Friday, February 4, 2011

Title Town Sounds: A History of Pittsburgh Steelers Fight Songs

In 1969 Chuck Noll was hired as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Noll turned the team around from what is commonly referred to as "The Four Decade Famine." In 1972 the Steelers finally made it to the play offs for the first time in the team's history. They returned to the play offs the next two seasons and finally clenched the AFC Championship in 1974. They then went on to win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1975 and 1976. You probably know how the rest of the story goes, so I won't bore you.

What's interesting is with this new success came notoriety and popularity, and with popularity came an expanded fan base and of course merchandising opportunities. Now-l
egendary players like Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw, Rocky Bleier, Lynn Swann, L.C. Greenwood, Joe Green and Dwight White not only had their names immortalized in the NFL Hall of Fame, but also in a wide array of official, and not so official, Pittsburgh Steelers merchandise that included ... you guessed it ... vinyl records. A lot of these records are just your run of the mill sports novelty items, but some of them became very popular. Novelty or no novelty these were the sounds that defined the more successful seasons of Steelers football.

The Steelers Sing Holiday Halftime LP
(1969 Manilus Records, MAN 2010)

Mike Kalina & Friends "Steelers '72" (1972 Fox Records)
Jimmy Pol "Steelers Fight Song" (1973 NRM)
In 1969 Mike Tatich released what I believe is the first Steelers record, The Steelers Sing Holiday Halftime, on his New York based Manilus Records label. The album was arranged, conducted and produced by Jacques Urbont. Urbont had done some composing for popular 60's TV shows including Mannix and Mission Impossible. What's even cooler is that he's the one responsible for the theme songs to the 1960's Marvel Superheroes cartoons!

The earliest Steelers record I know of, that was produced locally,  was made in 1972. Mike Kalina, who would later become known as The Traveling Gourmet, released what was called a cut-in record titled "Steelers '72." A cut-in record was a type of novelty comedy record that was popular in the sixties and seventies. Most of the records were done in an interview fashion where the interviewee's dialog, or responses to questions, were comprised of soundbites from popular songs.
Perhaps think of it as a precursor to sampling. On this particular cut-in record Kalina is portraying the late Myron Cope who is interviewing the late Steelers' owner Art Rooney about the team's 1972 play off debut. The voice of Art Rooney is substituted by soundclips from early seventies hits including Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" and T-Rex's "Bang a Gong."

Then of course we have the first of many Jimmy Pol Steelers Fight Songs, which was released in 1973. Pol, whose real name was James Psihoulis, would undoubtedly  become the most well-remembered artist of what you might refer to as the Steelers Fight Song genre. My understanding is that Pol was not only a radio disc jockey/celebrity, in addition to being a polka band leader, but he actually owned multiple radio stations in the region and had a large involvement with the Pittsburgh-based National Record Mart chain.  It was National Record Mart who initially released Pol's Steelers Fight Songs on their NRM label.

Whatever It Takes LP (1975 Olympic Records, OLP-1001)
Super Steelers '76 LP (1976 Fleetwood, FCLP-3095)
Coward Hosell "Super Steelers '76" (1976 ?)
Larry McGee Revolution "The Burg (Pittsburgh, PA)"
(1976 Boogie Band)

As I said, the Steelers won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1975 and 1976. 1250 AM WTAE was the official radio station to broadcast the games and they were announced by Jack Flemming and the aforementioned Myron Cope, creator of the Terrible Towel. Highlights from the WTAE broadcasts were released on LP by the Massachusetts-based Fleetwood Recording Co., Inc. (the first album was in association with the Olympic Recording Co., Inc).

In 1976 there was another cut-in record made attributed to Coward Hosell. This was a bit of a mystery piece with a similar theme to the Mike Kalina record. In the spring of 1976 Larry "Butch" McGee released "The Burg (Pittsburgh, PA)" on his own Boogie Band Records imprint. He recalls placing a minimum order with the pressing plant and estimates that there were probably 500 copies made. This record has become very sought after, not because of its Steelers references, but because DJ's are actually playing it now 35 years after it's initial release. A lot of people nowadays know McGee primarily because of the interest in this record, but he actually has a some what extensive recording career. I'm going to go into more detail about Larry McGee separately.

