Your team has an insurmountable lead over a bitter rival and is only 60 seconds from winning the championship. Your opponents are dejected… Suddenly, the crowd starts to sing “Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye!”
Everyone knows the chant! But, here’s the back story.
In 1969, Paul Leka was working at Mercury records. Gary DeCarlo and Dale Frazier were Paul’s old bandmates from their Bridgeport, Connecticut band called the Chateaus. Paul convinced Mercury’s A&R man, Bob Reno, to let the three of them record some songs with Gary as the lead singer. With Paul doing the producing, four songs were recorded. Reno liked all of them and thought that each song would do well on its own however, in the end, none of those four songs became hits. Reno needed a B side song for an entirely different song. Paul, Dale and Gary went back into the Mercury Studios to record a throw-away flip side.
Leka, in an interview with Billboard stated that he started writing nonsensical lyrics while sitting at the piano in order to make sure that the song was too long for DJs to want to play it. Leka stated “Na na na na na na na na na na, everything was na na when you didn’t have a lyric”. So, they intentionally under-produced this overly long record with the intention of ensuring that no one would pick this song as the A- side. They were wrong.
Bob Reno was contractually obliged to send Fontana Records, a British Label, 26 records per year. He sent them the record that included “Na Na Hey Hey.” It had taken off in England. When Paul returned to New York three months later, to the great surprise of everyone involved, he was told that the record was a big hit.
The song needed a band and a band name. Shortly thereafter, while walking through the streets of Bridgeport at night, Leka noticed steam coming up from a manhole cover and immediately thought “Steam! I’ll call the artist Steam.”
The record “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” started screaming up the Billboard charts. It went all the way to number one in November 1969. The label wanted to capitalize on this amazing success and for Steam to go into the studio, make an album, and prepare for a tour. But, there was no band called Steam. Leka then proceeded to hit the Holiday Inns and other local venues that were playing live music and began approaching musicians to see if they were interested in being part of the band “Steam” who had a guaranteed hit on their hands.
Gary DeCarlo was approached to be part of Steam but declined. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” was Steam’s only Top 40 hit and the only song on the Steam album that was not actually recorded by the band.
In 1977, the song was adopted by Chicago White Sox organist, Nancy Faust. She began using it to coax the crowd into taunting the opposing star pitcher who was struggling or being yanked out of the game, or a batter who had struck out at a key moment. Within a few years, the song became an anthem to sports conquest and has become one of the all-time best known rock and roll records. Today, the song is known by Americans of all ages as a crowd initiated, not so empathetic send off to losing teams in virtually every high school, college, or pro venue in the country.
It also caught on at soccer games overseas, where the “goodbye” in the chorus is substituted with “Adios!” in Spain, “Au Revoir!” in France, “Ciao! Ciao!” in Italy and “Sayonara!” in Japan
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” became a hit again in 1987, covered by The Nylons and went to number 12 on the Billboard charts. The familiar chant also turned up in the 2000 movie Remember the Titans and in many TV commercials.
Paul Leka’s love for music brought him to many amazing experiences and a lifelong career in the music business. But prior to “Na Na Hey Hey,” Paul had another big hit. In the late 60s, he met Shelley Pinz. The pair wrote and produced a song for The Lemon Pipers called “Green Tambourine” written about a man begging for money with his tambourine. The song went to number one in December of 1967 and would be The Lemon Pipers only Billboard Top 40 hit. Paul and Shelley wrote several more songs which made it onto the Billboard Charts. After “Green Tambourine” Paul gave up performing in order to pursue writing, producing and arranging. He became a songwriter/producer with Circle V Productions.
Besides writing two number one records Paul Leka had many other successes. Paul worked for Mercury, Electra, and CBS records and later opened his own studio, Connecticut Recording Studio, in Bridgeport. Paul signed REO Speedwagon to its first record deal, produced four albums for Harry Chapin at his studio which included Chapin’s only number 1 hit, “Cat’s in the Cradle.”
Leka wrote, arranged and produced for many A-listers including Gloria Gaynor, Bobby Vee, Tommy James and the Shondells, the Left Banke, Kris Kristofferson, Peter Nero, Paul Mauriat and many more.
Paul Leka was born in Bridgeport Connecticut on February 20, 1943 and died of lung cancer at a hospice near his home in Connecticut on October 12, 2011 with family members by his side. He was 68 years old.