White Sox’s summer of 1977 gave us two great sports musical traditions – Chicago Tribune
The winning didn’t last. First the Cubs fell out of contention, then the Sox, taking World Series fantasies down with them.
What survives are the two musical traditions born of the South Side swagger, giddiness and gusto that marked the first two-thirds of the White Sox’s ’77 season not just on the field but in the Comiskey Park stands.
The first came in that season was when Sox owner Bill Veeck put Harry Caray on the loudspeakers as organist Nancy Faust played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
Caray turned something commonplace at ballparks into a theatrical event, later taking the act with him to the Cubs, who have kept it alive more than 19 years after his death.
The greater musical breakthrough of that high-flying South Side summer began 40 years ago.
Some specifics have been lost to time of what would prove to be the South Side Hit Men’s biggest hit. But when Sox bats sent a Royals pitcher to the showers during a contentious four-game series at Comiskey Park that closed out July, Faust resurrected a pop tune from 1969.
“Na, na, na, nah, na, na, na, nah, hey, hey, hey, goooodbye!” many in the crowd sang along, taking the irresistible hook of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” and wielding it as a needle.
This was before video screens told fans when to cheer and how. At most Faust expected people to clap along.
But the first-place Sox were flexing their muscles, doffing their caps and taking curtain calls as they won the first three games against the second-place Royals. The fans’ impromptu serenade fed off and into that energy.
“It was something I played once in a while, just never had that response,” Faust, the White Sox organist from 1970 to 2010, recalled recently. “But then we didn’t have all the ingredients that inspired the fans.
“I never heard people sing like that before, apart from the national anthem and ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’ It just created a great mood and kind of defined the season.”
In the years since, countless partisans across the country and around the world — and not just in sports — would echo the same refrain as their own post-fight song, using “na, na” as if it were “nyah, nyah.”
They may not even know the song’s actual name. Absent sheet music, Faust herself initially referred to it as “Sha Na Na, Goodbye.” All she really knew is its refrain was short, catchy and had the word “goodbye” in it, which is all she needed.
While “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” was unexpected, inserting Caray into the seventh-inning stretch was the result of Sox owner Veeck finally finding the right person to execute a long-gestating plan.
Even before Veeck turned the volume up on Caray, Faust said fans sang the 1908 Tin Pan Alley ditty between halves of the seventh inning.
“Before Harry went on the mike,” Faust said, “he would wave his arms and lead everybody, and all eyes were on the booth. … But it was Harry doing it (over the public-address system) that created a looser feeling among the fans.”
Caray’s drinking-song rendition emboldened people uncertain about their voices to live a little and let loose.
“Everybody, let me hear ya! OK, Nancy,” he would bellow, then launch into it. “Take. Me out to the ballgame …”
Faust was charged with providing the melodies at Comiskey. For percussion, there was Oscar Gamble, Richie Zisk and Eric Soderholm pacing a White Sox team capable of changing games with one swing of the bat. The Sox’s 192 home runs in ’77 set a team mark that lasted 19 years.
“The fans sit back waiting for the explosion,” Veeck said. “When it happens they get to their feet and tear down the house. It’s getting like every night at Comiskey Park is New Year’s Eve.”
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” became the club’s “Auld Lang Syne.”
The song had made its debut on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-October 1969, and in early December knocked the Beatles’ “Come Together” out of the No. 1 slot. Peter, Paul & Mary’s version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” displaced it two weeks later.
But the oft-told story is of studio musicians Dale Frashuer, Paul Leka and Gary DeCarlo (recording under the name Garrett Scott) needing a throwaway B-side tune for a 45 RPM single to a song called “Sweet Laura Lee.”
Someone remembered a thing called “Kiss Him Goodbye,” “Say Goodbye” or something set aside in 1961. But it wasn’t long enough.
So with Leka at the piano they set about writing a chorus in the studio to stretch it out. The “na na nahs” were placeholders for lyrics they wound up not writing. DeCarlo chipped in with “hey, hey, hey.” A little splicing magic at the direction of Leka, who died in 2011, and … voila.
The record company liked it as it was and released it as its own single, putting together a band to sell it as Steam on the road. DeCarlo, who died earlier this year, was the lead singer on the recording but left out of act.
“I’ve never seen fans like these,” Veeck said as it became part of the Sox soundtrack of ’77. “That singing would drive you crazy if it didn’t make you happy. This is one big picnic.”
By Aug. 14, the picnic was drawing to a close. After refunding a 6-0 first-inning lead at Texas en route to a 12-9 loss that left the White Sox with a slender half-game lead, a familiar tune played at Arlington Stadium.
Rangers fans sang along: “Na, na, na, nah, na, na, na, nah, hey, hey, hey, goooodbye!”
They might as well have played “Taps.”
The Cubs, who had been knocked from first in the National League East on Aug. 7, already were 6 1/2 games back and would finish 20 games out.
The Sox were bumped from the American League West lead for the last time on Aug. 20 and ended up 12 games behind the Royals, whose 34-4 tear beginning in mid-August took them to the playoffs.