Jimmy Pol "Steelers Fight Song 1978" (1978 NRM, 2250)
Jimmy Pol "Steelers Fight Song 1979" (1979 JP Prod./NRM, 2470)
Wakefield "Make Plans for the Super Bowl" (1979 ?)
Freddie Waters "Steel it Steelers" (1979 Kari, KA-105)

Jimmy Pol returned with more Steelers Fight Song polkas in 1978 and 1979. This essentially set the paradigm for the Steelers Fight Song that would be redone each year with updated lyrics. This also cemented Pol and his polkas in the memories of everyone who was around in the seventies to witness the Steelers' Super Bowl wins. Until this day I have many early recollections of Eastern European fathers and grandfathers with their accordions performing what was the "Black and Yellow" anthem of its day.

The "Make Plans for the Super Bowl" record isn't really exceptional, nor is "Steel it Steelers" by Freddie Waters. The latter although must have been tremendously popular because the city is littered with copies. The funny thing is that it was released by a label based in Nashville and there's really no indication that anyone local had anything to do with the record.

Jimmy Drake Orchestra "Steelers Victory Theme" (197? Alanna)
Pittsburgh Steeler Fans "Steeler's Victory Theme"
(197? Alanna, AL-579)

Acappella Gold "Title Town, U.S.A." (19?? Iron City, A-301)
Lou Antonucci "Titletown, U.S.A." (1980 Titletown Prod., 0001)

The Jimmy Drake Orchestra records on Bill Lawrence's Alanna label aren't amazing, but they're really interesting. The instrumentals on the B-sides are actually really well composed and a bit more compelling than the actual Steelers songs. The second record is a re-cut of the first with different vocals. I'm assuming that this is the same Jim Drake from the Tempos, who were a Pittsburgh group that sang "See You in September." That song was a fairly successful hit in 1959 and it was included on the soundtrack of George Lucas' 1973 film American Graffiti. The group Pure Gold, who are local purveyors of this late fifties/early sixties group harmony sound, recorded a Steelers song titled "Title Town, U.S.A." They recorded it as Acappella Gold on Iron City Records. There's no year listed on this release either, but another artist by the name of Lou Antonucci also recorded a "Titletown, U.S.A." song as well in 1980. It's more of a folk record though.

I've been receiving a lot of questions along the lines of "Why is the Title Town Soul & Funk Party called Title Town?" and "Isn't Green Bay the original Title Town?" Yes, Green Bay is the original Title Town, or Titletown (whichever you prefer), because they won the first two Super Bowls back-to-back in 1967 and 1968. Then the Steelers won FOUR Super Bowls between the years of 1975 and 1980, so obviously Green Bay got it's "Title" taken. And when the Steelers won the Super Bowl AGAIN in 2009, in addition to the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup, my partner Gordy and I thought that it was appropriate to name our party Title Town, which was definitely inspired via the "Title Town, U.S.A." records from the late 70's/early 80's. We wanted to use a local record reference and we thought that it sounded good.
So there you have it.

Pittsburgh Steelers Super Team XIII LP
(1980 Fleetwood, FCLP-3111)
Jimmy Pol "Steelers Fight Song 1980" (1980 JP Prod., PP-1222)
Jimmy Pol Cheers the Steelers LP (1980 JP Prod., PP-1233)
Champion City Singers "Italian Salute to the Steelers"
b/w "Irish ..." (1980 NRM, NRM-1012)
Champion City Singers "Polish Salute to the Steelers"
b/w "Jewish ..." (1980 NRM, NRM-1013)
V.I.P. Steeler Salutes (198? 2001 Record Co., 3352)
Freddie Waters "Super Steelers" (1980 Kari, KA-113)
Elliott, Walter & Bennett "The Twelve Days of Pittsburgh Steeler Christmas" (1980 Paid, PAD-PIT-4)
Larry McGee & Saxon Sisters "We're Number One
(Super Steeler Disco)" (1980 Boogie Band)

1980 would no doubt be the most prolific year for Steelers inspired music. Even Terry Bradshaw himself had a record deal and released a few albums of religious inspired country music. Fleetwood released another album of highlights from the 1979 season and the 1980 Super Bowl. Jimmy Pol not only released another Steelers Fight Song that year, but an entire LP titled Jimmy Pol Cheers the Black & Gold. Apparently there's another single from the album titled "1980 Steeler Fever" but I never came across that one yet. This is kind of interesting because Jimmy Pol began releasing this material on his own JP Productions imprint without National Record Mart's involvement.

