While the on-field action is always the centerpiece of any sporting event, part of what makes being at a game so fun is the ambience. Music is a critical piece of the atmosphere in most stadiums, as a classic tune played at the right time can change the mood of an entire crowd. In college football, some of that music comes in the form of university marching bands serenading the stadium with fight songs. But even in sports without live bands, music piped through sound systems plays a role in the experience.
One scene that comes to mind transpired during the first full week of the 2021 college football season, when Virginia Tech ran on to the field for a game against North Carolina to “Enter Sandman.” All of Lane Stadium seemed to be jumping in unison to the 1991 Metallica classic as the Hokies entered for what turned into 17-10 upset win over a top-10 foe. It was an epic moment for college football to see a sold-out crowd enjoying a collective moment of passion following the capacity restrictions of the 2020 season due to COVID-19.
So what are the best stadium songs of all time? The college football team at CBS Sports decided to draft them this week. Keep scrolling to see which songs were taken and in which order. Keep in mind that our draft was not restricted to a single sport. So these are the best ever, regardless of league or venue.
Tom Fornell: All the great stadium songs follow a formula. They’re simple, repetitive, and have enough bass to make the stadium shake. Also, while lyrics are fine, you don’t want too many, and it’s better to just have simple noises. In other words, you want “Seven Nation Army”. There’s a reason it became an in-game staple the minute it was released publicly and hasn’t gone anywhere since. Seriously, when was the last time you were sitting in a football stadium and didn’t hear it? You can’t remember, and you don’t want to.
Barrett Sallee: Great stadium songs take on a life of their own, and that’s exactly what has happened at Virginia Tech with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” It brings the juice to Lane Stadium as the Hokies run onto the field more than any other entrance song in sports. Take last year, for example. “Enter Sandman” ushered in the 2021 season for the entire college football world in what was the first season with full stadiums since 2019. It was the soundtrack to that scene and the Virginia Tech football team, but it’s hard not to get jacked up even if you’re not a Hokies fan. That song makes you want to run through walls … plural.
Ben Kercheval: Those first few notes in “Jump Around” give everyone just enough time to prepare, because once that beat drops from House of Pain, everyone loses their mind. It’s so simple, yet so effective. The Wisconsin student section does it better than anyone, and that first “Jump Around” in the two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began was wholly cathartic. The energy is so infectious that even onlookers can’t help themselves.
David Cobb: The best stadium songs, in my opinion, are the ones that elicit the most audience participation. No song brings out more spirited crowd involvement than “Swag Surfin'” in the proper setting. Just search “Swag Surfin’ stadium” on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean, as most of the top results are from college football stadiums. It’s also a bit that plays well in basketball arenas. The swag surf in Texas Tech’s home win over Texas this past basketball season looked legendary. It was so lit that even Patrick Mahomes got in on the action. There are plenty of times when the song is played at sporting events and the response is underwhelming, but when unleashed in the right time and place, “Swag Surfin'” is an elite stadium song.
Adam Silverstein: There are so many incredible stadium anthems, but three stand out for their ability to arouse a crowd and create unforgettable atmospheres. Those are “Seven Nation Army” — as selected No. 1 overall — and the combined Queen chart-topper with two tracks issued together as a single in 1977. There’s no doubt this is the top pick given “We Will Rock You” works both as an instrumental or with lyrics to create an intimidating atmosphere at any point in a game, and “We Are the Champions” is the consummate celebration song. Sure, DJ Khaled & friends created a fine alternative, but any sports fan knows that nothing tops Freddie Mercury singing at the top of his lungs and tens of thousands of fans doing so in unison. This should have been the top selection in the draft, and it was a steal for me at No. 5.
Jack Crosby: If the internet has taught me anything, it’s that my first pick will be a tad controversial. But if you just watch the energy in a stadium elevate once the opening of “Sandstorm” blares through the speakers, there’s no denying it’s one of the best anthems out there. In college football, no program displays the power of the anthem better than the South Carolina Gamecocks. just look at this packed Williams-Brice Stadium collectively lose its mind! Love it or hate it — and, again, most people hate it — it’s one of the best energy-boosters in sports.
Shehan Jeyarajah: When you have the last pick of the first round, the only thing to do is get straight to the point. As a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan, “Sirius” is the soundtrack of my favorite team and, to me, the best intro music in sports. In the college football world, Nebraska uses “Sirius” for its tunnel walk into the stadium. The Kansas City Chiefs, Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and Serie A’s Sassuolo have also used the iconic riff. When the song starts, you know a big time performance is about to happen.
Tom Fornell: There are 209 words in AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and 36 of them are thunder or thunderstruck. It’s a simple rhythm with simple words. “Kernkraft 400” is a song that 99% of people who hear it have no idea what it’s called — if anything, they know it by the artist Zombie Nation — but once those notes hit, everybody in the world recognizes it. Finally, I went with “Ante Up” because even if it’s not as prevalent in stadiums as the other songs in this draft, it makes me want to fight people. The ability to incite violence is an underappreciated art of the stadium song.
