supposed to breed contempt, but that old saw does not hold true for college
songs. Saturday after Saturday the marching bands blare out the nostalgic
strains, and in the stands undergraduates, alumni and just plain friends belt
out the lyrics ("March On! Fight! Cheer! Hail! Victory!") and feel
their backbones tingle. It's hard to be a cynic when they play the old school
song, hard not to believe that down on the field the heroes are feeling the
excitement and rising to the occasion. Here and on the following pages are some
of the best songs and, on page 65, a story about composers of college
tunes—most notably, Cole Porter, Yale '13.
BULL DOG! BULL
intoxicating form of musical enterprise may well be writing a popular college
song. An undergraduate who produces one rarely gets over it and spends the rest
of his life trying—and failing—to compose another hit. Caleb O'Connor, who
wrote Down the Field for Yale in 1904, followed it with 200 others (none now
remembered); Thornton Allen, who in 1910 wrote one of the best, Washington and
Lee Swing, set up a music publishing house while still a college boy, and
thereafter wrote and published college songs (March On, Cincinnati and the
like) for virtually every institution of higher learning big enough to have a
marching band without duplicating his early success.
exception among campus composers was Cole Porter, who after turning out two
good football tunes at Yale went on to true celebrity as a writer of popular
songs and musical comedies. His continuing interest in collegiate themes was
often reflected in his deft lyrics:
At football games
May long for a strong undergraddy
I never dream
Of making the team
Cause my heart belongs to Daddy....
exceptional in everything having to do with music. His first published song.
The Bobolink Waltz, appeared when he was 11. He was putting in his usual two
hours of piano practice at home in Peru, Ind. and stopped to listen to a bird
on the picket fence outside the parlor window. He tried to capture the music in
what he described as "a burbuling item." One story is that his mother
paid $100 to have it published. The other is that a music publisher in Chicago
brought it out not knowing it was a child's creation. In either case, the
composition is a good example of the way Porter worked. Anything around him was
likely to pop into his songs—jokes, catch phrases, games,
advertisements—adapted instantaneously, without concern for lofty or
traditional usage. In college he was like a musical photographer taking a
succession of snapshots:
Has an awful lot of data....
Porter enrolled at
Yale in 1909 at 18 (though for some reason he said he was only 16) and became a
campus hero as a sophomore with Bingo, Eli Yale. The Yale Daily News had
sponsored a competition for a new football song (Down the Field referred to the
great Tackle Jim Hogan, who had since graduated), and Porter's contribution was
outstanding in its avoidance of verse that could become dated. The song also
was decidedly easy to memorize:
Bingo! Bingo! Bingo!
That's the lingo....
the end of Yale's undistinguished 1910 football season, Bingo became an instant
campus favorite when it was sung at baseball games the following spring. It was
even published by Remick, the leading New York sheet-music company. In 1911
another song-writing competition was held on campus, and this time Porter came
up with a more professional effort. This was Bull Dog, which was in the
enduring Yale musical tradition: