Tonight, Todd Rundgren will drop by the Pabst Theater to perform his catalog that spans more than 50 years, includes hundreds of songs, and boasts numerous hits. Of the songs the venerable soft rocker is to play tonight, none will go over better than “Bang The Drum All Day,” an effort Rundgren himself considered “a throwaway song” on 1982’s The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect.
That assertion wasn’t wrong, as the record topped out at number 66 on the charts and its anti-work/pro-percussion secondary single never made it past the 63 spot in Billboard song rankings (and 39 on rock charts). For over 10 years after it briefly hit radio waves, the slight departure from Rundgren’s predominately synth-y and emotional body of work was buried beneath career-making ballads like “Hello It’s Me”, “I Saw The Light”, and “Can We Still Be Friends?” To most of the world, “Bang The Drum All Day” remains that way today. But in the mid-’90s, the song found a second life…in Wisconsin of all places.
For reasons no one could predict and few can explain, the mindless and repetitive song, a moderate success at best for a Philadelphia-based musician who’d released five albums in the interim, was suddenly exalted to the status of certified Lambeau Field hymn.
The tradition began more than 20 years ago, when Packers game producer Mike McKenna started playing the song after Green Bay touchdowns. Since that was a particularly prosperous time for a team that was on its way to two consecutive Super Bowls (and one title) and the Brett Favre-led franchise was unbeatable at home, “Bang The Drum All Day” played at Lambeau Field quite often. Despite having no local affiliation with the region and zero attachment to football, Rundgren’s once-forgotten song quickly became a mainstay in Green Bay, and was adopted as an unofficial state anthem.
Milwaukee DJ and former Packers game operator “Old Man Malcolm” Michiles quickly noticed the “slow tradition” that had developed with the song when he started during the 2007 season. “I feel like there would be riots, friendly riots, if you played anything else after a touchdown,” Michiles tells Milwaukee Record.
Even now, 35 years after it was released and more than two decades after its debut on the Lambeau Field loudspeakers, “Bang The Drum All Day” is cemented as a piece of the gameday experience and, love it or hate it, an indelible part of Wisconsin culture.
On top of the unexpected bump in residuals the song nets him when it’s played at Lambeau Field, Rundgren is glad the song found an audience, however specific that audience is and how late their discovery came.
“I’m kind of happy that I’ve done something that penetrated, you know, the consciousness of the culture in this way that everybody knows it, Rundgren said in a 2011 interview. “Even if they can’t remember where the hell they first heard it.”
For most, where they first heard it was either at Lambeau Field after a touchdown, as they celebrated with family and friends while watching a game at home, or while hugging and high-fiving strangers in a Wisconsin bar. No, “Bang The Drum All Day” was never a hit. Hell, it’s not even a good song. Still, as long as Green Bay has the Packers, Todd Rundgren and his kitschy, work-averse “throwaway song” will have a special place on the state’s collective playlist.