A Repetitive Chorus Helped the Song Reach No. 1 in 1969. Then a White Sox Organist Tried It Out
Music industry veteran Paul Leka, best known for co-writing a No. 1 song with a repetitive chant of "na na na na… na na na na… hey hey, goodbye," died on Oct. 12 of lung cancer at a hospice in Sharon, Conn., his brother told the New York Times. He was 68.
Never mind that Leka produced Harry Chapin's biggest hit ("Cat's in the Cradle"), wrote a No. 1 song for the psychedelic band Lemon Piper ("Green Tambourine") and can take credit for signing 1970s arena rockers REO Speedwagon to its first record deal. It's the catchy "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," released in 1969 under the fabricated group name Steam and now heard in sports arenas, that Leka's pop culture legacy will forever be tied to.
As the story goes, Leka was helping his friend Gary DeCarlo put together a B-side for another group and were tinkering with a song they'd written years before, called "Kiss Him Goodbye." The song only clocked in at two minutes, so they doubled it with an elongated version of the chorus.
"I started writing while I was sitting at the piano, going 'na na na na, na na na na'…" Leka said in "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits." "Everything was 'na-na' when you didn't have a lyric."
"Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" spent 16 weeks on the Hot 100, reaching the top spot. Eight years later, White Sox organist Nancy Faust began playing a shortened version of the song as a way to taunt opposing teams. It's been a sports anthem ever since.
Throughout his career, Leka worked for Mercury, Elektra and CBS Records and went on to produce for artists ranging from Gloria Gaynor, Stevie Wonder and Kris Kristofferson.
Leka, a Bridgeport native, is survived by his wife, their son and two children from a previous marriage.