Record Machine: “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam

Not every record in my collection has ties to either my father or my own personal history. This week, my story from Familial Musical Past involves my mother. Let us talk about that marching band staple, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam.

Steam - Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye

Firstly, I had no idea that “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” was the real title of the song, much less that the band’s name was Steam. I knew of it, like probably a lot of people do, as that song only known by the chorus and as one usually shouted at sporting events. It’s not a bad legacy for a one hit wonder, but stumbling across the 45 in the old singles box reminded me of the following story:

Both of my parents grew up in Miami, and they met in junior high. They started dating at age 13, and in 1969 (the time of this song’s release), they would have been 14. I’m reasonably sure that the 7” single in my collection is my dad’s, but I associate the song with my mom’s high school study hall.

From what I gather, my mom enjoyed being a teenage smartass. She was the type to walk instead of run in gym class (or skip class entirely to go smoke in the locker room), or she was the one who would sleep in math class but could still solve algebra equations without writing them down. When it came to this song, she told me about sitting through a dead silent study hall, guarded by a teacher no one much liked. At some point, she and a bunch of the other students decided that every day, at a certain time, they would all burst into the chorus of this song.

I don’t know if it was always at the same time, or if they would always get up and leave, but something about the image amuses me endlessly. I mean, did that teacher deserve all those shenanigans? Who knows, but the coordination of the group, I respect.

My dad was way better behaved than she was, for the record. She was the smart, vodka-stealing bad influence, and he was the baseball-playing, science fair entrant. That they dated from age 13 and stayed together until he died in 2005 is unusual on so many levels.

A brief note about the song: According to The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, that well-known chorus came across more or less by accident. Members of a 1960s band called The Chateaus were writing some throwaway B-sides for Mercury Records, and had spliced together old tracks to create something new. All the band members thought it was “embarrassing” and not a good song at all, but Mercury disagreed. Released on their Fontana imprint, the band name Steam was created only because none of the writers wanted to take credit for it.

It became a Number One single in 1969 and stayed in the charts through much of 1970.

So next time you’re thinking about the modern novelty single, and how “music today is just all about sales” and “people today will listen to such crap,” and other musical integrity blah, blah, blah — Let this song be a reminder that your complaints are not nearly as new and insightful as you might think.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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