Song written as B-side throw-away goes #1 with sports fansIn 1969, all songs had to have a B-side for the 45 record. Paul Leka,then a Mercury Records producer, and studio musicians Garrett Scott and Dale Frashuer wrote a throw-away song, so useless that no DJ would play it.
Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye went # 1 for a band called Steam. Today it is the sports chant of fans for retiring pitchers and sports losers of all stripes.
Paul Leka died of lung cancer on October 12th in hospice near his Connecticut home. Leka was 68.
Born to Albanian immigrants, Paul Leka was writing songs by age 16. He played in a band called the Chateaus but left them to produce music for other acts.
Two members of the Chateaus were members of Steam the band that recorded Na Na Hey Hey – Gary DeCarlo (singing as Garrett Scott) and Dale Frashuer. DeCarlo was working as a studio musician with Leka at Mercury Records in 1969 when Frasheur visited suggesting they record their 1961 composition, Say Goodbye.
Leka wrote the Na Na Hey Hey chorus to make the song too long for DJs to play. He wanted to make sure they played the A-side as a potential hit.
“Instead of using a full band, Leka spliced together a drum track from one of DeCarlo’s four singles and played keyboards himself.”I said we should put a chorus to it (to make it longer),” Leka told Fred Bronson in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. “I started writing while I was sitting at the piano going ‘na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na’… Everything was ‘na na’ when you didn’t have a lyric.” Someone else added “hey hey””
Mercury executives nixed that idea when they released Na Na Hey Hey as an A-side. The song charted quickly and stayed # 1 on Billboard for 2 weeks. Since release, Na Na Hey Hey has sold 6.5 million copies.
Besides covers by several acts, it was Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust who immortalized the song when she began to play the chorus when batters struck out or pitchers were removed.
Tell your lover goodbye to kiss your opponent goodbye – sports fans made the chant their own all over the world.
Cat’s in the Cradlee by Harry Chapin