In 1974 Kevin O'Brien, then 22, was the public relations and marketing director for the Kalamazoo ( Mich.) Wings, a team in the International Hockey League. "Back then, organ music was nearly synonymous with hockey games," says O'Brien. "But there was a movement to introduce some canned music during the games, so I started rummaging through my old 45 collection."
Tucked in with his Steppenwolf and Tommy James and the Shondells discs in a box in his basement was Glitter's Rock and Roll Part II (on the other side, Rock and Roll Part I). "I tossed it on the stereo and immediately thought, This is the song we have to use to bring the team out onto the ice," says O'Brien. The crowd at Kalamazoo's Wings Stadium went nuts.
In 1976 O'Brien took a job as marketing director for the Colorado Rockies of the NHL. His copy of Rock and Roll Part II went to Denver with him. Soon local radio stations were playing the song, referring to it as the "Rocky Hockey Theme Song."
Harry Smith, now the coanchor of CBS This Morning, was the morning drive-time disc jockey for Denver's KHOW and a diehard Rocky fan. "What's amazing to me is that the song is still played all these years later," he says. "It has gone well beyond clich� to become the 'Charge!' rally of this generation."
But back then, the song's place in the hearts of fans was far from secure. In Denver the NBA's Nuggets trounced the Rockies when it came to civic support, and in 1982 the hockey team moved east to become the New Jersey Devils. The team's new executives—most of the brass was not transferred from Colorado—remember one curious item among the contents of the team's moving boxes: a Gary Glitter 45. The Devils played the song from time to time, but it didn't catch on as it had in Denver.
When the hockey team left Denver, the city's other pro teams felt free to adopt the song. The Denver Broncos introduced Rock and Roll Part II to the NFL, admitting they stole the song from the Rockies, while the Nuggets did the same in the NBA. "We first heard the song about three years ago in Denver," says the Bulls' Brenner. "And when we introduced it in Chicago Stadium, our crowd loved it. Plus, I think the national television coverage we got throughout the season, especially during the playoffs and championship, really helped to popularize the song."
But all the arena airplay hasn't made Glitter rich. Payment of music royalties is a complicated procedure—based largely on how often a song is played on radio or television—and is made to an artist only when a piece of music is featured on a program, not when it is picked up as background noise in a commentator's microphone. BMI, the music-licensing giant that collects royalties for Glitter and many other musicians, annually surveys 500,000 hours of logs from 9,000 radio and 1,000 television outlets in the U.S. in order to determine what music has been played. Stadiums and arenas buy what is called a blanket license for the rights to use music. But the administrative costs of monitoring the 75,000 or so facilities that purchase these licenses—including nightclubs and restaurants—are prohibitive. As a result, the license fees simply augment the royalties pool, regardless of which music is played most frequently in these places.
Glitter isn't particularly concerned about the money. The crowds' response to his music is what makes him happy. He dreams of making a tour of U.S. stadiums and of being introduced to cheering throngs while his song blasts over the sound systems. "Maybe they'd even let me take in a few games for free," he says.
O'Brien, now a vice-president of a publishing company in Troy, Mich., watched on TV as the Bulls whipped the Portland Trail Blazers last spring. Along with the rest of the television audience, he and his wife, Therese, heard the strains of Rock and Roll Part II during timeouts and, 30 minutes after the final buzzer sounded for Game 6, watched as the capacity crowd in Chicago demanded an encore of sorts from the Bulls. The players obliged, standing on the scorer's table and swaying with the crowd as Glitter's song was played again and again.
As the fans sang on, Therese turned to her husband and observed, "Honey, never let it be said that you never had a good idea."