The Rise And Fall Of 'Jock Jams,' The Arena-Themed CD Collection That Ruled The Mid-'90s
It's a special kind of song that can get fans and athletes on their feet while making them question who let the dogs out or demanding that everybody dance now. Jock jams songs are among this rare breed, and even after many have been playing at sports arenas and wedding receptions for more than 20 years, they still manage to get people energized and moving. While many of the tunes are now limited in where they can be played without being a joke, they've become classics - not necessarily because they're "good," but due to the specific feeling they create.
Although sports arena music directors started the trend of playing energetic music to excite athletes and fans, Jock Jams helped fix many of these kinds of songs in listeners' minds. And decades later, many fans are more than willing to pump up the jam.
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In The Pre-Streaming '90s, CD Compilations Were The Only Economical Way To Purchase Individual Songs
Long before iTunes, Spotify, and illegal download sites, people who wanted to hear a compilation of artists or a single song either had to make their own mixtape or purchase a "not available in stores" album offered through 1-800 numbers advertised on television. Unfortunately, these frequently consisted only of oldies songs. Although some labels created compilation albums to showcase their artists, if fans wanted to listen to a single song from an artist, they needed to purchase the entire album.
It was also a time when many artists preferred not to have their work included on these kinds of albums, since compilation sales could take away from their own album sales. For labels, however, compilations could be moneymakers since they eliminated the need to spend money on signing artists, recording their music, and developing their careers. Despite the concerns of artists, consumers wanting to save storage space and money became a new market on which the industry set its sights.
- Photo: Andrés Nieto Porras / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
A Hip-Hop Record Executive Got The Idea While At A Knicks Game
In the early 1990s, Monica Lynch attended many Knicks games to make use of the company's shared box suite at Madison Square Garden. She noticed how the music played at the event pumped up the players and crowd, and she wondered if she could capture that feeling on an album. "To tell you the truth it was just like one of those very simple, very obvious ideas," Lynch remembered. "I would hear the same music being played at the games, all these classic rock and R&B tracks with these organ bits in between, so I thought this stuff would probably be pretty easy to license."
Lynch presented her idea to Tom Silverman, and he got on board after realizing that "songs you heard at basketball games were becoming legendary with a different audience." Lynch also contacted Ray Castoldi, the music director of Madison Square Garden, and asked if he'd like to contribute organ music to the album. Like Silverman, Castoldi thought the album idea was brilliant. "It's an idea that had been going around in my head," he recalled. "We have all these songs we play at the games from a wide variety of genres but they all seem to work together in the context of making people crazy at sporting events. Why don't we put them all in one place?"
To complete the arena experience, producers added organ music, crowd noises, and even Michael Buffer's memorable "Let's get ready to rumble!" call between songs.
- Photo: MTV/Tommy Boy Records
MTV Had Success With Their 'Party to Go' Series And Decided To Collaborate With ESPN On An Arena-Themed Version
Jock Jams was not the first compilation album Tommy Boy put together, having previously collaborated with MTV to make MTV Party to Go as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. In order to make the Jock Jams idea work, Tommy Boy partnered with ESPN to give the album more credibility and marketing power. "Our idea was to brand it around baseball, football, basketball and hockey and make it a dance record," Silverman said, "but when you put it in the [context] of a game and tie it in with ESPN it made sense."
Unfortunately, ESPN initially expressed doubt over the proposal. "It sounded like a cool idea but we were a little skeptical," ESPN's Sharyn Taymor recalled. Although the channel had an interest in branching out into other forms of media, such as video games, a magazine, and the internet, it hesitated to put its name on a music album. Tommy Boy managed to convince ESPN enough to move forward with the project, but even a few people at the record label believed it to be a strange idea. "I thought it was the worst idea," Tommy Boy director of sales Steve Knutson remembered. "I thought it was really stupid. Why would anyone do this, especially a hip-hop label?"
ESPN Required Family-Friendly Music And Cover Art For The Albums
Not all songs considered for Jock Jams made it onto the albums. "I was pretty paranoid about it because ESPN was sort of a clean network and the music business wasn't always like that," remembered ESPN director of enterprises Sharyn Taymor. Wanting to please their core audience of sports fans, the network maintained control over Jock Jams' content, and every song selected required their approval.
The channel rejected songs it felt would be offensive and required edits on others. "We had to do a little bit of editing and would always be looking over what they were doing, making sure the final edits were exactly what we agreed upon," Taymor said. "But at the end of the day, we'd figure it out and compromise."
Not only did the content have to be clean, but also the cover of the album. After much discussion of what would be family friendly yet still eye-catching, ESPN approved art featuring cheerleaders and varsity jacket-style lettering in bright and fun colors.
'Jock Rock,' The First 'Jock Jams' Compilation, Sold More Than Half A Million Copies
In 1994, Tommy Boy Records released Jock Rock, which focused heavily on older classics from artists like the Ramones, James Brown, and Queen. "The first one opened with 'We Will Rock You' and 'Blitzkrieg Bop,' 'Born to be Wild,' and it had fans chanting 'DEFENSE' in between tracks to make it feel like you were there," Silverman remembered. "That one went gold." The album sold 500,000 copies and proved that Tommy Boy's idea definitely connected with audiences.
Sporting a cover that claimed it included "The Greatest Crowd-Rockin' Sports Anthems of All Time," Jock Rock earned a sequel one year later. Although it was also successful, Tommy Boy knew the next album would have to provide something new for listeners and decided to extend its catalog into contemporary music. Tommy Boy's next offering, 1995's Jock Jams, included more modern hits, which helped lead the series to even greater success.
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The Second 'Jock Jams' Compilation Became A Top 10 Hit Because It Was The Easiest Way For People To Buy 'Macarena'
After selling 100,000 copies of the first Jock Jams, Tommy Boy Records released a second volume one year later. Jock Jams, Volume 2 became the most successful of the series partially due to a single song: "Macarena." "There were two versions, one that's best known by Los Del Rio, and the other by Los Del Mar," Silverman remembered. Although it was one of the year's most popular songs, fans had difficulty listening to it outside of clubs or the radio. Tommy Boy sought to fix that, as well as sell more albums, by including it on Jock Jams, Volume 2. "The 'Macarena' was never on an album, so you had to buy Jams," Silverman said.
Tommy Boy's decision to include the hit turned out to be a good move, and sales of the album passed those of the previous volume. "[T]hat one was the first one that went platinum and it made it to #10 in the top 200," Silverman recalled. It was the only Jock Jams volume to reach that level on the charts.
Although "Macarena" helped sell albums, the inclusion of Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" also attracted fans, and the song spent seven weeks in the No. 1 slot on the Billboard Hot 100.