Published October 23, 2011 – NY TIMES
BY PAUL VITELL
Paul Leka, a songwriter and producer who worked with many recording stars but who was best known for writing the chanting chorus of “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye),” a No. 1 hit in 1969 that was reborn in the 1970s as a sports arena anthem, died on Oct. 12 in a hospice near his home in Sharon, Conn. He was 68.
The cause was lung cancer, said his brother, George.
Mr. Leka made his name in the Tin Pan Alley tradition, writing or arranging songs for other people. He wrote and produced “Green Tambourine,” a No. 1 hit in 1967 for the psychedelic soft-rock band the Lemon Pipers; signed REO Speedwagon to its first record contract; and produced four of Harry Chapin’s albums, including 1974’s “Verities & Balderdash” containing the song that was Chapin’s lone No. 1 hit, “Cat’s in the Cradle.”
In 1969, Mr. Leka was helping a longtime friend from Bridgeport, Conn., Gary DeCarlo, fill the B-side of a single he was recording for Buddah. With Mr. Leka on keyboards, they started with a song they had written years before, a bluesy shuffle called “Kiss Him Goodbye.” But it filled only two minutes of playing time, and to make sure disc jockeys would not play it — instead of Mr. DeCarlo’s A-side — they decided to add a chorus to stretch it to four minutes, beyond the time limit of most radio formats.
“I started writing while I was sitting at the piano, going ‘na na na na, na na na na …’ ” Mr. Leka told Fred Bronson, the author of “The Billboard Book of Number One Hits.” “Everything was ‘na-na’ when you didn’t have a lyric.” Mr. DeCarlo added the “hey hey.” They chanted the chorus at the beginning and end of the original song, and as an added poison pill left the dummy lyrics in.
The record company decided to release it nonetheless as the A-side of a 45 by Steam, a fictitious group name the two men invented for the record. The song reached No. 1 in late 1969 and enjoyed a happy radio life span. Then it came back.
In 1977, the organist for the Chicago White Sox, Nancy Faust, began using the song to stoke the crowd into taunting the opposing team when visiting players struck out, say, or when their pitcher was removed. It is unclear how it spread, but within a few years the chant had become an anthem of sports conquest – not as nice as the communally-spirited “ “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” perhaps, but more ubiquitous, since fans were singing it at football and soccer games, too.
It was not exactly the spirit of the original song, but close enough.
“It’s a song where a guy wants a girl, but she’s going out with someone else,” Mr. DeCarlo said in a phone interview on Friday. “It’s basically a sad situation, but we made it upbeat. The guy sounds like he’s going to come out ahead. That’s why I think it caught on. It gives you a lift.”
Paul Theodore Leka was born on Feb. 20, 1943, in Bridgeport, one of four children of Theodore and Dhimitra Leka, immigrants from Albania. His father worked as a short-order cook. Soon after he started taking piano lessons, Paul was writing songs, and by age 16, his brother said, he was trying to sell them to music publishers in New York.
He worked for Mercury, Elektra and CBS Records and later opened his own recording studio in Bridgeport, where he helped produce songs for Gloria Gaynor, Stevie Wonder and Kris Kristofferson and others.
Besides his brother, his survivors include his wife, Engjellushe; their son, Alexander; two children from a previous marriage, Derek and Heather; and a sister, Evelyn Kreta.
Enjoy “NaNaNaNa” Performed by Steam – one of my favorites from Junior High and High School.