The ’60s earworm, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” has been played during umpteen sporting events, and is a staple of oldies radio. Credited to the band Steam, the song made it to #1 in December 1969. The group must have been ecstatic, right? Well, under normal circumstances, yes, but there was one issue—Steam didn’t actually exist. In order to capitalize on the success of the 45, the band had to become a reality.
In 1969, writer/producer Paul Leka of Mercury Records was in the midst of a session with his former bandmate, Gary DeCarlo, who was recording under the name Garrett Scott (the two had been members of a few Bridgeport, Connecticut groups). A B-side was needed, and Leka decided that they’d use a deliberately bad song, so DJ’s would only play the A-Side. Leka recalled one he’d written years ago with old friend Dan Frashuer (who also had played with Leka and DeCarlo in Bridgeport), called “Kiss Him Goodbye.” So, Leka called up Frashuer, and the three worked on the tune. Leka came up with the “na na na na” chorus, and DeCarlo added the “hey hey hey” part. When the track was recorded, Leka didn’t even bother bringing in session musicians, playing the drums himself, while Frashuer came in to add percussion, and DeCarlo handled the lead vocal. To make the number even less desirable to Top 40 DJs, Leka extended the track.
But, guess what? Mercury liked the B-side! They felt it had hit potential, so a compromise was made. The song wouldn’t be released under DeCarlo’s Garrett Scott alias, but with a different name. Initially uncertain what to call the thing, Leka saw steam rising from a Manhattan manhole cover, and had a eureka moment.
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” became a surprise hit, climbing to #1 on Billboard’s pop chart on December 6, 1969. Mercury told Leka he needed to find a group—any group—to tour as Steam and make promotional appearances (it’s unclear if DeCarlo didn’t want to participate or was pushed aside). Leka hired the six-piece Bridgeport band Special Delivery to be Steam.
Dutch picture sleeve.
The newly christened Steam made a number of TV appearances, in which they mimed to the studio recording of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” During the December 27, 1969 episode of American Bandstand, the group accepted gold records for the single. Leka brought three of the members into the studio to share the lead vocalist spot on the additional songs that would make up Steam’s debut album (all written by Leka, Frashuer, and DeCarlo). None of the Special Delivery guys played on the LP; Leka used session musicians this time. By early 1970, Steam’s self-titled debut album had been released worldwide.
When Steam performed live, they were allowed to play their own tunes, and in fact, played little from the album. All they were required to do was open and close with “Na.” A “local boys make good” type piece on Steam ran in the Bridgeport Post on March 29, 1970.
Click to enlarge.
This first incarnation of Steam wouldn’t make it until the end of the year. Frustrated that they weren’t permitted to record their own material, as their songs were deemed too heavy, the group hopped off the Steam train. Undeterred, Paul Leka went about looking for another band to take their place.
The second Steam.
Guitarist Tor Pinney was living in New York City when he received a call from his manager, who relayed a unique opportunity—forming the next incarnation of Steam. Pinney, who thought it sounded like fun and hey, the money was good, jumped at the chance. He called the best musicians he knew, and soon the four-piece lineup was set. After ten days of intense rehearsals, Steam Mark II hit the road.
They toured all over the United States, signing autographs and hooking up with groupies along the way. In the book, Lost Rockers: Broken Dreams and Crashed Careers, keyboardist and Bridgeport native Chris Robison talked about his Steam experience. Here’s one of his tales:
In Lincoln, Nebraska, they had a poster of the first band lineup and the owner noticed. He yelled, ‘I paid for something and didn’t get what I paid for!’ He was ready to kill us. In order to keep his feathers from being ruffled, we went back and played that club again for free.
This version of Steam got a chance to go into the studio, and a 45 was released in September 1970. Though the Leka/Frashuer/DeCarlo team still wrote the songs, the group played their own instruments and sang on the two Motown-inspired tracks. As was the case with all of Steam’s post-“Na” singles, the 45 failed to chart nationally.
German picture sleeve.
It seems that around a year after “Na” peaked, Paul Leka retired Steam. By that time, Robison had quit to join Elephant’s Memory. But there’s more to the Steam story. In my research, I found a version of the band that I believe was unauthorized. Perhaps hearing that any group of dudes could pose as Steam, it appears one outfit was doing just that. A July 12, 1970, article in a Virginia newspaper concerned the recent Hampton Rock Festival, which featured a “newly organized” Steam on the bill. In the piece, band members say that they’ve changed direction and are now playing a kind of Sly and the Family Stone style of rock, complete with horns, but jazzier. They also say they will be going into the studio soon to record a Steam album (unsurprisingly, this failed to materialize).
A final note on this period: Singer/songwriter Richard Goldman, who was the focus of my 2017 article on “tax scam records”, told that me his band, Hummingbird, was offered the Steam gig. Richard says the proposal came via “our bottom-feeder manager [who] knew a bottom-feeder booking agent.” The trio were unanimously turned off by the idea and declined.
Many years later, in 2006, a drummer claiming to have played on the original recording of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” began using the name Steam (remember, Paul Leka was the drummer on the track). Also known as “Steam The Band,” the group performed at state fairs and the like, and got away with it for years, before being told to stop by original vocalist Gary DeCarlo, who had revived the name. In 2014, “STB” added the following to their website: “The STB band did not have anything to do with the original recording of ‘Kiss Him Goodbye’ the 1969 song. STB does not have any ties with Gary Decarlo & Steam. WE PERFORM ON OUR OWN MERITS.”
The 2011 PBS special, My Music: ‘60s Pop, Rock & Soul, marked the first time
DeCarlo was widely recognized as the voice on “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Decades after the song peaked, he was finally the project’s frontman, recording and touring as “Gary DeCarlo & Steam” for a number of years. He died in 2017.
Chris Robison has played with a number of other bands, including the post-Johnny Thunders lineup of the New York Dolls. His 1973 solo debut, Chris Robison and His Many Hand Band, is one of the first rock albums by an openly gay performer.
Steam mastermind Paul Leka passed in 2011.
Steam’s lone album has been reissued on CD with bonus tracks. The disc ends with the two songs released by the second touring edition of Steam.
The first Steam performing on the Switzerland/West Germany music show, Hits à gogo:
Their appearance on The Dating Game (one member was Bachelor #3!):
Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust is credited as the first to have played “Na” during a sporting event (in 1977). She was issued a gold record for helping to revitalize the tune. The song was front-and-center in this 1978 White Sox commercial:
Gary DeCarlo performing “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” on PBS: