The Walk-Up Song: A Brief History and a Playlist

The Eagles’ 1976 hit Hotel California describes, according to Eagle’s frontman Don Henley, “… our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.” Fittingly the song’s imagery paints a dreamlike picture: pink champagne, dancing in the courtyard, and of course, a Mercedes (a staple item in any illustration of “The Have-Mores”). All of this amounts to a song that is, frankly, not particularly intimidating on its face.

However, if you’re a pitcher in Major League Baseball, and Hotel California plays as Dodgers’ outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger walks up to the plate, the song may seem a little more menacing. Bellinger finished the 2018-2019 season with 47 home runs and a .305 batting average, not to mention the National League MVP title. We don’t hear “voices down the corridor,” we hear the roar of a Dodgers’ Stadium crowd. We’re not in Henley’s California anymore!

That’s the beauty of a walk-up song, it sets the tone: although what that tone is and who it’s directed at has changed a lot over time, as has music’s role in baseball in general.

In the earliest days of the game, music was provided by (read: performed by) fan clubs, pep bands, and organists.

The Walk-Up Song: A Brief History and a Playlist
No instruments visible, but this crew waiting for the Dodgers at the airport in 1959 look like they could’ve pulled off a four-part harmony if asked! Image via LA Public Library

According to mlb.com, when a young woman named Nancy Faust was hired as organist for the White Sox, the role of music at the ballpark began to evolve. Faust would bring a radio with her to work, at first to learn the vocabulary of the game, and then to find inspiration. She listened to Harry Caray call each game, then responded with an appropriate song on her organ. Caray caught on quickly and the two began to riff off each other.

Mlb.com notes:

She soon realized she could play specific songs that related to each player.

After Caray referred to Frank Howard as ‘Too big to be a man, not big enough to be a horse,’ Faust played I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet. She once played Jesus Christ Superstar for Dick Allen and, after he homered when the song was played, the song stuck. Harold Baines, known for his quiet, almost shy demeanor, earned He’s So Shy.

And thus, the walk-up song was born. Of course, it’s evolved a lot since then. Initially, the walk-up songs—often selected by the teams’ marketing departments—were chosen for humor or as tongue-in-cheek references. In the 1990s, players started to request their own songs, chosen for a variety of personal (and not-so-personal) reasons.

The moment the walk-up song was solidified as part of Major League Baseball culture? In June 1995 when a rookie named Derek Jeter requested Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It play before his first at-bat at Yankee Stadium.

Since then, the “walk-up song” has taken on its own identity— inspiring blog posts, listicles, and compilation videos.

And, it also inspired us to ask PBS SoCal and KCET staff what their walk-up songs would be. Here’s a playlist created out of their responses:

PBS SoCal KCET staff walk-up songs

Watch Dodgers Stories: 6 Decades in L.A. Thanksgiving Night (11/28) at 7:00 p.m. on PBS SoCal and 8:30 p.m. on KCET!