When songwriter Paul Leka sat down at a piano in 1969 and worked up a tune called “Kiss Him Goodbye,” no way he could have known what would develop.
Forty-two years later, college kids are still mocking visiting basketball teams by chanting “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
That amazes me.
I bring this up because the New York Times reports that Leka has died of lung cancer at a hospice in Connecticut at 68.
It called to mind an attempt I made back in the ’90s, working at a Seattle daily that’s now gone away, to trace the origin of the song that I had remembered sung by a band called Steam back around 1969. The idea was to celebrate the fact the tune had somehow hung on for a quarter of a century (at least in college basketball arenas).
Pretty cool song, by the way. But maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, after several phone calls, I got hold of somebody from a record label, I believe, in Los Angeles, who told me Steam was a fictitious group created by Leka and a longtime friend, Gary DeCarlo. Long story short, somehow I didn’t pursue the story, perhaps feeling lukewarm about the “fictitious group” aspect.
But, as the New York Times points out, there’s a serious quirkiness to the genesis of the song. Leka was helping DeCarlo fill the “B” side of a single he was recording, and they decided on “Kiss Him Goodbye,” something they had written years before. But it filled only two minutes, and to ensure that radio stations didn’t play it rather than DeCarlo’s “A” side of the 45, they sought to stretch it to four minutes – too long for radio stations.
Enter “Na, na, na, na . . .”
Quoting from the New York Times story:
“I started writing while I was sitting at the piano, going ‘na na na na, na na na na … ‘ ” Mr. Leka told Fred Bronson, author of “The Billboard Book of Number One Hits.” “Everything was ‘na-na’ when you didn’t have a lyric.” DeCarlo added the “hey hey.” The record company decided to release it nonetheless as the A-side of a 45 by Steam, a fictitious group name the two men invented for the record. The song reached No. 1 in late 1969.
The story says Nancy Faust, the renowned ballpark organist for the Chicago White Sox, started in 1977 using the riff as a jab at visiting losing teams there. And the song has never gone away – though college kids who enjoyed it way back when now have grandchildren.
It’s the musical equivalent of Kurt Warner going from a guy stocking grocery shelves to an NFL career as a possible Hall of Fame quarterback.
Reminds me of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll,” (The Hey Song). First time I ever heard it was at the 1988 Final Four in Kansas City. The Kansas band and KU fans were chanting it, and indeed it seemed catchy. Twenty-three years later, it hasn’t abated, either. (Wikipedia says it was recorded in 1971 and actually played in a sports arena in the ’70s. It’s not the first trend I’ve been slow to pick up on.)
Anyway, rest in peace, Paul Leka. Who knew?