Our Top 10 Sha Na Na Songs list presents the best Sha Na Na Songs like “Born to Hand Jive,” “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay” ” At The Hop,” and more.The a cappella group known as Sha Na Na first started out as the Columbia Kingsmen before the name change in 1969. This came after humanities grad student and choreographer, George Leonard, pitched a concept that saw a transformation in the group’s act and appearance. The name change also came about as a necessity once they became a commercialized act as there was a group in the Pacific Northwest that was also called Kingsmen. That’s the same Kingsmen who had “Louie Louie” as a hit single in 1963.
Sha Na Na, after generating excitement after performing at a New York City club that was a favorite hangout for famous rock musicians like Jimi Hendrix, scored an opportunity to perform at the Woodstock Festival. Jimi Hendrix, who helped them obtain a slot, was the performance that came after theirs. Although Sha Na Na wasn’t nearly as big of a name as Jimi Hendrix when they performed on stage, by the time they were done all that changed. When the group performed the set closing song, “At the Hop,” it was enough to demand an encore. Also at Woodstock, Rob Leonard’s performance of Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel” would become further immortalized after it was featured in the Director’s Cut of the Woodstock movie that was released in 2009.
The impression Sha Na Na left sparked a craving for 1950s-era rock music to make a big return. Joining Sha Na Na on the cashing-in of nostalgia performances included Big Daddy, Flash Cadillac, and Showaddywaddy. Also cashing in on the early days of rock and roll were big screen productions such as 1973’s American Graffiti and 1978’s Grease. There was also the hit television series, Happy Days, which ran from 1974 until 1984, and its 1976 spinoff, Laverne & Shirley. That show ran for eight seasons.
Now with a recognizable name nationwide, Sha Na Na performed as an opening act from 1968 until 1971 for groups such as the Grateful Dead, the Kinks, and the Mothers of Invention. It didn’t take long before Sha Na Na would have opening acts of their own. Bruce Springsteen was one of them.
Sha Na Na’s album, The Golden Age of Rock and Roll, featured the lead singer taunting the hippie audience that rock and roll music was here to stay. In concert, the band would usually return to perform up to seven encores before closing with “Lovers Never Say Goodbye.” That, however, was changed to “Goodnight Sweetheart” once they had their own television series.
When John Lennon and Yoko Ono performed their One-to-One benefit concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1972, Sha Na Na was only one of four acts that were invited to join them. Six years later, they were the band that performed at the high school dance in the romantic musical, Grease. At the time, Sha Na Na was at the height of its success. Not only did they make an appearance on the big screen but also had their very own television show.
Syndicated Sha Na Na
From 1977 to 1981, Sha Na Na had its own program that featured a series of skits and guest musicians. There was a long list of popular acts such as Barbi Benton, Chuck Berry, Del Shannon, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, The Ramones, and The Ronettes were among the few that appeared as guest stars on the show. At the time, it was one of the most watched programs in syndication while it ran. In the show, Sha Na Na continued to portray a public image they were tough guys from the streets of New York City.
At first, Sha Na Na’s lineup had twelve performers. Rob Leonard, brother to George Leonard, and Alan Cooper were the bass vocalists. The vocalists were Dave Garrett, Frederick ‘Denny” Greene, Riche Joffe, Scott Powell, and Donny York. Powell was also referred to as Captain Outrageous and Tony Santini. Rounding off the rest of the band was guitarist Elliot “Gino” Cahn, electric bassist Bruce “Bruno” Clarke, guitarist Henry Goss, drummer Jocko Marcellino, and pianist Joe Witkin.
From this lineup, Greene, Marcellino, and York remained with Sha Na Na when they began their television show. Joining them were Lennie Baker, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, Johnny Contardo, Danny “Dirty Dan” McBride, Dave “Chico’ Ryan, and Screamin’ Scott Simon. However, after the third season, McBride left and the roster of Sha Na Na shrunk to eleven performers.
Before the camera and on stage, the three up-front performers sported gold while the other nine appeared in rolled-up t-shirts, leather jackets, and tank tops. Upon the start of each episode, each performer was introduced by either their first name or nickname only.
As for Jon “Bowser” Bauman, his persona as the ultimate greaser was legendary. When in character he was instantly recognizable everywhere he went, including the game shows he guested on. “Grease for Peace” was his infamous catchphrase. While Sha Na Na was at the peak of their popularity as a group, the fan appeal of Bauman’s Bowser persona was immense. This was evident whenever he appeared as a guest on the two popular game shows, Match Game and Password Plus.
Sha Na Na Legacy
One of the primary reasons why the Grease soundtrack became one of the best-selling albums of all time was due to the performance level delivered by Sha Na Na. Six of the twenty-four songs featured on the soundtrack came from the group. John Travolta’s “Sandy” was a song that was co-written by Screamin’ Scott Simon. Although none of Sha Na Na’s songs became charted hits on any official billboards they’re still among the all-time favorites. In some cases, there are fans who will argue some of their cover versions were even better than the original recordings. The bulk of the Elvis Presley-style songs was performed by Scott Powell.
From the original lineup, only John Marcellino and Donny York remain. From the syndicated show’s lineup, Screamin’ Scott Simon also remains. Denny Greene was with Sha Na Na until going into retirement in 1984. As a musical act, the group continues but now with a roster of eight performers.
Top 10 Sha Na Na Songs
#10 – Teen Angel
When “Teen Angel” was first released as a teenage tragedy song by Mark Dinning in 1959, it was banned from most radio stations at first. It was collectively felt it was too sad to play. Nevertheless, the song managed to climb the charts and it became a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 in February 1960. Since then, “Teen Angel” has earned legendary status and remains as an all-time cult classic. It was written by Dinning’s wife, Jean, who portrayed the tale of a girlfriend losing her life inside a stalled car that was hit by a train.
