This is the fourteenth in a series of examinations of music legends and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous music urban legends.
MUSIC LEGEND: The band behind “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” did not really exist.
STATUS: Basically True
Paul Leka is a singer/songwriter (mostly a songwriter) from Connecticut.
After doing some work for Warner Brothers with his band, The Chateaus, they broke up and Leka began finding work as a solo songwriter.
He popped on to the radar at Mercury Records after he wrote the hit song “Green Tambourine” for the Lemon Pipers.
Mercury signed him to work on songs for them in 1969.
Leka quickly hooked up with his former Chateau bandmate Gary DeCarlo, and the pair began working on a number of singles that the pair (and Mercury Records, as well) felt were good enough to be hit singles.
The problem was, if they were all good enough to be hits, it wouldn’t make sense to release them together, because if you put two would-be hits on one single as the A-Side and the B-Side, the disc jockeys might not have a preference, and in that case, they might end up splitting the playtime between the two songs, keeping EITHER of the songs from being hits.
So Leka and DeCarlo sat down to come up with some throwaway songs that could be included as B-Sides and would not distract from the “real” song on the single.
They brought in their fellow former Chateau bandmate, Dale Frashuer, to help them with the songs, and the trio decided to resurrect one of their old Chateau songs, “Kiss Him Goodbye.”
The song was only about two minutes long, and they felt that a longer song would work better in throwing people off playing the song, so they needed to extend the song. Leka put in some placeholder lyrics, “Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Hey Hey,” etc. They repeated these lyrics a few times and ultimately decided that, hey, these nonsense lyrics were as good as anything they would think of, so they decided to leave it as it was.
Well, when Mercury Records heard the song, they thought it could be a hit on its own. Leka and DeCarlo disagreed, and did not want their name on the record (well, actually, DeCarlo was using a stage name Garrett Scott, but still, he did not want the song even associated with his stage name) – although they DID take songwriting credits on the record.
So a compromise, of sorts, was arranged. Mercury Records had a subsidiary record company called Fontana Records that Mercury was obliged to give a certain amount of songs each year. So they said that the four singles that Leka and DeCarlo WANTED to release could be released on Mercury Records under the Garrett Scott name while the new song would be released on Fontana Records.
So Leka and DeCarlo then came up with a fake band that would be responsible for the new song – they settled on Steam.
Well, disc jockeys began to play the odd “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” and Mercury realized that they might have a real hit on their hands, so they actually bought 100,000 copies themselves (singles were about 50 cents at the time, so that was a $50,000 investment). That was enough to get the song on to the Billboard Charts, at which point it was picked up all across the country and within a year or so, the song had sold millions.
The Garrett Scott singles, though, flopped.
DeCarlo wanted nothing to do with the song or Steam (same with Frashuer), so Leka had to quickly put together a group of guys he knew from Connecticuit as the “Steam Touring Band” (to denote that they weren’t necessarily the guys who recorded the song), and eventually just Steam, period.
That band did not last very long, breaking up within a year.
But the song has lived on ever since – the hit song that no one wanted to claim!
MUSIC LEGEND: The Beatles used flag semaphore to spell out “help” on the cover of their album, Help!
Robert Freeman is an acclaimed photographer and designer who is mostly known for his work with the Beatles, specifically a number of their early album covers.
When it came to the Beatles 1965 album, “Help!,” Freeman figured he would have a little fun with the title of the album.
So for an album titled “Help!” he decided to use a cover based on the Flag Semaphore Signaling System.
The Flag Semaphore Signaling System is a system in which ships communicated with each other in the 1800s. It is a lot like morse code – someone goes out on the deck of the ship with bright flags in both arms and then makes movements that correspond with letters and/or phrases.
Here are examples of the ABCs of Flag Semaphore, in this instance, the actual letters A, B and C….
So, then, Freeman had the idea for the cover of Help! be the Beatles signaling the word “Help” using flag semaphore (sans flags, but apparently it’s called flag semaphore even when you don’t use flags)…
However, that’s not actually the flag semaphore signals for “Help”!!
Freeman felt that the symbols for “help” just did not look that visually interesting, so he just picked signals that he thought looked striking.
Here is the actual semaphore signals for H-E-L-P…
They likely used a few different formations, but at least one of them was N-U-J-V….
Thanks to the neat website, Semaphore Flag Signaling System, for the examples of Semaphore Flag Signals!
MUSIC LEGEND: During the Civil War, the Star-Spangled Banner had an extra verse written by Oliver Wendell Holmes!
When the Civil War began, one of the (very low on the list of priorities, but still there) issues was coming up with anthems for the North and the South.
The main national song at the time was (as it is today) Francis Scott Key’s “The Star Spangled-Banner,” but that song was found to be very much of its time – the War of 1812, and people found it a bit wanting as a national anthem during the Civil War.
In stepped Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, noted physician, poet and essayist, who came up with an additional verse to the song!!
When our land is illumined with liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile
The flag of the stars, and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained,
Who their birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.
This verse was used in Northern songbooks almost up to the beginning of the 20th Century!
Holmes, of course, is MOST well known for his name, which was given to his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who became a Supreme Court Justice and is one of the most famous jurists in United States history.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org