Fight on for Ol' Ki Yi

March 14, 2007

With March Madness here, dozens of pep bands are preparing to trumpet their colleges' fight songs in arenas across the country.

You can hear the lyrics and tunes on television throughout the tournament. But here's a look at some of the songs you won't hear, because the University of Southern California is the only one of the following institutions that made the Big Dance.

A college fight song can exert a hold on people long after they leave campus. Reportedly at his own request, President Ford had the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor's fight song played as his coffin was carried into the Capitol after his death . After all, Ford made it known that he liked “Hail to the Victors” better than "Hail to the Chief," and occasionally had the former played at his appearances while in office.

Pride in fight songs has fueled fights over which anthem is superior. Michigan and the University of Wisconsin at Madison each claim that the famed march composer John Philip Sousa declared its fight song as the greatest ever written.

Memorable as the music itself might be, fight song lyrics are often another story -- sometimes paradoxical, often antiquated. They run the gamut from glorifying aggressiveness to having little to do with fighting for glory.

Even the best-known fight songs are not above adding unnecessary words to make the lyrics fit a tune or poetic style. President Ford’s beloved “The Victors” contains the refrain,

Far we their praises sing
For the glory and fame they've brought us
Loud let the bells them ring

Anyone know how and why the word “them” found its way into the last line? Brown University’s traditional version of “Ever True to Brown” takes some creative liberties in this fight song verse:  

And the people always say,
That you can't outshine Brown Men,
With their Rah! Rah! Rah!
And their Ki! Yi! Yi!
And their B-R-O-W-N!

Since Brown has become coeducational since this lyric was written, the question should be raised: Can Brown women also have Ki Yi Yi, and if so, is this really something about which to brag? 

Originality is not the hallmark of many fight songs. Can you spot the common theme in the following excerpts from the University of Oklahoma’s “Boomer Sooner,” the University of Rhode Island’s “Rhode Island Born,” and the University of Richmond’s “Spider Born”?

I'm a Sooner born and Sooner bred
and when I die, I'll be Sooner dead

We're Rhode Island born
We're Rhode Island bred
And when we die, We'll be Rhode Island dead.

I'm spider born and spider bred
And when I die I'll be spider dead

I am proud of my alma mater, but have no desire to be (Northwestern) Wildcat dead.

Some college fight songs take the genre so literally that their lyrics are about nothing but fighting.  Here’s the University of Southern California’s entire song, aptly titled “Fight On”:

Fight on!
for ol' SC
Our men Fight on,
to victory.

Our Alma Mater dear,
looks up to you!
Fight on and win
For ol' SC

Fight on!
To victory
Fight on!

Get the point? Evidently uninterested in fighting, and preferring a simple cheer, Bucknell University's entire fight song, called “Ray Bucknell,” consists of one big [Hoo]ray.

'Ray Bucknell, 'Ray Bucknell,
'Ray for the Orange and the Blue!
'Ray, 'Ray, 'Ray, 'Ray,
'Ray for the Orange and the Blue!

A cheer for less aggressive accomplishments is an approach that might better serve Whittier College, whose fight song titled “Go Poets” results in a notable disconnect in its imagery.

Go Poets, go
Move that ball right down the field.
Fight Poets, fight
With a will that cannot yield.
Win Poets, win

Bring glory to your name.
Go! Go! Whittier.
Fight! Fight! Whittier.
Win that game!

Hopefully, Whittier’s foes also find the pen to be mightier than the sword.  At least Whittier’s fight song seeks glory in victory. The most defeatist fight song lyric ever has to be the following stanza from “Hip, Hip, Hip, for Old Swarthmore":

Though dark defeat may haunt our team,
With vict'ry far away;
Though Fate may work against us,
And make the day seem gray;
Though the standard of our enemies,

May conquer old Swarthmore;
'Tis then we will rise and praise thee,
As we did in days of yore.

This may be more accurately described as a “fright song.” Perhaps it is meant to make opponents feel badly about beating the, um, ki yi yi out of the Quaker college. If this song would lead you to drink, perhaps the University of Maine’s “Maine Stein Song,” is more to your taste, proudly proclaiming,

Let ev'ry loyal Maine man sing,
Drink to all the happy hours,
Drink to the careless days!
Drink to Maine, our Alma Mater          

Memories of imbibing, rather than victory on the athletic field, might be a more accurate reflection of the legacy of college in some people’s experience, anyway.

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