Today, “Seven Nation Army” is one of the most recognizable songs at sporting events across the globe. On any given Saturday, The White Stripes’ most famous song is blasted out of Beaver Stadium’s speakers and the Blue Band’s instruments seemingly without end.
It’s difficult to imagine a world in which you don’t hear fans singing the song’s bass intro in unison, but without Guido D’Elia and the Penn State Blue Band, that world would exist.
Since its stadium debut in 2003, millions, if not billions, of people have sung the beginning of the rock song at the top of their lungs, whether it be in the terraces of Italian soccer stadiums or in state-of-the-art indoor arenas in the United States. But “Seven Nation Army” got its big break right here in Happy Valley.
The Song’s Roots
Before their hit song was a fixture in stadiums across the world, Jack and Megan White started a rock duo called The White Stripes in 1997. After the two met in high school, they got married, formed the rock group, and released their first three albums: ‘The White Stripes’ (1999), ‘De Stijl’ (2000), and ‘White Blood Cells’ (2001).
Six years after the band’s formation, The White Stripes released “Seven Nation Army” as the first single of their fourth album, ‘Elephant’. It was, and still is, the band’s most successful song to date, winning a Grammy in 2004 for Best Rock Song.
Although winning a Grammy is an amazing achievement, the award barely scratches the surface considering how much the song has impacted American culture.
First Use During A Sporting Event
After a brief stay atop the Billboard rock charts in July 2003, the song was first sung in stadiums by fans of Club Brugge, a Belgian soccer club, in October 2003.
In the group stage of the 2003-04 UEFA Champions League, Brugge travelled to Milan and defeated AC Milan 1-0 on a goal by Andres Mendoza. The result was a massive upset; AC Milan had one of the strongest teams in Europe at the time and had won the tournament in the 2002-03 season.
The Brugge fans who traveled to Italy to attend the game sang the song before, during, and after the game, taking to the streets and bars of Milan to celebrate what may be the biggest victory in club history. Nevertheless, the song wouldn’t stick with the locals until Brugge faced another Italian club in 2006.
In February of 2006, AS Roma traveled to Bruges to face the Belgian club in a UEFA Cup knockout match. Although Roma won the match 2-1, the fans who traveled from Rome were impressed by the Belgian fans’ use of the song, so they brought it back to Italy with them.
Five months later, Italy defeated France on penalties to win the 2006 World Cup. Italian fans flooded the streets of Rome to celebrate their country’s first World Cup title since 1982, and “Seven Nation Army” echoed in the Roman streets long into the night. They knew the song only as the ‘po po po’ song, adopting it as Italy’s unofficial anthem for that World Cup.
“Seven Nation Army” Arrives At Penn State
“Seven Nation Army” was first played in the United States during the 2006 Blue-White spring football intrasquad scrimmage at Beaver Stadium.
Guido D’Elia, the former director of communications for the football team, heard a radio story about the Romans’ use of the song, and asked the Penn State Blue Band to perform it. If it sounded good and students sang along, the band would keep using it. If not, the song would be scrapped.
The Blue Band played the song during the annual spring game, and, as they say, the rest is history.
“Seven Nation Army” was a regular fixture in the Beaver Stadium playlist by midseason in 2006. It got enough airtime at Beaver Stadium to a point where it was even played more than the iconic “Zombie Nation” during each game.
Due to safety concerns of students jumping up and down, “Zombie Nation” was only played approximately four times per game; the university even considered shutting it down entirely, which seems unthinkable today. In contrast, “Seven Nation Army” was played more than ten times during each home game that season.
How It Spread Across The World
Arrangers’ Publishing, a music company based in Nashville that sells sheet music to marching bands, took advantage of Penn State’s find by selling the sheet music for “Seven Nation Army” to bands across the country.
“The minute I heard it I said, ‘We need to try to license this,'” Jeff Hearington, vice president of Arrangers’ Publishing, told Deadspin in 2012. In the six years after discovering the song, the company sold more than 2,000 copies of the sheet music.
Boston College’s marching band was among the first to pick it up, and from there it blew up. Today, it would be hard to find a stadium where “Seven Nation Army” isn’t blared over the speakers at some point during nearly every competition.
Some teams adopted the song as their own and continue to use it regularly. The NFL’s Baltimore Ravens play the song as a rally cry heading into the fourth quarter of games, and German soccer club Bayern Munich, one of the biggest clubs in all of soccer, uses it as a goal song.
If a Penn State employee had never heard about how soccer fans in Rome, a city more than 4,000 miles away from Happy Valley, sang a rock song by a couple from Detroit, they never would have asked the Penn State Blue Band to play it during football games. As a result, fans from Boston to Bavaria wouldn’t have adopted it as their own years later.
Current Use At Penn State
At Penn State, the Blue Band plays the song in innumerable different situations. At Pegula Ice Arena, the band plays it before each Nittany Lion power play.
During football games, the Blue Band will use “Seven Nation Army” when Penn State’s offense is marching down the field to celebrate first down conversions, but it’s also blasted over the speakers during pre-game warmups and before important defensive plays.
It doesn’t matter if Penn State is playing for the Big Ten title or against a less critical non-conference opponent; going to any Penn State home game practically guarantees you the opportunity to jam out to “Seven Nation Army” while supporting the Nittany Lions.
“Seven Nation Army” rang through Beaver Stadium 18 times during Penn State’s recent home victory over Pitt — the Blue Band played it seven times, the Beaver Stadium music man played it ten times, and the student section sang its own version during the Pitt Band’s pregame show.
Whether you hear “Seven Nation Army” on game day at Beaver Stadium or at another stadium somewhere in the world, always know that one of the most famous — and catchy — songs in sports wouldn’t be where it is without Penn State.