Nine years after Hank Williams, Jr. compared Barack Obama to Hitler, prompting ESPN to yank his Monday Night Football theme for a few years, the network is once again retiring the polarizing country star’s “Are you ready for some football?” theme song. When football season returns next week, Little Richard’s 1956 hit “Rip It Up” will introduce the game, according to The Washington Post.
The new intro music will feature Richard’s voice and a new musical arrangement by the Richmond, Virginia group Butcher Brown, which plays a variety of musical styles and features a multiracial lineup of musicians. The network will likely change the “Saturday night” reference in the lyrics to one about Monday night, and Butcher Brown will sing extra vocals, though the band would not confirm this to the paper. The group’s singer and multi-instrumentalist Tennishu told the paper that the new recording would be “beautiful” and that working around Richard’s vocals would be “almost a dream come true, because that’s basically what we spend our time doing.”
The network’s reason for the change this time, according to the paper, is the absence of a crowd. Williams’ song is titled “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” so with no friends or rowdiness in the stands, execs thought the song might seem awkward. A source told the Post that the decision to replace Williams with Little Richard had nothing to do with the protests for racial justice that have made headlines throughout most of the year.
Monday Night Football started using a revised version of “All My Rowdy Friends” in 1989 but nixed it in 2011 after Williams’ disparaging comments about the president, regarding a golf game Obama played with Republican House Speaker John Boehner. “It would be like Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu,” Williams said at the time. In addition to the Hitler comment, Williams also said that Obama and Biden were “the enemy.” The network started using “All My Rowdy Friends” again in 2017 and has not commented on whether it would revive the tune in the future.
“I think it’s a return to our past in that it’s such an iconic song associated with football,” Stephanie Druley, ESPN’s senior vice president of events and studio production, told USA Today in 2017, explaining why they were bringing the song back. “It was the original. It belongs to Monday Night Football. It really is about returning to what fans know. It’s a Monday night party and that’s what we’re all hoping to get back to.”
When The Washington Post asked Tennishu whether the new song spoke to the cultural moment today, he said he didn’t know. “I do think that just us doing this project is a positive force in itself,” he said.