MILWAUKEE -- America partied hard in 1976, and Philadelphia felt like the epicenter of the country's bicentennial celebrations.
It had fireworks, parties and parades. President Gerald Ford spoke at Independence Hall on July 4. Queen Elizabeth II visited the city. Philly hosted the MLB, NBA and NHL All-Star Games, and the Phillies got the city excited as they marched toward their first postseason since 1950.
Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox and Dave Cash felt so good about themselves that they stepped into Queen Village Studios on the corner of 4th and Catherine Streets in the middle of the summer to record a song for Grand Prix Records called "Phillies Fever."
The song had a disco beat and -- what else? -- baseball-themed lyrics.
We'll all go dancin', dancin' in the streets,
'Cause we're the Phillies, we know we can't beat,
So come on, baby, won't you get on down?
Veterans Stadium is the hippest place in town.
Nobody got rich from the record and it is not on anybody's best hits lists, but the 45 rpm played over the radio in Philadelphia as the Phillies cruised to the National League East title.
"Phillies Fever" still pops up every once in a while. A Phillies fan will stumble upon a recording on YouTube. Occasionally, but rarely, the song is played at a ballpark or on Philly radio or TV. The folks at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., played it once between innings during a game this spring.
Because it is the 40th anniversary of the recording, but mostly because it is crazy to think about Schmidt, Bowa, Luzinski, Maddox and Cash cutting a record -- imagine Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz recording a hip hop song in 2008 -- MLB.com thought it would be fun to find out how this ditty got made.
Who started it?
Nobody really remembers who got the musicians together with the ballplayers, but in the book "Almost A Dynasty" by William C. Kashatus, Cash and Bowa approached the others about recording a song. Cash and Bowa recorded a song the previous summer called "Ting-a-Ling Double Play."
Local music producer Walt Kahn liked the idea of putting the Phillies' biggest stars on a record. He thought the novelty act could get some radio play locally, and perhaps become bigger if the Phillies won the World Series. Kahn, who died in 2013, produced songs like Skee-Lo's "I Wish," The Movement's "Jump!" and the Dixie Hummingbirds' "Loves Me Like a Rock," a rendition of the Paul Simon song that won the 1974 Grammy for best gospel performance.
Kahn teamed up with his brother, Andy, who arranged the music. Andy Kahn wrote and produced Karen Young's disco hit "Hot Shot." Local musicians Lorenzo Wright, who worked with The Delfonics and The Intruders, and Rich Wing wrote the music.
Andy Kahn: "Disco was just starting to happen, you know? Everybody kind of started to jump on the bandwagon. Somehow we managed to get through to somebody who took it to Schmidt, Bowa or Maddox. Then they discussed it with the other ones. And then all of a sudden we had the five of them. They got a big kick out of the idea. They were possibly paid a session fee. My inclination is they were just given an opportunity to hang on the record and get themselves promoted and be all over the place."
Luzinski: "We got a 45 out of it. You can't play it anywhere, but we got a 45 out of it."
Bowa: "Actually, I think the money we made went to the Child Guidance Resource Centers. It's Garry's charity."
Lorenzo Wright: "Me and my partner, Rich Wing, we wrote a song called 'The Boogie House.' We wrote the hook, the whole music track. Walt Kahn decided he wanted to put the Phillies on it. He had them come in and just talk over it. They couldn't sing."
Kahn: "My brother had a knack for understanding trends and novelties in records. He was really good at that. He was always a major baseball fan. We had a great, funky, groovy, R&B type of dance track. It was right around the time of Gamble and Huff's song 'The Sound of Philadelphia.' It was a huge anthem for the city. It was the same idea. [The Boogie House] had this groovy, funky feel and that became the backing track for the lyrics that were then written for 'Phillies Fever.' Then the whole idea was to get guys clowning around on the microphone and pattering and jabbering with each other. A party record, that was the idea."
Wright: "[Walt] never told me anything about it. I was on the road. I came back and Walt said, 'Surprise.' I said, 'OK, if we can get some money out of it, fine.' I mean, he was the producer. He had the rights to it."
In the studio
Schmidt: "We'll hum a couple bars, ready? Phillies Fever … "
Bowa: "A little 'Ting-a-Ling Double Play,' maybe?"
Kahn: "I think they spent a couple hours in the studio. I remember the looks on their faces when they walked in. If you pardon my French, they were thinking what the [heck] are we going to be doing? I just know that was on their minds. Are you kidding? We're making a record? It was hysterical. They were laughing the whole time because it was funny. It really was. It was cute. It was adorable. It was lively. It was hysterical. Everything that you heard on that record is what it was."
