The rise of “Seven Nation Army” to sports folk song

Deadspin has the story of how the song “Seven Nation Army” became ubiquitous at sporting events around the world. Here are a few of the important steps in the rise of the song:

The march toward musical empire began on Oct. 22, 2003, in a bar in Milan, Italy, 4,300 miles away from Detroit. Fans of Club Brugge K.V., in town for their team’s group-stage UEFA Champions League clash against European giant A.C. Milan, gathered to knock back some pre-match beers. Over a stereo blared seven notes: Da…da-DA-da da DAAH DAAH, the signature riff of a minor American hit song…

But in Milan, at the beginning, it was purely spontaneous and local. Kickoff was coming. The visiting Belgians moved out into the city center, still singing. They kept chanting it in the stands of the San Siro—Oh…oh-OH-oh oh OHH OHH—as Peruvian striker Andres Mendoza stunned Milan with a goal in the 33rd minute and Brugge made it hold up for a shocking 1-0 upset. Filing out of the stadium, they continued to belt it out.

The song traveled back to Belgium with them, and the Brugge crowd began singing it at home games. The club itself eventually started blasting “Seven Nation Army” through the stadium speakers after goals.

Then, on Feb. 15, 2006, Club Brugge hosted A.S. Roma in a UEFA Cup match. The visitors won, 2-1, and the Roma supporters apparently picked up the song from their hosts…

“Seven Nation Army” made a beachhead in American sports in State College, Penn. According to a 2006 story in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Penn State spokesperson Guido D’Elia—who is still the director of communications and branding for the embattled football program—was inspired by hearing a Public Radio International story about A.S. Roma’s use of the song. D’Elia, who also introduced the now unavoidable German techno track “Kernkraft 400” to Nittany Lions fans, had found something new…

By the middle of the 2006 season, “Seven Nation Army” was a Beaver Stadium staple. (This year, as Penn State students gathered on Nov. 8 outside the university administration building, they began singing Joe Paterno’s first name over the riff.)

Is this what globalization looks like? The song was recorded by Americans, found its way into bars and soccer stadiums in Belgium and Italy, and then back to the United States as a marching band piece. Along the way, the song crossed national and language boundaries as well as musical instruments.

I bet there could be some interesting musical analysis regarding why this song has become so popular. It doesn’t require words to be sung, particularly helpful for large crowds of (rowdy?) people at sporting events. It only includes seven notes. It has a particular minor edge to it, described in this story as a sound of “doom” which is no doubt helpful in celebrations as the scoring team’s fans want to celebrate as well as taunt the other side.

I would be interested to know how much in royalties Jack White is getting from all of these plays…

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