The kids and I were on our way to school this week when we heard “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Wilson Pickett. It’s a great song and an even better performance by the music legend. It reminds me of one of my favorite live performances, which is from the legendary film Soul to Soul, a documentary capturing Pickett and others playing in Accra, Ghana in 1971.
I immediately described it to the kiddos. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure. In it, Pickett preaches the power of soul and R&B to a receptive crowd of Ghanaian youth:
“Land of a Thousand Dances” is most famous for its hook, the “na na na na” refrain originally added to the song by the great Chicano band Cannibal and the Headhunters. (Here’s their classic version from 1965. (And while we’re at it, here’s the cover by the equally legendary Chicano group Thee Midniters, released the same year.))
That simple two-letter utterance, sung again and again, is the inspiration for this week’s five songs. It’s a hard list to make. There are a lot of songs spanning the decades that have used a refrain of “na na na na.” So here it goes…
5. “I’ll Be Your Shelter” by Taylor Dayne (1989)
This is probably the least known song of my selected bunch, but it’s one that stands out for me in the “na na” category. Close to thirty years ago, I was driving back from the beach with my good friend Patrick when this song came on the radio. I remember him liking it so much because of the catchy use of the refrain; I also remember we talked about other songs that used it. It’s only right that it be on the list. While it’s a forgotten song by an artist that only had a few hits, and while it’s massively late-80s-pop sounding (which is not a good thing), it’s got a lot going for it, not the least of which is the talented Dayne at the helm.
4. “All the Small Things” by blink 182 (1999)
I remember blink 182’s ascendency in the late 90s. They felt and sounded like a watered down version of Green Day, almost like they were manufactured for the times. They were a solid MTV favorite that year, one I didn’t think much of until I saw the below video for this song (funny, especially since they’re mocking the boys band MT culture when they were courting the rock end of that same pop spectrum) and until the song started playing everywhere. It was catchy, I’ll give them that.
3. “Hey Jude” by the Beatles (1968)
This is the most famous “na na na na” song. I remember playing my parent’s copy of the album of singles by The Beatles, which is the only record we had with it. I was a sophomore or junior in high school at the time and I just played this song over and over, even counting the number of “na na na” refrains they used (I think it was 27). Here’s the version from the song’s premiere, on David Frost’s “Frost on Saturday.” The vocals are live but the band is playing to previously recorded music.
2. Gettin’ Jiggy wit it” by Will Smith (1997)
Big Willie Style was Will Smith’s first solo album, and his first recordings after he became a major movie star. He hit it big with the album, mostly on the tails of this 1998 hit. It made the word “jiggy” part of the mainstream, too, although I’m not sure most people knew how to use the word.
1. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam (1969)
This has to be on the top of the heap because it has the key words in its title! So synonymous with the “na na” refrain, it’s often called the “Na Na Song.” It’s also the tune crowds will sing when somebody we don’t like is being kicked off the stage, the field, or some other venue. It’s a pop culture classic, and a pretty good tune, too. It’s also a throw together song of previously recorded tracks and filler lyrics, a classic unintentional number 1 song.