Sha Na Na’s performance of “Teen Angel” was just as gutwrenching as Dinning’s original. Rob Leonard was the lead vocalist that performed this song at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. The quality level of this cover version was world-class, rightfully earning the group a loyal fan following instantaneously.
#9 – Those Magic Changes
1978’s “Those Magic Changes” was a Sha Na Na original that was featured in the movie and soundtrack of Grease. This ballad was written by the songwriting team of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The duo also wrote “Born to Hand Jive,” another legendary Sha Na Na tune. Keeping the song as a 1950-style number, the composition was only as good as the vocalist behind the magic. In this case, Johnny Contardo was the man who demonstrated how remarkable he was as a lyrical talent.
#8 – Blue Moon
1934’s “Blue Moon” was, and still is, a classic. This standard ballad had the earliest recordings performed by Connee Boswell and Al Bowlly in 1935. It became a hit in 1949 on two different occasions, first by Billy Eckstine, then by Mel Torme. In 1961, it became an international phenom when it was performed by the doo-wop group The Marcels.
Among the long list of artists that covered “Blue Moon,” Sha Na Na was in prime form as their version was performed for the 1978 movie, Grease. According to musical historians, the song was written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. However, the New York Times published a story about the song that suggested it was originally composed in 1931 by an inspired seventeen-year-old whose parents migrated to upstate New York from Poland. He was inspired after enjoying an evening of ice skating on a pond under the moonlight.
Regardless of where “Blue Moon” came from, Sha Na Na’s version of this song was nothing short of incredible. Fans of Grease might remember a certain scene where a trio of characters decided to reveal themselves in a manner their high school principal didn’t approve of.
#7 – (Just Like) Romeo And Juliet
As popular as Sha Na Na was while in their prime, there were very few singles they released that became hits on the official music charts. This was a cappella group that specialized in secondhand songs that came from the 1950s and 1960s. “(Just Like) Romeo And Juliet” became a number fifty-five hit for Sha Na Na after it was released as a single in 1975. It was originally a 1964 hit by the Reflections that had the narrator worried if he didn’t find a job to gift his girlfriend he’d lose her. For Sha Na Na, it was the group’s most successful single as far as a charted hit goes.
#6 – Goodnight Sweetheart
“Goodnight Sweetheart” became one of Sha Na Na’s signature songs that saw its popularity spike when it was used at the end of each episode while the closing credits ran their course. Soft and mellow the 1960 original from the Untouchables inspired Sha Na Na to record a version of their own. The beauty behind this song was how beautifully the vocalists sang together. This song was performed as a lullaby. There was also no mistaking Jon “Bowser” Bauman’s opening with his deep baritone delivery as the startup to this short and sweet melody.
#5 – Tears on My Pillow
“Tears on My Pillow” was a phenomenal cover performed by Sha Na Na that was featured in the film, Grease, while it had its dance competition. This ballad was first performed as a doo-wop song by Little Anthony and the Imperials in 1958. It became a major hit at that time, peaking as high as number four on the US Billboard Hot 100. This became the signature song of the Imperials and has since been covered numerous times by a number of recording artists.
#4 – Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay
1958’s “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay” was more than some simple song recorded by Danny & the Juniors. This was a statement against the radio stations that found rock and roll music offensive. For Sha Na Na, they used the song as a good excuse to hammer home the reality that the genre known as rock and roll wasn’t about to go anywhere anytime soon. Even as styles change according to taste, the heartbeat that keeps rock and roll alive and well always remains. In the 1978 movie, Grease, Sha Na Na’s version of “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay” was a classic.
#3 – At the Hop
When Sha Na Na performed “At the Hop” at Woodstock in 1969, it dropped the jaws of fans who weren’t expecting such an outstanding performance. This 1957 original by Danny & the Juniors was a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was one of the top-selling singles in 1958.
As soon as fans heard Sha Na Na belt out “At the Hop” the revival of 1950s rock and roll officially began. The popularity of “At the Hop” featured the mix of blues and boogie-woogie piano that played an important role in the 1950s progression. This was the song that officially launched Sha Na Na to stardom.
#2 – Hound Dog
“Hound Dog” was first recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952 and has since been listed as one of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. It was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013. Since its first release, “Hound Dog” has been covered by a long list of recording artists and has become one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Elvis Presley’s version remains, by far, the official “Hound Dog” king as his 1956 recording was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. His version was inducted before Thornton’s by fifteen years. Also like Thornton, Presley’s “Hound Dog” also joined the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
As successful as this song has been, it also found itself at the center of controversies and lawsuits. There was a dispute over authorship, copyright infringement, and royalties. Luckily for Sha Na Na, this wasn’t an issue. Not only was their version of “Hound Dog” an overwhelming success, but it also became one of their signature songs as a group. On Grease, they performed it while the movie had its high school dance competition. On stage, Sha Na Na’s performance of “Hound Dog” was among their best.
#1 – Born to Hand Jive
In the 1978 film adaptation of Grease, Sha Na Na appeared and performed as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. “Born to Hand Jive” was a song that was featured as part of the movie’s dance competition that took place at the high school gym. There was so much energy poured into this awesome tune that if a music fan hadn’t figured out who Sha Na Na was by then they sure did now. The group wasn’t called “show stoppers” for nothing. “Born to Hand Jive” was legendary and why the dance competition scene as they played it was one of the all-time favorites of a blockbuster that became a legend in its own right.
Top 10 Sha Na Na Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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