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“Seven Nation Army” Is the Last Great Stadium Anthem. So Where Did All the Jock Jams Go?

The White Stripes’ classic has become an unlikely staple at football matches and Baltimore Ravens blowouts over the past two decades. How do these sports sing-alongs get made—and why don’t there seem to be any new ones?

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At the end of the 2005 college football season, Guido D’Elia began hunting for something new. Over the previous year, Penn State’s director of football branding and communications had been responsible for transforming Beaver Stadium from an opera house into a madhouse. He implemented the student section “White Out,” pumped Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400” through the PA system, and created a game-day experience that Sports Illustrated would call the “Greatest Show in College Sports.” But after safety and structural concerns grew over fans’ rampant bleacher bouncing to the techno tune, D’Elia spotted an opportunity to mix up his weekly presentation. “When you do this, you have to always be looking,” he says. “You can’t let it come to you.”

Throughout the winter, he snooped around televised European soccer, fascinated by its fans’ perpetual chanting and singing in the stands. In his research, he soon stumbled upon an AS Roma match where he heard fans howling a riff he couldn’t shake. After a quick Google search, he found an NPR story that identified the song as the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” the first track on the alt-rock band’s 2003 album, Elephant. Released as a single in February of that year, the song had reached no. 1 on Billboard’s alternative rock chart in July, stayed there for three weeks, and eventually won the Grammy for Best Rock Song in 2004.

In October 2003, he learned, fans of Club Brugge KV had heard the simple bass and guitar lick inside an Italian bar. While supporting their team against A.C. Milan, they couldn’t stop chanting it—“Ohhhh, oh, OH, oh, oh, ohhhh, ohhhh”—and after an upset victory, they traveled back to Belgium to make it their goal-scoring theme. It wasn’t until the beginning of 2006 that the song expanded its reach, once AS Roma visited Club Brugge for a UEFA Cup match. When Roma fans heard the home crowd’s chants, they returned to Italy with the earworm, and that June, they took what they called the “po po po po” song to the World Cup as the Italian national team’s unofficial anthem. “I am honored that the Italians have adopted this song as their own,” lead singer and guitarist Jack White said at the time. “Nothing is more beautiful than when people embrace a melody and allow it to enter the pantheon of folk music.”

Inspired by its evolution and menacing tone, D’Elia started preparing its American revival. Thinking it might be harder for rival teams to steal the chant if they never heard the original track, he went to the assistant director of Penn State’s Blue Band and asked him to create his own arrangement of the song. After a successful test at the team’s spring game, the band introduced it in earnest in the fall of 2006, with the brass section playing chunks of it 10 to 12 times per game when the offense passed the 50-yard line and drove into the red zone. “It was kind of like our tomahawk. Here we come. You can’t stop us. We’re jamming it down your throat,” D’Elia says. “It’s repetitive and rhythmic and has a little muscle to it, like, ‘I’m gonna knock you over.’”

As more prime-time games got added to Penn State’s schedule, word eventually got out. Over the next several years, “Seven Nation” seeped into a variety of professional sports venues, punctuating significant interceptions and touchdowns at Baltimore Ravens games and prefacing the starting lineups for the LeBron James–era Miami Heat. As Elephant celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, “Seven Nation Army” remains embedded within the stadium anthem’s fabric, a fundamental “jock jam” still near the top of every game-day DJ’s playlist. Despite the song’s repetitive and entrancing bass line, the powerfully distorted guitar, and Meg White’s crashing bass drum and cymbals not catching on in the mainstream for a few years, it’s almost impossible not to hear the tune at a sporting event now. “There’s something intoxicating about it,” says Jay O’Brien, the Ravens’ vice president of broadcasting and game-day productions. “You feel it in your chest. You feel it in your heart. It makes you want to sing along, to stomp your feet, to jump up and down.”

Look across the landscape of stadium anthems today, though, and “Seven Nation Army” seems more like the end of an era. In countless lists ranking the best jock jams of all time, hardly any songs from the past two decades show up alongside it. Sure, occasionally DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What,” Kesha’s “Blow,” and Fall Out Boy’s “Light ’Em Up” pop up, but even those are all at least 10 years old and have yet to become reliable crowd-starters. Perhaps the last mainstream vestige of rock’s participatory hold over older audiences, the White Stripes’ banger, has yet to be replaced by a modern-day equivalent. Where did all the jock jams go?

The genesis of “Seven Nation Army” occurred during the White Stripes’ 2002 Australian tour. At a sound check, Jack told Rolling Stone in 2009, he was fiddling around with his guitar in front of Meg when he saw Ben Swank, an executive at his label, Third Man Records. “I said, ‘Swank, check this riff out,’” Jack recalled, before playing a piece of the iconic song. “Weirdly enough,” Swank told Alan Siegel in a piece for Deadspin, “I didn’t like it. I said, ‘I don’t know man. You can do better.’” Eventually, the song hooked its claws into him. “It’s the directness and simplicity of it,” Swank said. “It’s more emotion based than thought-out or planned.”

In some ways, he might as well have been describing the basic criteria for all stadium anthems: They should be simple, repetitive, medium tempo, high energy, participatory, and instantly recognizable, as Switched on Pop podcast cohosts Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan delineated on a 2020 episode. As Harding further clarifies to me, “The song has to resonate with thousands of disparate fans across generations and all levels of sobriety, the song’s hook has got to be extremely singable (or chantable), and the rhythm should even be its own hook.”

You can trace the start of those loosely defined parameters back to the 1970s. Though they’d soon be replaced or supplemented by more technologically advanced PA systems, ballpark and arena organists supplied sports fans with musical entertainment back then, often pulling out Tin Pan Alley standards and diamond-specific tunes like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” But in 1977, Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust got creative from her perch during a game against Kansas City. When Royals manager Whitey Herzog exited the dugout to replace one of his pitchers, Faust began playing Steam’s 1969 R&B classic, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” causing the entire crowd to join in and sing the repeatable chorus. Soon, more venues followed her lead.

“The industry evolved to rock becoming the largely dominant music form, and as more stadiums incorporated this, you started to see organists sharing space with DJs, essentially,” says Matthew Mihalka, a musicology instructor at the University of Arkansas. “In many cases, these anthems are things that had happened for a while and hadn’t become standardized until a particular moment.”

In 1994, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” became the 22nd track on Jock Rock, Volume 1, a compilation CD released by Tommy Boy Records in a joint venture with ESPN. As conceived by Tommy Boy president Monica Lynch, with help from Madison Square Garden organist and music director Ray Castoldi, the album featured classic chants and popular arena rock numbers—most notably, Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” Gary Glitter’s “Rock ’n’ Roll Part 2,” and the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” After another volume, and as classic rock became harder to license, Tommy Boy pivoted to a new compilation called Jock Jams, which ultimately became part of the lexicon and was more in-line with the era’s changing music genres. “Tommy Boy was more of a hip-hop, rap, and dance label, and they wanted to go more in that direction,” said Sharyn Taymor, former director of ESPN Enterprises. “That’s where Jock Jams came from. We wanted to be the influencers of this kind of sports music instead of being influenced by it.”

The first of five compilation albums, Jock Jams followed the same principles of Jock Rock, this time highlighting newer artists who had the immediate, catchy feel of the mid-’90s. The album started with a remix based on Michael Buffer’s signature line, “Let’s get ready to rumble,” before transitioning right into 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This,” a song at least one publication considers to be the best jock jam ever created. Upon its release in 1991, the song’s looping and ascending electronic line quickly became synonymous with the NBA, an ideal venue for its repeating bars to bounce off arena rafters. “In the beginning of the ’90s, we were already doing shows in the States, and that was the first time I heard the track at a big basketball game,” says Ray Slijngaard, one half of the Dutch duo that fronted the band. “When we created our music, it was without trying to make a hit. We just did what we felt.”

The rest of the album featured songs with similar abilities to enliven arenas with upbeat, pulsating riffs, often filling the space of a 30-second timeout. That included Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is),” Rob Base’s “It Takes Two,” and Black Box’s “Strike It Up,” all of which could be cut and clipped into small packages and still get their entire ethos across. As though imitating the albums’ target demographic, the Jock Jams cover art featured various cheerleaders in the middle of a pose, and most of the songs from the first four platinum albums promoted a mosh pit and dance club vibe, exemplified in songs like House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and Darude’s “Sandstorm.” The wildly popular and nostalgic series ended in 2001, a product of licensing issues and the rise of downloadable songs, but it had effectively canonized a particular beat-heavy sound. “If we’re looking at the ’70s to the ’90s as the era in which most of this music is being drawn from,” Mihalka says, “then it comes to be self-perpetuating when you have songs included on those compilations.”

Had Jock Jams continued, it’s very possible “Seven Nation Army” would have been featured on its sixth volume—but its delayed entry into the pantheon highlights the importance of an anthem’s timing and placement. Much like Steam’s classic took almost a decade to be deployed (and soon recontextualized) at the perfect moment, “Seven Nation” relied on a similar implementation. Its third wave in Baltimore, for example, started with a poll before the 2011 NFL season, where fans voted to play the White Stripes’ then-eight-year-old hit during momentous occasions. The organization agreed to try it during the home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, hoping it would stick, and that day, the Ravens dismantled their rival, winning 35-7 thanks to seven turnovers and a crowd of 71,434 fans that couldn’t stop singing. “We played that song a ton, and I remember after one of the plays, we took a live shot of coach [John] Harbaugh on our big screen, and he was chanting,” O’Brien says. “From there, we didn’t have to play the song after a good play—the fans were just chanting it whether it was playing or not.”

Since then, the song has continued to blast (and be unsolicitedly chanted) throughout M&T Bank Stadium, a tradition that O’Brien says is based on the fans’ still-fervent participation. Even though it’s used universally, it’s become a proprietary anthem in Baltimore, in the same way the Packers always celebrate touchdowns with Todd Rundgren or the way the Blackhawks punctuate goals with the Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger,” a 2006 alt-rock song with similar “Seven Nation” vibes. In an increasingly diverse and stratified world, simplicity and unity become an easy sell. “You’re in a situation where people are gathered for a common purpose. In that situation, it does mean something,” D’Elia says. “Once you bring it into that environment, it works.”

Last week, in the frenzied, celebratory aftermath of the World Baseball Classic, Shohei Ohtani left his mobbing teammates at the mound, quickly found his interpreter, and positioned himself next to Fox broadcaster Ken Rosenthal for a postgame interview. The best baseball player on the planet had just struck out Angels teammate Mike Trout to deliver a victory for the Japanese national team over the United States, and while he was discussing his remarkable ninth inning appearance, Ohtani’s teammates dumped Gatorade, hugged each other, and screamed in euphoria. As he listened intently to Rosenthal’s questions, however, the Marlins’ LoanDepot Park queued up Flo Rida and T-Pain’s “Low,” immortalizing his answers against the reverberations of “apple bottom jeans.”

The song selection seemed emblematic of the changing demographics, differences in generational music tastes, and the stadium anthem’s overall decline in the last decade. Now, maybe that’s unfair. It is Miami, after all. But in a moment that seemed to beckon standards such as Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” or at least something a little bit more recent, the ballpark turned into a rooftop party or nightclub dance floor circa 2008, an outright dismissal of yesteryear’s clap-and-sway jock jams. “To me, the stadium anthem is Flo Rida,” O’Brien says of today’s music landscape. “It’s more feel-good hip-hop than it is hard bass, rock sing-along, or stomp your feet.”

Considering the proliferation of hip-hop as the dominant musical genre, that makes sense. Whereas the majority of ’80s arena rock—Van Halen, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses—leaned into power chords and head-bobbing, feet-stomping, lyric-less licks, the more mainstream rap and, to a lesser extent, pop hits don’t warrant as much participation. It’s hard to find broken-record choruses, like those in “Macarena” or Tag Team’s tunes, today, unless you count Pitbull’s signature scream before a verse, a very 2013 trademark. The hip-hop genre itself has even trended slower and moodier in recent years, not exactly rallying fans out of their seats. “Rap and hip-hop have become increasingly melodic and sung. I don’t know if there are any really tuneful melodies that people can really grasp onto,” Mihalka says, citing adjacent issues regarding profanity in lyrics. “You can’t really play Cardi B’s ‘WAP.’”

With the emergence of Spotify (The Ringer’s parent company) and Apple Music as dominant streaming platforms, finding a universal hit song has become even harder. Not to mention the proliferation of TikTok as a very specific, individual music incubator, rendering mainstream radio channels nearly obsolete. As O’Brien attests, “When my wife and kids are in the car, we can’t agree on what to listen to, so to get 71,000 to agree on what to listen to is an impossible task.” In many ways, Jock Jams’ end and the democratization of music listening solidified a monocultural bubble around the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s songs that the albums compiled—and, as a result, canonized forever. “New stadium anthems are rare because it takes time for a song to seep into the collective consciousness,” Harding says. “It’s even harder to mint a stadium anthem since people’s listening is more fragmented than at any point in the history of popular music. As our listening diverges, fewer songs reach the potential audience needed to make it into the stadium canon.”

That hasn’t prevented game-day producers from trying to unearth and deploy the next big thing. D’Elia, who has worked with a variety of big schools on their game-day experiences and returned to Penn State as a consultant last year, makes sure interns and staff members are familiar with songs making a splash at bars, fraternity parties, and radio stations, “so they would come back with what people sing to,” he says. “If you get people participating in unison, then that’s everything; that leads to all good stuff.” What remains fundamental, though, is deciding the right time to insert “Kernkraft 400” or a Creedence Clearwater Revival deep cut: delicate decisions that alter the mood of the stadium and people’s perceptions of the songs themselves. It’s likely why the Red Sox keep playing “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning, when fans are nice and buzzed and there’s enough time to enjoy the “bah-bah-bah” chorus a few times. Sometimes, the right oldies still hit.

There are recent contenders, though. Consider Sheck Wes’s “Mo Bamba”; Bebe Rexha and David Guetta’s “I’m Good (Blue),” an interpolation of Eiffel 65’s late-’90s earworm; and Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet’s “Narco,” which surged last year as Mets closer Edwin Díaz jogged in from the bullpen. There are also regional anthems, like F.L.Y.’s “Swag Surfin’,” which first gained popularity at HBCUs before spreading to other schools, or “Wagon Wheel” and “Friends in Low Places,” which SEC schools have embraced and given a second life to. Still, none of them feel like they have amassed staying power in the way “Seven Nation” has. “I think there’s part of all of us that longs for those traditional classic rock bands to put out one more album to get a couple other bangers,” O’Brien laments.

Perhaps we’re being too hard. Would “Seven Nation Army” have achieved its current status if Club Brugge lost to A.C. Milan on that October day in 2003 and its supporters returned to Belgium in a sour mood? Maybe. Like that long-gestating anthem, though, it’s possible another contemporary song is waiting to be tapped at just the right moment. Until then, stadium DJs will keep going to the jock jam well as they see fit. “They come out of nowhere,” D’Elia says. “We’re listening for it.”

Jake Kring-Schreifels is a sports and entertainment writer based in New York. His work has also appeared in,, and The New York Times.

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