Caroline Ain’t So Sweet: Time for Pitt to Ditch Sweet Caroline
By David Haddad, Guest Contributor
Unique stadium anthems have become a valuable calling card in American athletics, galvanizing fanbases before the 4th quarter, leading up to do-or-die defensive stands and after wins. “Jump Around” at Wisconsin, “Dixieland Delight” at Bama and “Enter Sandman” at Virginia Tech are all examples of power ballads that have become synonymous with their program’s successes and have deeply embedded themselves in the culture and brand of their respective institutions.
These songs enhance the game-day atmosphere and create a common cause between fans. Unless of course, you are a Pitt fan. In which case, the toothless, overdone pop song you have to sing every 4th quarter is just a reminder of the state of your program: irrelevant, past its prime and completely without an identity.
Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” has been the anthem of Pitt Football–played between the 3rd and 4th quarters at home football games–since 2008 when Pitt’s Director of Ticket Marketing, a former player, was tasked with improving the fan experience at Pitt games (might I suggest hiring a competent OC?). He chose the familiar soft-rock classic, and we’ve been stuck with it ever since. But as it turns the page to the 2021 season, has the time come for the University of Pittsburgh to ditch “Sweet Caroline?”
I would like to go on the record that I’m not at all a Neil Diamond-hater. That sweet old crooner and his legendary jumpsuits wrote some of the greatest bops, heaters and jams of all time. In fact, here’s 3 inches of column space just for him, to prove I mean no harm to the Jewish Elvis.
There’s nothing ~wrong~ with “Sweet Caroline” as a song. It’s a catchy, workable composition that serves its purpose at resort pools and Caucasian weddings. But as far as a sports anthem for one of America’s best public universities, it falls flat.
There are plenty of reasons to move on from “Sweet Caroline”, our primary focus is the lack of originality: it’s almost too popular. If you see a band gearing up to perform at your local pub, I would bet a week’s wages this one’s on the set list. Nobody outside of the Commonwealth associates this song with Pitt, especially not the way “Hang on Sloopy” is tied to Ohio State, or even [through clenched teeth] the way people connect ”Take Me Home Country Roads” [aggressively gagging] with West Virginia University [paints the computer screen with my dinner].
Pitt isn’t even the most prominent American sports team to use “Sweet Caroline”. The Boston Red Sox have – much more famously – been using it as their 7th Inning Stretch since 1997. The Carolina Panthers have played it at every home game since 1996. The Big 12’s Iowa State has been using it after wins since 2006. That’s a lot of competition for a song with all the hype of a Friday afternoon conference call.
Pitt can do better. That’s why we’re here.
Capel Faithful, in coordination with the COMON Network and a heavy dose of input from Pitt Twitter, have put together a list of 10 suitable replacements for Sweet Caroline for this two-part article.
But as we embark on this journey together, I want to be honest up front: if ever there were to be a song that replaces “Sweet Caroline,” it won’t come from an amateur blog article or Pitt Twitter account or online campaign. Something like this needs to be organic: a new hit that gets played during a timeout and gets a surprisingly raucous reaction from the student section; a jam that becomes the locker room anthem for a generational Pitt team; a third thing.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream. Look – Pitt already disappointed our lowest expectations for this year, and there’s nothing else to do during the pandemic. So let’s raise some hypotheticals and yell at each other over them. It’s what sports fandom is all about.
Our method isn’t exactly mathematical. If Pitt believed in math, Narduzzi would stop kicking on 4th & Goal from the 1 late in two-score games. So much like The Duz’s game-plans, our formula will be entirely based on gut-feelings. Here are the factors:
This is the most important factor. Ideally, thousands will be singing along to whatever is piped over the PA. It would make sense that we make that as easy as possible, with memorable lyrics and choruses that you can’t listen to without screaming along.
It needs to be a song that gets the blood boiling in Heinz Field, for players and fans alike. This song can’t be something you lock arm-and-arm to and sway like you’re singing Kumbaya. It needs to get heads banging, adrenaline flowing, and mouths frothing.
Pitt athletics is desperately trying to build a brand. The new uniforms and logos were a great start. The recent embrace of the Cathedral of Learning in our motifs is strong. Now we just need a jam that the average sports fan will associate with Pitt and Pitt alone. And also more wins. But that will come eventually.
4. Local Significance
While not a necessity, I think it would behoove Pitt to choose a theme song from a local artist. Pittsburghers are the kind of people that scoff at restaurants that serve Hunt’s. We drink Iron City, not because it tastes “good”, but because they put our skyline on the can and jobs in our region. The easiest way to get early buy-in is by giving our people something that tugs at their pride.
Bonus points will be given for a killer intro, steamy build-up, youth-friendliness, and a nature that is conducive to highlights of Paris Ford stealing souls.
So without further ado: Our Top 10
10. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele
Let’s kick it off with a curveball.
The only thing Adele has ever hyped up is series of regrettable late-night texts to your ex. But something about the build-up to this song – paired with arguably the most screamable chorus in music – makes this dirge a sneaky good pick for a stadium sing-along. It has aged well, maintained some cultural relevance, and still evokes emotion.
My main concern would probably be that “Rolling in the Deep” might get fans and players alike in their feels at a time we can least afford to do so. However – and I applied this theory to the entirety of this list – I don’t think fans deeply analyze what they’re singing along to in these situations. If I can listen to “Renegade” on Steeler Sundays without getting PTSD flashbacks to the winter I spent fleeing the hangman, you can get rowdy to this Adele masterpiece without thinking about Megan.
Not hard enough for your taste? Swap in the Greta Van Fleet version instead. Presto.
9. “It’s a Long Way to the Top” by AC/DC
When @CapelFaithful asked for Panther Nation’s input, AC/DC might very well have had the most representation in our replies. Thunderstruck, Back in Black, Highway to Hell, T.N.T. – all strong nominations from one of the greatest archetypes of real Rock n’ Roll to ever grace a bombed-out hotel room. We decided to go in a slightly different direction, with one of their more under-appreciated tracks.
The cadence of the verses is perfect for a coordinated call-and-response between halves of the stadium bowl. You can even fit a staggered “P-I-T-T” between the breaks in the chorus.
Watch the players and fans alike jam out to a bagpipe solo (like all the kids are doing).
8. “Bad Company” by Bad Company
This song makes me feel like I’m dressed head to toe in leather, slow-mo walking across town in the rain to confront the man that murdered my wife.
This pick is a little old and a little obscure, but it has the olde-timey outlaw feel that I think made “Renegade” strike a chord with Steeler fans. And like “Renegade,” it has a slow, soul-tingling build up that runs into a thunderous drop – the perfect recipe for a jumbotron highlight reel.
7. “Welcome to the Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance
Can you imagine the chill that would ring through North Shore the second that first piano note rings out over the speakers?
A deeply nostalgic power ballad for Pitt’s young alumni base, “Welcome to the Black Parade” has all of the energy and force to turn the atmosphere up a couple notches on brisk Fall afternoons. The intro may be a little self-indulgent for the short inter-quarter time window, but with the necessary splicing, this could be a real home run for Pitt.
The only way it could be better is if Pitt came out with all black alternate jerseys, the way God wants them to.
6. “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness
The Darkness’ 2003 tour de force is a visceral combination of power and exuberance. The shrieking vocals and wailing guitar – upbeat yet gruff – would be the perfect remedy to a lethargic crowd 75% of the way through a dud of matchup with an FCS school.
This is arguably the least commercially-recognizable entry on this list, and that is absolutely a positive. Seriously. The less people that know a song, the easier it will be to manipulate the mental shortcuts their brain takes when they hear it. This would be an easy one to hijack and bring under the umbrella of the Pitt brand forever.
And man, will it be fun hearing people try to hit those high notes.
Top 5 to be continued in Part 2… (Coming Wednesday, December 30)