NRM wasn't out of the fight song game yet though. They released a set of singles that year that featured Irish, Italian, Jewish and Polish salutes to the Steelers. The records are obviously not quite politically correct, but they were immensely popular. The sides of the singles were later rerecorded and rereleased on the 2001 label, which I always assumed had some affiliation to the 2001 disco club that was located on the Northside. Proceeds from the rereleases on the 2001 label benefited the Easter Seals organization.

Freddie Waters followed Jimmy Pol's example and redid the lyrics for "Steel it Steelers" and rereleased it as "Super Steelers." Another Nashville label called Paid released a record by Elliott, Walter & Bennett titled "The Twelve Days of Steeler Christmas." Once again there's no indication that anyone from Pittsburgh had anything to do with this recording either. I get the impression that the city of Nashville is filled with Steelers bars. There's also supposed to be a "One for the Thumb in '81" single that I've never come across yet.

Larry McGee released a follow up to "The Burg" in 1980 titled "We're Number One (Super Steeler Disco)." McGee recalls selling 10,000 copies of this single. This release isn't nearly as good as its predecessor, but it's significant because he co-wrote it with Elizabeth Davis. Davis was a song writer who lived above the Crawford Grill, which was a venue located in the Hill District. She's considered to be an important figure in the Pittsburgh jazz scene, but there's very little documentation of her work. Denise and Debbie Saxon were also featured on the record. They did very little recording that I know of aside from one single that was released while they were a part of a later Lovations line up. I consider the record to be very significant for these reasons, but it's definitely more of a novelty record where as "The Burg" is just a very well made disco record.

The History of the Super Bowl LP (1980 Fleetwood, FLCP-3110)
John Crispino & C.A.T. "Mad Man Jack" (1981 Erika Records)

The Steelers didn't receive their one for the thumb in '81 and the proliferation of Steelers fight songs quickly subsided. The franchise and the fans who supported it would have to wait 25 years for that fifth Super Bowl victory. Fleetwood released an album titled The History  of the Super Bowl in 1980, which included 24 years worth of Super Bowl highlights. This obviously included many shining moments in Steelers history. Erika Records, which was California-based label released a football-shaped tribute to Jack Lambert in 1981 titled "Mad Man Jack" by John Crispino & C.A.T. To my knowledge this is the only Steelers-related record that came out in '81 and there are none that I know of from 1982.

Jimmy Pol "Steeler's Fight Song 1983" (1983 JP Prod., PP1297)
"Doc" Stewart "Super Steelers Fan" (1983 C.E.S., 5630)
Tony Germaine "Cower Power" (1992 Power, 7227)
Kardaz "The Mighty Guins" (1993 Kardaz Inc., FS-759)

In 1983 Jimmy Pol released the last of his Steelers Fight Songs, once again on his JP Productions imprint. This record marked his tenth year in the Steelers fight song business. Charles "Doc" Stewart proved that he was a "Super Steeler Fan" that year with his release on his own C.E.S. Records imprint. The only other Steelers record that I know of is "Cowher Power" which was released in 1992 by Tony Germaine. That's very late in the game to be releasing a 45 unless you were a punk band. I have to give honorable mention to Kardaz who released "The Mighty Guins" single in 1993, which is the only Penguins record that I know of. Kardaz also recorded the Steelers fight song/Ghostbusters parody, "Go Steelers." It's not on vinyl, but it's currently featured on the WDVE website where you can check out a bunch of other relatively new Steelers fight songs as well. Obviously none of these songs made nowadays are going to be released on vinyl, but the saga continues none the less.

As hokey as all of this must seem, this tradition of making music pertaining to Pittsburgh sports teams has been going on for almost forty years and I don't anticipate it ending at any point in the near future. Especially with technology making it increasingly easier for people to record and distribute their own music. The question is: Will today's mp3's and YouTube videos survive forty years from now like the records that you just read about? I guess we'll see in forty years. In the meantime all that's left to say is ...


Visit I DIG PGH on YouTube to hear select Steelers fight songs:

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