Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye

A band that didn't really exist, a song that was thrown together quickly after years on the shelf, a chorus with 'na-na's and 'hey-hey's in place of actual lyrics. One of the catchiest hooks of all time, nevertheless. The details of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam isn't so much a story as a legend born of a late night studio crunch to get a recording in the can before the light of dawn. A legend containing the image of steam rising through a manhole while a New York subway train passes below. A legend tied to heartbroken lovers and antagonistic sports fans. There really isn't much to the song, but there was a lot going on around it. And that ultra-simple chant is one that everyone knows. Even if they don't think they know it.

Okay, so it's not the only popular 'na-na' song (we have "Land of a Thousand Dances" courtesy of Chris Kenner, Cannibal, Wilson Pickett and others). Nor the only "hey-hey" song (there are no doubt many; two that come to mind are "Treat Her Right" by Roy Head and "Ho Hey" by The Lumineers...sort of...and does "Heigh-Ho" by The Seven Dwarfs count? That was a hit in '38, a year I'm sure we all, and I mean all, remember well). Enough already! I digress.

Paul Leka, Dale Frashuer and Gary DeCarlo were pals as far back as the early '60s, Bridgeport, Connecticut highschoolers, budding musicians, partners in songwritery. Still teenagers in the spring of '61 when Paul and Gary recorded better-than-average white doo wop tune "Elaine" as The Glenwoods for Jubilee Records. Having graduated before summer '63, the three belatedly celebrated their freedom with "Summer's Here (School is Through)" for the Coral label under the group name The Chateaus. Around the same time, they began writing a song called "Kiss Him Goodbye," but didn't finish it. Actually, it was eventually completed several years later, but the process consisted of mainly just adding the aforementioned 'na's and 'hey's.

After heading down separate paths, Paul Leka was the first to experience limited success as a songwriter with the barely-noticed "Run Like the Devil" by Bobby Vee in 1965. The road wound back and all three again crossed paths when they invaded a studio and laid down two sides for Philips, one penned by Gary and Dale: "You'll Get Yours Someday" was credited as Gary Carl and the Orchids. The theme of romantic vengeance, a favorite of the trio, would later land them a gold record. But Paul got his first taste of mega-success before then, producing The Lemon Pipers' late-'67 psych-pop phenom "Green Tambourine," which hit number one in February '68.

In '69, Gary was going by the name Garrett Scott and had a deal with Mercury Records (parent company to Philips); his single "Sweet Laura Lee" was produced by Leka and while the guys weren't feeling strongly about it, Mercury's A&R shot-callers were hyped and insisted they slap together a flip side immediately so it could be shared with the world. Work fast! Dale suggested they dust off the years-old unfinished track to ease the pressure, but there was just no time to come up with a meaningful chorus. The verses dealt with convincing the object of desire to leave her unsavory boyfriend ('He's never near you to comfort and cheer you...when all those sad tears are fallin' baby from your eyes...'), the solution being to "Kiss Him Goodbye" ('I wanna see you kiss him!') last time. Such a strange request; why wouldn't you just punch the dude and walk away with her? Yet the title was already part of the song. As for the chorus, they were collectively drawin' a blank.

The legend has been passed down that Paul started humming 'na-na-na-na,' and Gary chimed in with 'hey-hey-hey' and who needs lyrics anyway?...'Goodbye!' They probably didn't realize just how famous this off-the-cuff hook would become (it was likely Chris Kenner had also underestimated the power of the 'na' some seven years earlier). In their rush to complete the throwaway B side, they didn't bother to put any guitar or bass on the track (just piano, xylophone and a drum loop sampled...that's right, I said sampled...from an unreleased Garrett Scott demo). By sunrise, the recording was completed (though it had to be edited to a still-lengthy 3:45 due to their getting carried away with the 'na/hey' chanting). Mercury bigwigs decided it had hit potential, which meant DeCarlo was stuck with the task of coming up with another B side for his disc (no real rush anymore on that one) and another song would need to be done for the "Goodbye" flip. But whose name would it go out under?

Someone suggested Steam, inspired by the early morning mist rising from West 57th Street manholes. The record was released on Mercury's Fontana label and...well, despite the lack of an actual group, there was no need to worry unless the song became a hit. Breathe deep, and hope it doesn't happen!? But radio stations jumped on it almost immediately, forcing a move by the record company. They decided to put Paul, Gary and Dale to work assembling a full album. Leka hired six musician friends from Bridgeport (who called themselves Special Delivery) to pose as the band! Lead singer Bill Steer, guitarists Jay Babins and Tom Zuke, bassist Mike Daniels, keyboard player Hank Schorz and drummer Ray Corries answered the call and just in time, too. The single hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 the first week in December. The "fake" band posed in a steam bath for the LP cover, spent several months touring as Steam (though they didn't sound that much like the guys, despite having some vocal input on the album) and made television appearances lip-syncing the hit song. And there you have your big time music biz solution.

This whole thing got under one guy's skin: DeCarlo, the lead singer on the track, felt robbed. They refused to let him lead the group, figuring he was of more value in the studio, though they did "thank" him (in lieu of cash?) on the back cover of the album (and some later pressings of the single added the line "Featuring Garrett Scott"). Plus, with Leka producing his solo efforts as Scott, they could double-up. The band was moved from Fontana to Mercury and the follow-up, "I've Gotta Make You Love Me," managed a mid-chart placement in early 1970. The next two 45s tanked. The six stand-ins left, then a new group was hired and lasted an even shorter time when too many fans got wise to the ruse. Mercury kissed them all goodbye in 1971. Steam was gone, but were they ever really here? Except in the grooves of the records stamped with that name? The original creative trio moved on, doing studio work wherever possible. Paul Leka, with two number one hits under his belt, took advantage of his bragging rights. Gary DeCarlo, in interviews throughout the years, complained perhaps a little too much about his missed opportunity.

Meanwhile, "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" lives on. Numerous remakes have been made, the most noteworthy a top ten U.K. version by girl group Bananarama in 1983 and The Nylons' a cappella recording, a U.S. hit in '87. But the most impactful rendition is the snippet heard regularly in the world of sports, starting in 1977 when Comiskey Park's organist, Nancy Faust, began playing the song whenever opponents pulled their starting pitchers from Chicago White Sox games. Soon the fans joined in, chanting 'Na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey...goodbye!' and the trend caught on. Before long, athletes removed from games and losing teams were being taunted at all manner of sporting events. Even now, fun-loving, vengeance-seeking crowds are still singing it!

- Michael Jack Kirby


Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye