Designated Hitter: Remembering the tunes we hear at sporting events

The pop singer Gary DeCarlo died last week at the age of 75. Why is he mentioned in a sports column?

His passing got me thinking about how inextricably linked music and sports are. That is especially true today.

DeCarlo was a studio musician in New York City, who got together with some other musicians and recorded a tune that has become a sports anthem. "Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye" was Steam's biggest record, and put the band into the one-hit wonder category.

If you have gone to a game in any of our so-called major sports, you have heard the song. And even if it hasn't been played on the public address system, you'll hear it sung by fans.

Your team is up and about to win a game, and then you start singing the following:

"Na na na na

Na na na na

Hey hey hey


Don't tell me you haven't either heard it or sung it at the top of your lungs one time or another.

That song, recorded back in 1969, is the ultimate diss song to an opponent.

There are two other songs, both huge hits when they were released, that have lived on — seemingly forever — thanks to sports.

In 1977, the band Queen recorded "We Are The Champions." You have never not heard that in an arena or on a field after a pro team wins a championship.

Pick your sport, and Freddie Mercury's vocals echo throughout the facility.

Quite often it starts with "We Will Rock You," which was co-joined by "We Are The Champions" as a Top 40 single. Kids, ask your parents what singles were.

Then, there is Elton John's "Benny and the Jets."

The song was recorded way back in 1973 and was on the "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album, which might just be Elton John's best.

The song by itself is not usually heard in arenas. But the opening piano chords that Elton John plays encourage fans to clap along.

Then you have walk-up music. So many of those songs are unknown to these Baby Boomer ears, but some of them I know.

At Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, former Pittsfield High School standout Kevin Donati walks into the batters box to the tune of "Stand By Me," by Ben E. King.

My personal favorite is when the New York Mets' Lucas Duda strides to the plate to "All Along The Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix.

And then there's former Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino, who came out of the dugout to Bob Marley.

Victorino, a native of Hawaii, walked up to Marley's classic "Three Little Birds." The song became so identified with Victorino and the Red Sox that it became a sing along.

As Victorino came up, you heard the opening music bridge, followed by the lyrics "don't worry about a thing," and then — as the music got quiet— the capacity throngs at Fenway Park would sing "'Cause every little thing is gonna be all right."

Today, the Neil Diamond tune "Sweet Caroline" echoes through Fenway, and too many baseball parks in New England to count.

One of the great musical traditions outside of our region is in Baltimore, where the Orioles have played John Denver's "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" during the seventh-inning stretch.

In the late 1970s, Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" was the music by which the Pittsburgh Pirates won a World Series Championship. The late Willie Stargell, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, had said the Pirates were a "fam-i-lee" in his words. The song came to celebrate every Pirates win.

Fenway Park also uses "Dirty Water" by The Standells as celebratory music. You may not know it, but The Standells have nothing to do with Boston, other than the song. They came together as Los Angeles-area rock musicians. Larry Tamblyn, one of the band's leaders, is the brother of actor Russ Tamblyn, who played Riff in the classic musical movie of "West Side Story."

And as I have said in this space before, The Standells recorded one of the greatest rock songs of the 1960s. I never get tired of hearing "Dirty Water." They might be the best garage band in rock history.

I also never get tired of hearing Frank Sinatra's version of "New York, New York" after Yankee games.

The Yankees and Rangers play the song after every game, win or lose. But in The Bronx, that was not always the case.

The Yankees started playing the song in 1980, using the Sinatra version when the Yankees win, but playing a less brassy version by Liza Minelli when the Yankees lost.

But in 2001, according to some research I did, Minelli's people spoke to the Yankees' people and asked if her song could be played after wins.

The Yankees did not want to get on the bad side of the Chairman of the Board, so Minelli's version has been placed in the trash heap of stadium music.

Sports and music, joined at the hip forever and always.

Reach sports columnist Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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