Barrett Sallee: The first five seconds of “Crazy Train” are guaranteed to get you hyped up. No, it’s not just the fact that it was Chipper Jones’ walk-up song and I’m a giant Braves fan; the “All abooooooaaaaaard” right off the top makes it known to the listener that things are about to get wild. I went with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” for my third-round pick, and it surprised me that it fell so far. The most prominent song of the “Rocky” movies can serve either as a song to pump you up or an anthem to underdogs looking to make their mark. “Crowd Chant” by Joe Satriani might not be known to everybody, but college football fans will know it from Ron Prince’s Power Towel video that was widely panned across social media — but blame that on Prince, not Satriani. It’s never a bad time to crank up the volume and listen to one of the best electric guitarists of our time going to work.
Ben Kercheval: My later picks carry more of a basketball flavor, but they aren’t exclusive to the hardwood. “The Final Countdown” is a quality hype anthem that, in Round 2, feels like the equivalent of drafting a 10-year starter. “YMCA” is a third-round steal and “Everybody Dance Now” is instantly recognizable.
David Cobb: My picks in rounds two and three are classic stadium songs that thrive on audience participation with lyrics that cut to the essence of athletic competition. When the road team is clearly toast, serenading them with “Na Na Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye” is a great play. When the home team is behind, “Don’t Stop Believin'” is the perfect way to get the crowd back into it. You may look at my fourth-round selection and be miffed. That’s because it’s a selection unique to Memphis. The song “Whoop That Trick” was originally popularized by the Memphis-based movie “Hustle and Flow”. It’s since been incorporated into some of the biggest moments in Grizzlies franchise history and stands out for its local flair.
Adam Silverstein: Given my squad already has the consummate pump-up and celebration anthems, I needed to acquire the best option for team introductions and game starts. Enter the “Welcome to the Jungle”. You will not recognize “Rock & Roll Parts 1 & 2” by name, but click the link above and you’ll realize that you’ve heard it at every sports event you’ve ever attended (“da–na-na . ..Hey!”). With all our bases covered, the team needed a modern closer to round out the perfect draft, and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” was the ideal choice. It’s exactly what you want to hear when the game is on the line or your team is battling back from a second-half deficit.
Jack Crosby: My second pick might be as controversial — if not more — than my first, but my love of “Sweet Caroline” in a stadium comes from my love of boxing and soccer, especially in the United Kingdom. If you’ve ever heard the love those fans over there have for this anthem, then you understand where I’m coming from. For my final two picks, I went with classics that will always withstand the test of time in “Start Me Up” and “Whoomp! There it Is”. These were safe picks, for sure, but they’re two of the best to get the fans in a stadium amped up before or during the festivities.
Shehan Jeyarajah: After picking the Bulls’ theme song in the first round, I nabbed Jock Jams anthem “Get Ready for This” and “Power” by Kanye West in the third round. There’ll be no shortage of pregame pump-up and out-of-timeout bangers with my first three selections. With my final pick, I decided to slow things down with “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” known best as the team song for Liverpool FC in England. There’s nothing in American sports that quite matches a packed Anfield Stadium singing the moving ballad, epitomized by Liverpool fans singing to Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the seventh minute after the passing of his son. My four songs aren’t exactly orthodox, but hey, it’s my draft.
Tom Fornell: Tom had a strategy going in and stuck to it beautifully. He got perhaps three of the five most recognizable stadium songs on the board in “Seven Nation Army”, “Thunderstruck” and “Kernkraft 400”, and he followed it up with — as he described it — a perfect fighting song. For my money, Tom wins the draft. Grade: A
Barrett Sallee: This list goes heavy on the hard rock with Metallica and Ozzie Osbourne with great success. “Eye of the Tiger” falling to third was a surprise. Grade: B+
Ben Kercheval: If you want to dance, Ben’s list is for you — and not just because he picked “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)”. “Jump Around” and “Final Countdown” are bangers in any arena from the start. “YMCA” knocks the list down to a minus — who wants to watch 50,000 fans try to make a Y with their arms? — but we’ll let it slide. Grade: A-
David Cobb: Solid list from top to bottom with good local flavor. “Swag Surfin'” is one of the few new age songs on the list and “Don’t Stop Believin'” is decent value in the third round. Grade: B
Adam Silverstein: Adam went classic with Queen, Guns N’ Roses and Gary Glitter before finishing out with Eminem’s classic “Lose Yourself.” If you’re an old head, this might be the best list. Grade: B+
Jack Crosby: “Sandstorm” was a strong first pick, but Jack’s list gets cheesy after that. “Sweet Caroline” and “Whoomp! There It Is” are heading towards dated and “Start Me Up”, ironically, does not get me started up when I hear it at college football games. Grade: C+
Shehan Jeyarajah: Shehan’s draft is fine, I guess, but “Sirius” is a Round 1 reach, and as one of the turns for this snake draft, he left some better songs on the board for Round 2. “Power” is a head-turning Round 3 picks, but in a good way. Shehan certainly has a theme for his draft of him, but I’m not sure that theme is for everyone. Grade: C (–Ben Kercheval)