The Vinyl Countdown: Original Songs Celebrating The Houston Astros
"Luv Ya Blue"...and Orange! Hits for the Astros haven't just shown up in box scores. "Hear" are the hip-hype songs laid down on vinyl throughout 'Stro history!
Houston sports fans of a certain vintage will fondly recall the many Houston Oilers theme songs that popped up in the magical “Luv Ya Blue” era of the late 1970s.
With several playoff appearances in the last half-dozen years (not to mention a 2017 World Series Championship), you’d think Orbit’s jukebox would be full-to-burstin’ with hit tuneage. Maybe it is!
“Luv Ya Blue”
Led by their head coach, the late Bum Phillips, Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell, and quarterback, Dan Pastorini, the Oilers made a run for the Super Bowl in 1978 and 1979, losing both years to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game.
Nevertheless, the Oilers and their fans were energized even more by a seeming flood of pep-rally-ready songs, with titles like “The Houston Oilers Fight Song (Houston Oilers #1),” written by Lee Ofman):
….and the classic ode to the bruising running style of Campbell, “The Oiler Cannonball,” sung and recorded by the team’s burly, endearingly off-key center, Carl Mauck.
The single, available only regionally on Bellaire Records, was likely the label’s only release. It was certainly its first, proudly displaying the telltale catalog number XIV-1, and produced by local legend, the late Don Janicek. Owner of the landmark retail outlet, Don’s Records in Houston’s city-within-a-city, Bellaire, Janicek passed away at age 69 in 2002.
These songs, and others, became daily pop culture favorites in the Houston area, with radio stations playing the 45-rpm single records in heavy rotation. Having worked at two Houston-area Cactus Records stores in the late ‘70s, I can personally attest that these singles were also purchased in a number that just might eclipse the Kenny Burrough career dropped-ball amount.
The song “Luv Ya Blue” even surfaced in late 1979, reflecting the theme picked up at the time by the team, its fans, and the media in those winning late 70s. Lyrics were written by longtime Houston sports fan Mack Hayes, with the song (recorded locally) set to the melody of the Beatles’ “Love Me Do.”
Test your recorded Oiler vinyl knowledge: Did you know that Hayes wrote a parody song just before he wrote “Luv Ya Blue“? Few do. It was called “The 12 Days of Oilers Christmas,” and before he recorded it officially, he performed it on several local morning TV shows, recorded audio cassettes, and even sent them to Houston area radio stations.
The song was a surprising smash, so he and some friends were eventually commissioned to record the song for ten other NFL playoff-bound teams, inserting their respective team names into the song, replacing “Oilers.”
Rounding the Basses & Corralling the Baritones
Hayes, now in his mid-70s, actually got in early on the Astros’ musical bandwagon, writing the song, “Go Go Astros” in 1979, shortly after his original Oilers vinyl touchdown. The Astros used the song as their theme through most of the 1980s.
Hayes, the lead singer for 1960s rockers The Countdown 5 (who once toured the world with Liza Minnelli), was raised in Texas City, part of the Houston metro area.
He even recorded a Spanish language version of his song, called “Vamos Vamos Astros”:
“My wife Sandra and I are both Houston sports fans, and the Oilers song was a hit, and the Astros were terrific back then with Nolan Ryan, [the late] JR Richard, and Jose Cruz and those guys, so I naturally thought, ‘Let’s try to do the same thing with the Astros that we did with the Oilers,'” Hayes told the Houston Chronicle during the Astros’ 2017 championship run. “We tried it out, and we thought it would work.”
And, thanks to the Astros’ recent successes, cover versions of Hayes’ “Go Go Astros” have begun popping up, including this one, recorded on a local TV broadcast during the 2019 playoffs from the Clear Creek High School Choir. Their school is in League City, the Galveston County community next door to Hayes’ hometown. In fact, the songwriter himself is seen greeting and thanking the choir after their performance:
Luv Ya Orange: Rappin’ & Reppin’ H-Town
In 2015, Bernard James Freeman aka Bun B, released “Crush City,” one of the first Astros-inspired songs released at a time when the team was just beginning to experience consistent winning.
The Astros turned around a 70-92 record in 2014 to an 86-76 record the next year, shutting out the New York Yankees in the Wild Card Game behind Dallas Keuchel’s three-hit six innings. Houston proceeded to take the Kansas City Royals to the limit, before losing the AL Division Series to the eventual 2015 World Series winners.
