nike’s 2002 World Cup ads. “This gives me an opportunity to have our songs played in places that have never heard of us,” says Ronson. “The Coke people have always seemed dedicated to exposing talent that’s not so obvious. They could have signed will.i.am. I feel pretty lucky that this is something I get to be part of.”