Did you know that the No. 1 hit "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" was designed to be so terrible that no self-respecting disc jockey would consider playing it?
Does this make sense? Of course not! This is the crazy world of rock ‘n’ roll we’re talking about here!
Paul Leka, the production genius behind the Lemon Pipers’ chart-topping "Green Tambourine," had a talented musician pal named Gary DeCarlo, who had written and taped four commercially viable songs.
Leka took DeCarlo’s demo (demonstration) tape to the Manhattan office of Mercury Records, where it was immediately decided that all four tunes were good enough to soon be released as individual singles.
Record companies always issued 45s with an A side (the hoped-for hit) and an inferior B side for the back. After all, why give away two good songs for the price of one?
With this in mind, Leka and DeCarlo met at Mercury’s recording studio to cut a poor-quality B side for DeCarlo’s forthcoming debut disc. The ditty chosen was "Kiss Him Goodbye," an unremarkable blues shuffle that Leka had co-written many years earlier.
In the studio, Leka played keyboards after splicing in two previously recorded drum tracks. "Kiss Him Goodbye," with DeCarlo singing lead, was intended to almost scream "Hey, not this side!"
Or, so the pair thought.
"I said we should put a chorus to it," Leka said later in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. "I started writing when I was sitting at the piano, going ‘na na na na na na na na…’ "
To add to the silliness, DeCarlo threw in a few repetitions of "hey hey hey …"
The nonsense syllables were never improved upon.
"We agreed it was just a B side and said the hell with it, let’s leave those lyrics in," Leka explained further. "We fattened it up by singing it a couple more times."
When the musicians left the studio, one of them noticed a thick cloud hissing from a street manhole and said, "Wow, look at all the steam." In time, this throwaway remark would provide a name for the group that didn’t exist.
Surprisingly, the Mercury moguls declared "Kiss Him Goodbye" too good to be a B side and opted to release it as "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" on Mercury’s subsidiary Fontana label.
"It was an embarrassing record," grumped Leka. "Not that Gary sang it badly, but compared to his four songs, it was an insult."
"Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" became a one-off single by Steam on Fontana Records, while DeCarlo’s four individual offerings — issued under his recording name of Garrett Scott — would become Mercury releases.
Each of DeCarlo’s four superior discs tanked, while the Steam 45 sold more than six million copies.
The oddball novelty lives on to this day. It usually is heard at sports events in arenas and stadiums, as a poke-in-the-eye crowd chant that gleefully proclaims, "you’re outta here!" when someone is forced to take an early exit.