High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts Take On Pop Music at Ball Parks

Tom Morello, Scott Ian, Ben Gibbard and other rocker fanatics sound off on our national pastime

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Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images
A young fans sings 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' during the seventh inning of a Major League Baseball game.
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Seventy-one years ago last week, workers dragged an organ into Wrigley Field before a Saturday afternoon contest between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, hooked it up to the ballpark's P.A. system — and for the first time in major league history, fans were treated to organ music during a ballgame. The concept quickly caught on throughout the majors, as other teams began hiring their own organists; by the 1950s, live organ accompaniment had become as integral to the ballpark experience as the aroma of hot dogs, peanut shells and spilled beer. But in the late 1970s, contemporary pop music entered the ballpark, and things got complicated.

Blame it on Sister Sledge — or rather, the Pittsburgh Pirates intern who began spinning the group's Nile Rodgers-produced disco hit "We Are Family" at Three Rivers Stadium after every Bucs victory during the summer of 1979. Since then, pop recordings have increasingly (and often jarringly) dominated the soundscape at ballgames. Not only do players pick their own songs these days for walking up to the plate or coming in from the bullpen, but many parks also use pre-recorded music to eradicate every last second of silence between innings, blasting pop hits (Black Eyed Peas, Ke$ha, Train etc.) that have nothing to do with the game, or even worse older cuts (a la the inexplicably popular "Cotton Eye Joe" by Rednex) that have long since passed their sell-by date. The sheer lack of imagination put into these song choices is often comical, even by MLB standards: In 2010, both the Giants and their hated rivals the Dodgers adopted Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" as their late-inning, pump-the-crowd-up anthem, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the White Sox had already worked that sucker to death during their championship run in 2005. Seriously, Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" would have sounded fresh by comparison…

Look, it's not that we don't love music; it's just that we'd like 'em to mix it up a bit — and it'd also be nice to occasionally experience such simple aural ballpark joys as the murmur of the crowd, the shouts of the vendors, and the comforting whirr of the organ. Many clubs have actually done away with their organists altogether and opted for a steady diet of canned music; as of this writing, Wrigley Field remains the last organ-only holdout in the majors. (Though while we're on the subject, the Cubs should really stick a fork in their tired celebrity "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" routine.) Which leads us to ask our musically inclined panel of baseball experts: Do you think that contemporary pop music is overplayed at ballparks these days? And is there a particular song that you never want to hear again during a ballgame?

Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

No — in fact I think that one of the things that keeps people interested at a slow game is the music. It's like each player has his own theme music. You hear "T.N.T.," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Bad to the Bone," and it gets the fans excited. I would definitely like to ban Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll, Part 2", and Tommy James' "Mony Mony," for obvious reasons.

Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

It's all entertainment, and the fans enjoy it…

Name: Greg Dulli
Band: The Twilight Singers, Afghan Whigs
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Since high school, I've noticed most jocks have shitty taste in music. Especially the white guys. So it goes without saying that it's all pretty cringeworthy.

Name: Pete Yorn
Position: Vocals, Guitar

I can't think of a song that I would ban from a ballpark. However, I would love to go to a Pirates game and hear "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge!!!

Name: Joshua Epstein
Band: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Position: Vocals, Keyboards

Music is such a perfect compliment to a game. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is as essential a part of the experience as peanuts and draft beer are. I especially enjoy that the players get to choose the songs they come out to — it's like a tiny glimpse into their personal lives. That said,whenever I hear the song "I've Got a Feeling" by The Black Eyed Peas at a stadium (or in everyday life) it makes me feel tired and sad. The Black Eyed Peas make me miss the good old "Jock Jams" like C&C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" and "(I've Got) the Power" by Snap!.  

Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

I don't have a problem with hitters using "walk up" music, or closers synching tunes to their entrance onto the field. I enjoy the theater of it when I notice it at all. And what the hell, if the song blows, it's over quick. What I do have a problem with is organizations using a song (the same song) during the seventh inning stretch, or to celebrate every victory. Baseball does not need contemporary pop music to strengthen tradition. Baseball IS tradition. I'm cool with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" because of its universality and unabashed nostalgic nod to baseball's days of innocence. But in spite of his towering genius (not being ironic here), may we please no longer have to listen to Neil Diamond sing "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway? He doesn't need the royalties. And the game doesn't need the tune. (If I had been the session player who recorded that horn part at the end of the first line of the chorus, I'd call bullshit that my part got Ringo-ed out in favor of the Fenway faithful laying down the part a cappella. Hmm…maybe there's a legal way out of this…)    

Name: Ken Casey
Band: Dropkick Murphys
Position: Bass guitar, Vocal

I suppose it would be nice to hear more of the fans and less pop music. I never need to hear "Sweet Caroline" again. I was sitting beside a Yankee fan and he made fun of me about it, and I had no comeback. It's embarrassing to see grown men hugging each other and singing "Reaching out, touching you."

Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba
Band: Manitoba
Position: Vocals

I love the mixing of the right music and baseball. (After all, isn't that what we are all doing here?) I love the classic baseball tunes ("Take Me Out…") and I swell with pride when my friends and contemporaries The Ramones are represented with "Blitzkreig Bop" at my house of religious observance, Yankee Stadium — it's like, one of us has made it to the Stadium! The Great Rivera taking the jog in from the bullpen to the sounds of "Enter Sandman"… I know, I know, he's not the first to use it, and honestly I don't think a religious man like Mo really gives a shit about the song. But I do! It adds a sense of hipness, excitement to the jock world, whether the fans are cognizant of this or not. On the other hand, there is the most embarrassing moment on the planet that occurs when the Yankee Stadium groundskeepers, as they are manicuring the infield, stop to physically spell out the "Y.M.C.A." as the crowd dances along. I tell my son Jake, "You are not allowed to partake. This is the lamest thing in the world!" HELP! STOP! PLEASE!!!!!!  

Name: Scott McCaughey
Band: The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Position: Guitar, Vocals

The problem with playing contemporary pop music at the ball park now is that most of it is shit to my ears.  If, as a kid in 1966, I'd heard the local chart smash "Psychotic Reaction" by the Count Five at a Giants game, I would have been totally stoked — but my dad probably wouldn't have dug it much. So maybe it's just a matter of age and taste.  However, age and taste have nothing to do with the song I never want to hear again during a ball game, which is "God Bless America" in the 7th inning stretch. Even if it's Tony Bennett or somebody cool singing it.  That really needs to stop.  

Name: Ben Gibbard
Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Position: Vocals, Guitar

I don't have a strong feeling about the issue either way. I would imagine the majority of people who go to sporting events like that sort of music, otherwise the ballparks wouldn't play it. I don't really listen to pop radio, so most of it is new to me. I am proud to be an American, and even though I find it to be a bit strange, I understand why we sing "The Star Spangled Banner" at baseball games. That being said, do we really need to also sing "God Bless America" in the middle of the 7th inning? Is the national anthem not enough of a display of patriotism for one evening? Oh, and "America the Beautiful" should be our national anthem. There, I said it.

Name: Scott Ian
Band: Anthrax
Position: Guitar

I would prefer to not hear any contemporary music in the ballpark. I know I sound like Old Grandpa Baseball, but playing contemporary pop music to me is just pandering to the masses. I love "Enter Sandman," but I don't need to hear it to get excited about Mariano coming into the game, his presence is enough to get excited about. Give me an old Hammond organ any day.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Position: Guitar, Vocals

The good news is at Wrigley Field the music is stuck in the same time continuum as our last World Series victory. When the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, there wasn't even radio. The organ music we hear at Wrigley is an audio translation of the cave paintings that were used to announce our last great season.

Name: Steve Earle
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Organ music was contemporary pop music when it was first played at ballparks. But I would like to see "This Land Is Your Land " replace "God Bless America".

Name: Steve Wynn
Band: The Baseball Project
Position: Vocals, Guitar 

A shout-out to our friend (and sometimes keyboard player) Kevin Dutcher, who was choosing the music for the Twins until a few years back. Now, I'm more of a traditionalist and will almost always take an actual organist over canned music (hell, I grew up with the mighty Helen Dell and her Conn organ at Dodger Stadium), but Kevin was playing great stuff — he was playing most of the people on this list, in fact — with a love for cool music and a wry sense of humor. And he was playing The Baseball Project in the final moments before every game during the Twins' stretch run for the division title in 2010. The next year, Kevin was replaced, bad current chart music was brought in, and the Twins have sucked ever since. As Mel Allen would say, how about that?  Since I do in general prefer actual organ music, I give my next shout out to another very good buddy (and, yes, another part-time Baseball Project keyboard player) Josh Kantor, who tickles the ivories out at Fenway Park. Josh is a great friend and a great keyboard player and, sadly, makes it hard for me to hate the Red Sox quite as much as I'd like. The song I never want to hear again at a ballgame?  Uh, that would be the endless insistence on playing Kate Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" during every 7th inning stretch at Yankee Stadium. Please. Enough is enough.

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