Gary DeCarlo, the voice behind the late-'60s hit "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," died Wednesday in Branford, Conn. He was 75 years old, and had been battling metastatic cancer.
DeCarlo was the co-writer and singer of that now-indelible tune, which spent 16 weeks on the Hot 100 singles chart in 1969.
The song, however, was originally intended to be terrible — and the band that recorded it, which the label called Steam, never actually existed.
Writing for the New York Daily News in 2005, David Hinckley told the strange tale of how "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye" came to be. DeCarlo had recorded four songs intended as singles for the Mercury label, and needed a throwaway song to place on the B-side for the first of these releases. To fill the role, Paul Leka, who had brought DeCarlo into the label fold and was producing his singles, called in an old friend, Dan Frashauer, and an abominable single that Leka and Frashauer had half-written years earlier.
The song was too bad to bother paying session musicians to play backup, so with DeCarlo singing and Leka on drums, the three filled up that B-side with a whole lot of vamping on "na na, hey hey, goodbye." The total recording is about four minutes long, but the chorus takes up about three of those minutes.
They presented the finished results to Mercury. And the strangest thing was that the label loved that filler B-side.
But in order not to subsume DeCarlo's nascent career, a new vehicle for the single had to be created. Leka called the suddenly-born trio Steam. Mercury gave the track to a subsidiary label, Fontana, to separate it even further from DeCarlo's name. And Leka amassed an entirely new trio to hit the road as "Steam."
The rest was chart history.
The song took on its usage as a taunt, now inseparable in the collective consciousness with that rising "na na NA na," when Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust began using it for recalled pitchers in 1977.
The barely-existent Steam only had one other chart placement: the single "I've Gotta Make You Love Me", which peaked at No. 46.
It was only in 2011 that DeCarlo's contribution to "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" was widely acknowledged, in a PBS special featuring music of the 1960s.
In an interview earlier this year, DeCarlo said that he was happy to hear Democrats in Congress employing the now-weaponized chorus to taunt Republicans over a failed repeal of the Affordable Care Act, despite saying the law was "not very good." Why? "It's like they say," he replied, "no exposure is bad exposure."
And to the end, DeCarlo loved playing up his big hit: his Twitter handle was @nanagoodbye1.