Cash: "We were scared to death. It was imposing a little bit, because that's not what we did. Seeing all the tapes and microphones and stuff like that, it was a little different. As athletes we sort of make an adjustment to whatever we have to do. I think we cooperated with the producers."
Bowa: "I remember that we were scared [stiff]. We didn't want to do it."
Luzinski: "They had to do a lot of mixing."
Bowa: "If it wasn't for the backup singers we would have been [in big trouble]. It was fun at the time. Obviously listening to the record now, I'd probably say what jerks we were making that."
Kahn: "Well, I think Garry Maddox was the only one who knew how to sing. He was the only one with any soul. I assure you Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski had no soul whatsoever. Nor did Mike Schmidt. They would probably beat me up for saying they didn't have any soul, but I think Garry became the ringleader in the studio. I think he felt the most comfortable being in a studio environment, singing an R&B song."
Cash: "I think Greg would probably be last [in singing talent], because he didn't want to do it at all. We had to hogtie him to get him to the studio. Garry was good. Garry is a singer. But I don't think any of us could sign a record deal, put it that way."
Bowa: "I know [the best singer] wasn't me."
Schmidt: "It wasn't me."
Bowa: "It sure as [heck] wasn't Bull [Luzinski]."
Luzinski: "I was eating."
Cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers
The lyrics were cheesy, but they were fun. Perhaps the most memorable line came at the expense of Luzinski.
Cash: "Breaker 19 for some local info."
Luzinski: "Go ahead local info."
Cash: "Hey, good buddy. Can you tell me what the hottest thing in Philadelphia is?"
Maddox: "Got to be the Phillies, good buddy."
Cash: "That's a big 10-4."
Maddox: "Is that you, Dave?"
Cash: "That's me, Garry, 10-4. Say, Greg, you going out for batting practice?"
Luzinski: "Yeah, Dave, soon as I finish these three cheeseburgers."
Kahn: "I think it was all tongue in cheek. I don't think anybody felt insulted by it. These guys used to rib each other all the time. He was a pretty hefty guy in those days. He carried around a fair amount of bulk with him. I think it was just kind of a running gag, so I don't think there was anything that they were seriously concerned about. I don't know if my brother suggested it or one of the guys suggested it."
Bowa: "That was thrown in. They said sort of throw some stuff in. Obviously Bull being a big dude, we had to throw the cheeseburgers in."
Bull: "I lockered next to him, so I was used to it."
The record got released and generated buzz locally, and it even got noticed nationally. But it never reached gold status.
Bill Giles, former Phillies president and chairman who was executive vice president of business operations at the time: "Whatever we bought was 10 times too many."
Luzinski: "People still bring the covers out to have it signed, so somebody bought them."
Kahn: "I do hear people mention the record. It comes up when the Phillies are hot. All of a sudden, it'll appear on the Internet or on a station."
Schmidt: "We performed it live on Mike Douglas."
Cash: "I remember that. It came off pretty good because they had the record on the background. We didn't lip sync it. It was good. We had a good time doing it."
Luzinski: "We were going to be big [stuff]. We were supposed to be on the Johnny Carson show."
Bowa: "Yeah, but then they heard us in the studio."
Luzinski: "I think what happened was, it was batting practice, then the game [at Dodger Stadium]. They didn't think we could be back in time after we taped the show. We were ready to go. We had our backup singers and everything."
Bowa: "They made the record -- the backup singers."
Cash: "They covered up a lot of mistakes we probably made."
Kahn: "It got a lot of radio play in Philadelphia. I'd say as far north as Trenton, as far east as Atlantic City, as far south as Wilmington. That was probably the range. Allentown, Lehigh Valley, where all the Phillies fans were. As the team was heating up and things were happening with the team and there was a frenzy in the city about what was going on, we had a pretty good feeling that they would be well-received and they would get radio play and that people would jump on the idea that, 'Oh my god, the Phillies have a record out.' And it was a dance record on top of it. It was something people could dance to."
Bowa: "First time I heard it, man, I was driving to the park. [He pretends to turn up the volume.] It didn't sound that bad when you put all of the background singers in there."
Wright: "I laughed when I heard it, but I said, 'Listen, man, if they win the World Series, we might have a hit.' But they didn't win that year. We saw a few checks. They played it on TV. We got some royalties from that."
Schmidt: "It's the [stuff] you do. You do stuff like that."
Bowa: "See, I think now if we do that record, we could put the HOF [Hall of Fame] on [Schmidt's] name and we might be able to make money. You roll with it, just like the Bears did. 'Super Bowl Shuffle.' I guess we'll have to bring it back out, you know what I'm saying?"
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.