“Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani (2005)
No Doubt lead singer Gwen Stefani’s chart topper is the captain of all cheerleading songs for several reasons. First, she and co-producers the Neptunes came up with a track that approximates the rhythm of actual cheer squads. For proof, check out all the squads who now use it as a backdrop for routines (YouTube shows lots of ’em). Second, the video really conjures the atmosphere of high school, with its flag teams, marching bands and, of course, cheerleaders. Finally, Stefani apparently wrote the tune as a retort to a disparaging comment Courtney Love had made about her — what could be more high school than retaliating over something someone said? “Hollaback Girl” made Pitchfork Media’s list of the Top 500 songs of the decade (it came in at No. 180) yet also made AOL Spinner’s list of worst songs ever. Hmm … loved but hated. Just like the cheerleading squads from all of our high schools! Watch the video.
“We Are Cheerleaders,” from “Bring it On” (2000)
This teen sports dramedy about competing high school cheerleading squads spawned a soundtrack that had lots of the hyped-up dance music used throughout the movie. One number it didn’t include — but should have — is the song featured in the opening moments (the sequence where Kirsten Dunst dreams about being welcomed to the squad). The song is a tart, somewhat risqué parody of high school culture that’s become known on the Web as both “We are Cheerleaders” and “I’m Sexy, I’m Cute.” It’s called the latter because of its memorable opening lyric: “I’m sexy, I’m cute! I’m popular to boot! I’m bitchin’! Great hair! The boys all love to stare!” “We are Cheerleaders” has become so popular that some high school squads have taken it as an empowerment anthem and perform it for fun. We’re not including links, though. We don’t want parents to freak out learning their precious snowflake knows any risqué words.
“Mickey,” by Toni Basil (1982)
The perky tune by choreographer-turned-pop star Toni Basil was one of the first bona fide MTV hits, meaning it’s a song that probably wouldn’t have become so popular if it hadn’t been for its video. Nearly 30 years later, said video looks pretty cheesy, with its low budget all-white backdrop and dated special effects. But at the time, Basil’s cheer routines, costumes and catchy tune captured the affection of kids 18 and younger who had some school spirit (kids with less school spirit could groove to Rush’s treatise on teen conformity, “Subdivisions,” an MTV hit around the same time). “Mickey” proved almost eternally popular, with countless cover versions. Basil’s popularity was less enduring, but she wasn’t technically a “one-hit wonder” as several Web sites claim; according to Billboard’s Top Pop Hits, she later hit No. 77 with “Shoppin’ From A to Z” and No. 81 with “Over My Head.” Watch the video.
“Be True to Your School,” by the Beach Boys (1963)
The Routers’ Top 20 1962 hit “Let’s Go” might have been the first major hit of the rock era to use a cheerleader chant, and actor-singer Paul Petersen might have had a very minor hit with a song called “The Cheer Leader” in 1962. But it was this Top 10 hit by the Beach Boys that was the first major hit to use simulated cheerleaders to evoke the feeling of a high school football game. The cheers came courtesy of the female surf group the Honeys, and it’s their exhortations that make this song stand out. Unfortunately, this unique arrangement isn’t well-known even though it was one of the band’s biggest early hits. They had recorded an earlier rendition, sans cheerleaders, as an album cut and it was this version that was mistakenly put on their “Endless Summer” hits package that everyone bought in the 1970s. Oh well. This single version, in all its cheerleader glory, can be heard on the more definitive 2003 compilation “Sounds of Summer: The Very Best of the Beach Boys.”
“’65 Love Affair,” by Paul Davis (1982)
The late singer-songwriter Paul Davis was best known for melancholy, slow-moving ballads like the bittersweet “Sweet Life” and the weepy “I Go Crazy” (a deceptive song title if there ever was one). But he waxed uncharacteristically upbeat with this bubblegum-ish ode to a long lost high school romance, and was rewarded with the biggest hit of his career (it clocked in at No. 6). Like “Be True to Your School,” “’65 Love Affair” also uses studio singers that make like cheerleaders at various points in the song. Their chirpy chants of “Go team go!” help make Davis’ nostalgic points all the more vivid. Of course, if you believe Allen Ginsberg’s quote about nostalgia really being a form of depression, that makes this tune another Davis downer. But, hey, “American Bandstand” audiences loved it at the time and chanted right along with those cheerleaders.