Known in rap circles as Bun B, the 48-year-old Port Arthur native has been called the “unofficial Mayor of Houston.” Active in the music biz since the 1990s, Bun B is probably best-known as having been one-half of the UGK duo and for appearing on Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'” single in 2000.
He’s worked with Houston native Beyonce, and may just be the only person alive who has taught a college course (at Rice University), created a coloring book, and earned a five-mic rating from The Source all in the same lifetime!
Special mention should be made of Chamillionaire (Hakeem Seriki), the 41-year-old rapper/entrepreneur who names Bun B’s UGK as a major musical influence. He was a high school friend of fellow Houston-based rapper and DJ Paul Wall and the two have recorded frequently together.
Chamillionaire’s contribution to the Astros’ fan theme canon is his 2011 “Turn it Up (Astros Remix),” a ‘Stro-happy re-do of his 2005 debut single of the same name:
And, this, a little-known gem from Rome:
Speaking of Paul Wall…he had two of his own brushes with hype song greatness, as he not only gave a shoutout to the Killer B’s of the early 21st century with “They Don’t Know,” but he also sunk his teeth into “World Series Grillz” in early 2018:
Another Houston rapper, the 47-year-old ESG (Cedric Dormaine Hill), put his stamp on the theme scene following the Astros’ 2017 World Series win by releasing “Woooston,” doubling as both a championship celebration and a nod to former outfielder Josh Reddick’s favorite “WOO” wrestling bellow:
Jose Al-tune-ve: Polka Face
In what has to be the most eclectic example of music that employs lederhosen since Martin Mull’s “2001 Polka” was recorded in 1973, Polish Pete and his merry band offered this paean to the Astros’ hitmaking machine, Jose Altuve, during the 2017 championship run…”The Altuve Polka”:
So the rest of the team wouldn’t feel snubbed, Polish Pete returned to the drawing board to come up with “I Love Those Houston Astros,” shortly after their Altuve hit. The band had it uploaded within eight hours of writing and recording it:
Polish Pete and his oompah boys even had their own float in the Astros’ 2017 championship celebration parade through downtown and played for the fans.
In late 2019, Polish Pete and his Polka? I Hardly Know Her combo have whelped “The Springer Dinger Polka,” saluting the Astros’ former center field spark plug, George Springer. Polish Pete is, by day, Pete Gordon, manager of downtown Houston’s Continental Club.
“I Am An Astro Fan”
Smack dab in the middle of the 2019 World Series, as the Astros were duking it out with the Washington Nationals for MLB supremacy, I ran into Rusty Nelson at the annual Texas Book Fair in Austin. As it turns out, Rusty is the composer of one of the best “sleeper” Astros fan tunes not yet in heavy rotation.
Rusty and I sat down over coffee at a north Austin hotel five days after the Nats finalized their 2019 Astro smackdown to discuss the genesis of his 2017 composition, “I Am An Astro Fan.” We ended up sharing similar positive memories of the Astros’ early Astrodome days in the 1960s and 70s.
Losing, for this new expansion team, was a seemingly daily occurrence, but like many children at the time, the memory of being tucked in at night with the Astros broadcast on a transistor radio tucked under the pillow is as sweet as finding a new toy in the box of Quisp or Quake the next morning.
In fact, that image (and many more) are what Rusty captured perfectly in his song, written just after the Astros’ 2017 World Series celebration and parade.
“I wanted to capture the emotional moments during the team’s World Series run,” Nelson shared between sips of java.
Spending his childhood in both Lafayette, LA, and Corpus Christi, home to the Astros’ Double-A affiliate since 1991, Rusty attended LSU and the University of Texas, graduating in 1982 with an MBA in advertising.
That led to an immediate 12-year assignment with Austin’s nationally respected GSD&M ad agency. A seven-year stint in the music business in Nashville took him from the mid-90s into the new millennium and a return to Austin.
There he met Sue Young, and preferring proper nouns to adjectives, dubbed the duo, Young & Rusty. They’ve recorded a couple of folk/Americana CDs and they’re the ones you hear on “I Am An Astro Fan.” They performed the song at a local restaurant recently, with Jimbro Lutz creating the video:
The duo shared the song, in early 2018, on various Astros fan sites on social media, “hoping the right person would hear it,” Rusty explained, “and I could sing it before a game.”
That hasn’t happened yet, Rusty, but as the Astros sometimes need reminding, “There’s always next year!”