Fight song fever
By NORM MAVES JR.
Hot dog! It's college football fight song season again!
Fight songs? We all have our reasons for preferring college athletics to the pros. You like the cheerleaders, the marching bands, the
mascots, the rowdy students in the stands -- all the things that add up to the unique college experience.
Me, I listen to the fight songs. It's my peculiar little corner of fascination. I've heard most of them; I've memorized at least half of them.
OK, so many more of the songs are lousy than good. Most of them were written (adapted, or stolen) in the era before radio and phonograph
technology brought quality music to the American ear.
But there's no denying that much of a school's athletic identity is defined by what the band plays when the football team streams (or stumbles) out of the locker room. Much of the beauty of the college sports experience springs from the musical traditions. If you're a real fan who thinks beyond the point spread, you know what I mean.
I'd personally love to see Notre Dame's band snaking through campus to the Friday night bonfire, Kansas State's band rowdies ripping off "Wabash Cannonball" and the Texas A&M team and coaches gathering in front of the band and alumni before a game to sing "Spirit of Aggieland." Cal athletics bore me to tears, but I love the Straw Hat Band.
My personal favorite: Ohio State's fabulous "Script Ohio," in which the band spells out "Ohio" on the field, marching single file like a pencil point to the French National March, then breaking into the "Buckeye Battle Cry"-- at the end of which a sousaphonist high-steps up to dot the "i."
Everybody has his or her favorites. My pal Huey in Clark County (a Yalie) and I used to argue this stuff as if it really mattered. I was right, he was wrong.
Most colleges have several traditional songs they play during the games; many of the secondaries are better than the primaries, which makes it difficult.
So we're really left with personal opinions about which are good and which, well, stink. Here are mine.
TOP 10 FIGHT SONGS
1. Idaho -- "Go, Vandals" is the once and future king of college fight songs, with a fanfare lead-in that could motivate a successful infantry charge. Whether it will motivate the Idaho football team to do the impossible Sept. 14 against Oregon in Eugene is suspect (trombonists
generally can't block). If you don't have tickets and don't want to drive to Moscow, Idaho, (can't blame you) go to Corvallis for a Crescent Valley High School game to hear it.
2. Texas A&M -- The "Aggie War Hymn" isn't a fight song at all. It's exactly what it says it is -- a war hymn, and there's nothing quite like it. It was invented, the legend goes, by Pinky Wilson, who was on guard duty in 1918 during the post-World War I occupation of Europe and was motivated -- presumably by boredom -- to write it. It's an odd medium-tempo march that is equal parts original music, "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" and "Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" -- and it's wonderful.
3. Notre Dame -- The legendary "Victory March" makes the list because it's bulletproof. With the possible exception of "On, Wisconsin" and the "Washington & Lee Swing," it's the most copied fight song of all. It's been insulted by some of the worst bands in the world -- I heard it beaten senseless by a six-piece band in Fort Jones, Calif., in 1970 -- but still retains its clear, inspiring and rhythmic force. The Portland area? Only (this figures) Jesuit High School.
4. Army -- No, no, no -- not "The Caissons Go Rolling Along." That's the regular Army. The West Point cadets have been using the stirring "On, Brave Old Army Team" since their music director, Capt. Philip Egner (a lifer), wrote it sometime around World War I. When it's done as intended, it includes an interlude in which the cadets whistle five notes, then somebody
touches off a cannon. It, like Army football these days, fires blanks.
5. Columbia -- The oldest fight songs in the country are from the Ivy League schools. "Roar, Lion, Roar" is the best of a mediocre Ivy pack
(Dartmouth should have a ritual burning of the sheet music to all its songs), and it measures up with just about any other fight song in the country. If the football team could do the same, it would have something really good going. But don't hold your breath.
6. Washington State -- From the intro to the "W-a-s-h-i-n-g-t-o-n S-t-a-t-e" spellout at the end, this one is terrific. And no wonder: It was written in 1919 by two music majors -- Zella Melcher (words) and Phyllis Sales (music). Yes, both women, a fact that should put a few testosterone-borne myths to rest. Lots of local high schools use it. Around Western Oregon, you can hear it at Sunset, Benson and West Albany athletic events.
7. Houston -- There is no cute story to go along with the best fight song from the old Southwest Conference (the unique Aggie War Hymn doesn't count). It was written by two students, Marion Ford (that's a name, not an Ohio car dealership) and Forest Fountain (that's a name, not a landmark) and didn't become well-known outside Texas until the mid-1960s, when the independent Cougars got good at football and later when the school joined the SWC. Too remote for a local high school to use it? No! Get up to Battle Ground, Wash., some day and hear the Tigers play it.
8. Michigan State -- The best fight song in the Big Ten has a nice origin, something akin to the Abe Lincoln myth about how he wrote the Gettysburg Address on an envelope during the train ride. In 1917, yellmaster F.I. Lackey supposedly wrote it on the train on the way back from the Aggies' (they were the Michigan Agricultural College Aggies then) game at Wisconsin. It's so good the Spartan band usually plays both the refrain and chorus. It didn't wander too far west, but someone in the 1950s thought it would be good at David Douglas High School. And it is.
9. Arizona -- Jack K. Lee was named the school's director of bands in 1952, and on the way home saw the words "Bear Down" on a U. of A. rooftop from his plane. There's a story for another time and place there about the expression, but it inspired Lee to write "Bear Down, Arizona." A great one if not everyone agrees. In 2000, a columnist in the Arizona Daily Wildcat panned it in favor of the older "Fight, Wildcats, Fight." Hey, kid! All fight song words are dumb. Listen to the music! Sheesh!
10. Central Michigan -- The second-best fight song in Michigan, "Fighting Chippewa" was written by one Howard Loomis. The school's Web sites don't say who he was or when he wrote it, but he did an excellent job. The words actually fit the music, too. The school nickname and the name of the song have withstood the objections of those who (like me) don't like the insult to Native Americans; even if they succeed in changing it, it's still a great song. Barlow High School in Gresham uses it.
1. "Indiana, Our Indiana" (now that Bobby night's gone, it's safe to say).
2. "Fight for California" (at least they beat Stanford at something).
3. "Buckeye Battle Cry" (No. 2 at Ohio State, No. 1 in your hearts).
4. "Texas Fight" (they jazzed up "Taps" -- and it works).
5. "On, Wisconsin" (wildly overused, but good nonetheless).
6. "Go, U Northwestern" (used to be the only reason to attend Wildcat football games).
7. "Fight On, Pennsylvania" (the only other Ivy worth mentioning).
8. "Fight, Team, Fight" (Ball State -- really!).
9. "Roll Along" (Ay-ziggy-zoomba, Bowling Green!).
10. "War Eagle" (Auburn's real southern-fried rouser).
Locally: "Mighty Oregon" is one of the best in the country. The chorus, anyhow. The whole package would be definite Top 10 stuff if they detached that meaningless copy of Yale's "Down The Field."
BOTTOM 10 FIGHT SONGS
1. Wyoming -- This one's both stupid and stolen. The original "Ragtime Cowboy Joe," written in 1912, is an old radio country western favorite. It isn't even ragtime. And that Cowboy Joe is from Arizona. Wyoming speeds it up and changes the words. Do your teeth hurt yet?
2. Utah -- "Utah Man" is a triple threat: It's stupid, stolen and sexist. Any Canadian schoolkid knows the real words to "Old Solomon Levi." Why they bother with "Utah Man" in Salt Lake City when they have the perfectly serviceable "U-Pep" is a complete mystery.
3. Texas-El Paso -- Country legend Marty Robbins died in 1982. His classic "El Paso" died when somebody thought it could be played as a march and used to inspire the Miners. Sure. If you were born after 1967, you haven't lived when they went to a bowl game.
4. Alabama -- It's hard to tell what they had in mind when they adopted "Yay, Alabama." It isn't a march, it isn't jazz, and it ain't got that swing. Supposedly, this college has a good school of music. Coulda fooled me.
5. USC -- "Fight On" . . . and on and on and on. This piece of junk never ends.
6. Nebraska -- "There's No Place Like Nebraska" is a waltz played as a march. It is why most non-Nebraskans cheer for somebody to shut the Cornhuskers out. Fewer touchdowns, fewer renditions.
7. New Mexico State -- Just about every college has a version of "We'll Win the Game or Know the Reason Why" gathering dust in its music department. The Aggies are the only ones to use this loser as the primary fight song.
8. Oklahoma -- It's hard to make Yale's "Boola Boola" any worse than it already is, but somehow an otherwise decent band manages with "Boomer Sooner." Congratulations?
9. North Carolina -- Bet you that if they went far enough back, they'd find that "Rah-rah for Carolina" was written by a Montessori kindergarten class in Gastonia -- then stolen by a UNC fraternity.
10. Tennessee -- "Rocky Top" has nothing to do with sports, doesn't even mention the University of Tennessee and actually tries to make Tennessee sound like a backward state, which it ain't . . . uh, isn't. What's really disturbing, though, is how cranked up they get in Knoxville when they hear it.
1. "Here's To Wake Forest" (a drinking song masquerading as music).
2. "Sons of Westwood" (UCLA -- stolen from Cal, and petty theft at that).
3. "Minnesota Rouser" (Gophers never win the Big Ten football title -- what does that tell you?).
4. "The Victors" (I can name that Michigan tune in two notes).
5. "Harvardiana" (if you think the name is weird, just try the music).
6. "Glory, Glory to Old Georgia" (repeat that three times and spell the name of the school -- if you can -- to the chorus from "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and you'll understand how the South lost the Civil War).
7. "Glory, Glory Colorado" (fair's fair; the Buffaloes do it, too).
8. "Dynamite" (you'd think Vanderbilt would settle for having the worst football program in the Southeastern Conference, but no . . .).
9. "For Boston" (if they really wanted to do something For Boston College, they'd tank this turkey).
10. "I'm A Jayhawk" (It isn't such a bad song and Kansas is a pretty good school, but Kansas won one Big 12 Conference game last season).
Locally: "Hail to Old OSU" is actually pretty good, easily better than the old "Mighty Beavers." And the bands play it well. That should make up for the fact that it's nearly identical to Eastern Michigan's fight song, but it doesn't.
You can reach Norm Maves Jr., who is not really an expert at anything, at 503-221-8204 or by e-mail at email@example.com.