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Familiarity is 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 DOG!
The most 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.
The single 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:
Porter was 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:
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:
Introduced near 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: