When I was eight years old, my family packed into an RV and drove from Philadelphia to South Bend, Indiana, to see Notre Dame play football. It was a strange vacation choice. My dad wasn’t really the RV-type, and he wasn’t clannish about being Irish Catholic. He didn’t support the IRA, for example, or sport a “26+6=1” Irish unification bumper sticker. He rooted for Notre Dame, but he was no blue-and-gold-wearing maniac. Somehow, though, he was convinced to join two other men and their kids on this iconic pilgrimage. I don’t remember anything about the game we saw. In fact I only remember a few things about the trip: Ohio is bigger than you think. RVs tend to break down in the middle of the night and strand helpless men and boys. And the lyrics to Notre Dame’s fight song include the line, “Wake up the echoes cheering her name.” I still have no idea what that means.
I’m not a Notre Dame fan anymore, but perhaps that trip spawned my minor fascination with marching bands (The Fighting Irish fight song will never be dislodged from my brain. Someday I may forget the names of my children, but I’ll still be humming that damned tune.) College bands, like parades and circuses, are mass spectacles from that mysterious time before TV. They’ve got colorful uniforms and funny hats. John Philip Sousa would be proud to have written many of their songs, which feature booming tubas and archaic locution (“Send a volley cheer on high” is the next line in the Notre Dame song). And unlike most parades, marching bands aren’t swamped with corporate branding. They’re still sneaking old-fashioned chauvinism and by-gone aesthetics into mainstream frat-boy culture.
What I love most, though, are the re-arranged pop songs for percussion and horns. I’ll never get tired of hearing “Louie Louie,” or “Start Me Up,” marching-band style. My brother and I once combed used records stores looking for a collection of college bands playing classic rock and pop, to no avail. Luckily, the Internet exists. So I’ve finally collected a few numbers here:
- Purdue’s version of You Can Call me Al
- Arizona State’s Eye of the Tiger
- Michigan State’s Brick House
- Yale’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Saturday Night’s Alright
- UMass’s extended version of The Who’s “Tommy” is here
- Columbia’s un-marching version of the classic Gary Glitter song (and other synthesizer numbers)
- Ohio State’s Hang on Sloopy
Ohio State is practicing “Hang on Sloopy” right now in preparation for their big showdown with Florida’s band in the BCS National Championship game. Of course, there will be football as well, but what’s important here is pomp. So let’s look at the two teams. The Buckeyes have a traditional band, founded in the nineteenth century, with militaristic uniforms and a classic fight song, Across the Field. The lyrics (courtesy of this website) invoke a battle, then bring us back to football. And they throw in a “hail, hail the gang’s all here” for good measure:
Fight the team across the field
Show them Ohio’s here,
Set the earth reverberating
With a mighty cheer,
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Hit them hard and see how they fall,
Never let that team get the ball,
Hail, hail, the gang’s all here,
So let’s win that old conference now
So give a cheer for the orange and blue
Forever Pride of old Florida
May She droop never
We’ll sing a song for the flag today
Cheer for the team at play
On to the goal we’ll fight our way
Musically, the Buckeyes may be stronger, but the Gators have great unis. I love the blue pants and the Gator heads in the tubas. As for the lyrics, special recognition goes to Florida for the rhyme of “forever” and the delightfully inverted “may she droop never.” I love the use of “old” in both songs, but the edge (and the BCS band National Championship) goes to OSU for telling the team to win “that old conference” even if it’s a goal that may not always apply. Can we substitute “that old BCS National Championship”?
Strike up the band!
good stuff. pro teams should have marching bands instead of cheerleaders…
— tys Dec 20, 08:52 PM #