Who's No. 1? Fighting Words About Battle Hymns


Want to fight about fight songs? A Northern Illinois University professor has come up with a list of 13 college football fight songs he ranks as "the best, most famous and most stirring." Fighting words?

Acknowledging his choices are "totally personal and subjective," professor William Studwell ranks Georgia Tech's 'Ramblin' Wreck" as No. 8. Studwell says the top three fight songs are sung by the fans of Notre Dame, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin. The battle ballads, respectively:"Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame ," "The Victors," and "On Wisconsin."

Fourth, according to Studwell, is Yale University's "Down the Field " with a tie for fifth between the U. S. Naval Academy's "Anchors Aweigh," and the University of Maine's "Stein Song." Seventh on Studwell's list is the l University of California's "Fight On, USC," also known as "The Trojan War Song," and ninth, The University of Texas' "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You."

Filling out the top 13 arc: Ohio State's "Across the Field," the Uiversity of Illinois' "The Pride of the Illini," the University of Indiana's, "Indiana, Our Indiana." and The University of Oklahoma's "Boomer Sooner," which uses the same melody as Yale's "Boola-Boola."

An academic librarian, Studwell has compiled and published reference works on such themes as Christmas carols and their origins, flag-waving anthems, bawdy drinking lyrics, opera and ballet plots.

"There are many fine, rousing fight songs from all over the country, many around for the better part of this century," says Studwell. "Even non-football fans may know the lyrics or tunes of such classics as "Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech," "Anchors Aweigh," or "The Eyes of Texas."

Dismissing suggestions of geographic jingoism, the inveterate listmaker strongly insists it's the Midwest that has given birth to most of the best-known fight songs, with half of the Big Ten represented on his list of 13. Further, he claims his own perspective living near Chicago has nothing to do with his top three choices all coming from schools in the Upper Midwest.

Sharing tunes is not unusual among football fans, Studwell notes, as "The Eyes of Texas" is sung to the melody of "I've Been Working on the Railroad," and several schools, including both the University of Colorado and the University of Georgia, cheer their teams to victory with the chorus from the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Many otherwise famous college songs don't fit into the fight song category. Among them, Yale's "Whiffenpoof Song"; the Cornell University alma mater that extolls its top-of-the hill site High Above Cayuga's Waters"; and the drinking song,

"Drink a Highball at Nightfall"; loved by University of Pennsylvania fans. Studwell's list doesn't include fictional fighting frolics from films or musical comedies, generic odes such as "Mr. Touchdown U.S.A." and "You've Got to be a Football Hero," or Tom Lehrer's widely known academician's polite parody, "Fight Fiercely, Harvard."

But he does single out "On Wisconsin" as "perhaps the dean of fight songs," noting, "it was written in 1909 by musician William Thomas Purdy and Iyricist Carl Beck, and subsequently has been adapted as a Boy Scout song, as a service club piece, and for various other purposes."

The tune of "On Wisconsin" may have been consciously borrowed in part from a section of Tchaikovsky's 1890 "Sleeping Beauty" ballet, adds Studwell. "If Purdy partially borrowed his famous melody from the earlier source, he had the good sense to dip into a great classical piece and the intuition to select an art form, which, like football, depends for success on a highly coordinated and athletic group of people.

"The most pugnacious, boldest and feistiest fight song has to be 'The Victors' of the University of Michigan," Studwell claims. "Anyone who has ever heard over 102,000 loyal fans erupting in choruses of 'Hail to the victors valiant, Hail to the conquering heroes,' knows what I'm talking about.

"It was written by Louis Elbel in 1936, and though he took liberties with the atlas, proclaiming the Wolverines 'Champions of the West,' we can forgive him on musical, if not geographical grounds."

Proclaiming a fight song 'the best" leaves Studwell open to the wrath of college fans and alumni around the country, but he doesn't mind. A native of Stamford Conn., who holds degrees from the University of Connecticut and from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., he feels no disloyalty in neglecting the fight songs from his own alma maters

"The best fight song comes from a unit is not the oldest, not the biggest, and not the most academically renowned but which seems to many fans to be all three simply because of its fight song," asserts Studwell, admitting that he is "not high on Notre Dame myself and "usually roots for them to lose.

"The 'Notre Dame Victory March' is undoubtedly the most famous musical piece associated with collegiate sport," he states. "It was written in 1928 by two Irishmen, composer Michael J. Shea and Iyricist John F. Shea, during the Knute Rockne era when Notre Dame was becoming synonymous with football power. More than 60 years later, and largely because of that song, many people around the country still 'Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame."'

The Notre Dame melody is very similar to Yale's "Down the Field," he observes, although he thinks the Notre Dame version is "an improvement that's far better" in motivating fans even if he's not among them.

The list of the 13 "best" college football fight songs, according to William Studwell:
1. Notre Dame - "Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame"
2. Michigan - "The Victors"
3. Wisconsin - "On Wisconsin"
4. Yale - "Down on the Field"
5. (tie)Navy - "Anchors Aweigh"
5. (tie)Maine - "Stein Song"
7. USC - "Fight On, USC"
8. Georgia Tech - "Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech"
9. Texas - "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You"
10. Ohio State - "Across the Field"
11. Illinois - "The Pride of Illini"
12. Indiana - "Indiana, our Indiana"
13. Oklahoma - "Boomer Sooner"

Ballad of the Ramblin' Wreck


Who s No. 1? Among college fight songs, Georgia Tech's boisterous, irrepressible battle hymn, "Ramblin' Wreck," ranks second to none.

Based on the tune of an old Scottish drinking ballad, "Son of a Gambolier," the now famous refrain, "I'm a Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech," apparently echoed about the countryside with indomitable enthusiasm early in Tech's history.

The late Howard D. Cutter, a member of the first four-year graduating class who received his degree in 1892. Wrote in the November-December 1942 Georgia Tech Alumnus, now the alumni magazine, that, "It might be in order to state that the 'Ramblin Wreck' had its beginnings during the first year or two after Tech opened. Some of the frills were afterward added. Cutter recalled that almost the entire student body rambled over to Athens to watch Tech's baseball team defeat the University of Georgia.

By the early 1900s, "Ramblin Wreck" was an established tradition. The earliest existing published version appeared in the first Blueprint in 1908.

In 1910, Michael A. Greenblatt became Tech's first bandmaster and learned that the band was playing "Ramblin' Wreck" to the tune "Son of a Gambolier." He made the first arrangement of the song in the form of a handwritten manuscript.

Frank Roman succeeded Greenblatt as bandmaster in 1913 and wrote a new adaptation of Ramblin' Wreck, accompanied by many trumpet flourishes, that became so popular it was played by every name band in thc country. The fame of the song spread to such proportions that in 1959 it was sung by Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev at their face-to-face meeting in Moscow.