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Off Beat Empire: West Fight Songs

How I Learned to Stop Worrying (About OT) and Love Go U Northwestern

It’s all about getting to sing the fight song...
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Fight Songs of the West

As a continuation of last week’s review of the B1G East fight songs, this week we’ll take an in-depth look at what the West has to offer. As a reminder, the criteria that I have been using includes the following:

  • Range: How high and low in pitch do the notes go? Does the song cover a wide scale with room for high, middle, and low voices, or does it fall into a limited set of notes?
  • Counter-melody / flourishes: Aside from the main theme, is there something else going on musically that adds depth and / or a counter-balance?
  • Rhythm: Is everything on a downbeat, or does the song do something to add some unique rhythm or tempo to the piece?
  • Crowd Participation: How does the home football crowd respond to the song? Do they sing-along? Do they have a chant? Do they just clap?
  • History / Backstory: Anything special about how the song came into being or do the lyrics highlight something of historical deeper meaning to the school / state?
  • Is it your team Go U Northwestern?

Also, to clarify... I will look at only what a school calls the Fight Song. I realize that many schools have a second, or even third song that could fit a similar role, but I defer to what the school officially labels as the Fight Song (unfortunately, it turns out that a whole lot of West teams can’t pick just one - I did my best picking the “right” one).

Oskee Wow-Wow

Written in 1911 by two students, “Oskee Wow-Wow” apparently came about because Illinois Loyalty wasn’t seen as a rousing enough tune to get the crowd going. This tune basically has two parts, an extended, melodic intro followed by an energetic burst for the main verse. Most of the intro is fairly simple in range and sticks to the main beats leading into a ritardando (slowing in tempo) and then a dramatic pause prior to the main verse, which in turn features upbeat tempo, greater range, and more slightly more activity on the half beat. All throughout there is a nice, sustained counter-melody within the middle voices. I only really hear crowd participation through clapping for performances, but somebody please let me know if there is singing or some chanting that I am missing.

So, what exactly does Oskee Wow-Wow mean? In order to answer that question, I need to bring in an expert on Illinois culture and history...

On Iowa

OK, Iowa... I realize that you may in fact have designated three official fight songs, which includes “On Iowa”, the “Iowa Fight Song”, and “Roll Along Iowa”. I was tempted to feature “Iowa Fight Song” on behalf of truth in titling and out of spite, as that is a pretty lame tune, but from my limited experience, it seems like “On Iowa” is the far more prominently featured song within the trio - let me know if I’m wrong. At a minimum, it is the oldest, written in 1917 (the others were adopted in the 1950’s) by W.R. Law and entered into a Chicago Alumni Competition (Mr. Law must have originally been from Naperville). Although it lost the competition, the tune remained popular and has been played since Homecoming in 1919. It’s also the best, so in honor of your victory over OSU, I figured that you deserve to have your best highlighted.

Following a very brief intro, On Iowa follows a verse / bridge / verse format. With the exception of the verse, range is extremely limited... I’m not even sure if it event hits a full octave before the bridge. However, whatever is lacking in range is made up for in rhythm, which gradually builds from on the beat early in the verse to extensive half-beat movement toward the end of the verse that gives the verse a lot of motion. There is a counter-melody throughout, but it’s very constrained... mostly just whole notes with a brief flourish after each phrase of the melody. I don’t hear anything but clapping by the crowd.

The Minnesota Rouser

The product of a 1909 contest involving the Minnesota Daily and Minnesota Tribune (which also led to On Wisconsin, but more on that in a moment), the Minnesota Rouser was written by Floyd Hutsell, a choir director at the First Methodist Episcopal Church (it’s amazing that a non-Lutheran could win). After a short intro, you pretty much have one common refrain throughout only interrupted by a cheer section. The song is very upbeat, but range isn’t particularly wide, and all of the rhythm beyond on-beat notes pretty much waits until the final section of the refrain when you get movement through half-beat activity. It is arguable as to whether or not there is really a counter-melody to this version - I would almost label what the middle and lower voices are doing as harmonics instead of a separate musical line (I have heard a separate version of the Rouser where the refrain is played three times and the final one does feature much better middle voice activity and winds). There is no doubt about crowd participation on this one... “Minnesota”.... “Minnesota”..... ”yyyaaaayyyyy Gophers!”. For the record, there is something about the “yay Gophers” bit that just makes me think that Minnesota fans are adorable. I couldn’t even imagine getting into a stadium fight with another man who says “yay Gophers” (particularly when done in a Minnesota accent).

As a side note, this is the one opponent fight song that became an Alto Saxophone tradition at Northwestern. In either 1993 or 1994, we started playing the Rouser as an 18-part round, and continued doing so each time thereafter when Minnesota came to town. It works surprisingly well... trust me.

Dear Old Nebraska U (aka There is No Place Like Nebrasaka*)

* Thank God.

OK, if Iowa is somewhat confused about its official fight song, then the Huskers have no friggin’ clue because they seem to have four official entrants in “Dear Old Nebraska U”, “Hail Varsity”, “March of the Cornhusker”, and “The Cornhusker (Come a Runnin’ Boys)”. To me, “Dear Old Nebraska U” (Lincoln) seems to be the front runner. The others are also basically ass (seriously, Hail Varsity is terrible and just seems to wander around aimlessly, March of the Cornhusker is too short, and I don’t even want to get into Come a Runnin’ Boys, which is just schmaltzy 1940’s crooner music). DONU (mmm.... DONUTS) also seems to be the most familiar, so I assume that it is the version most often played.

The lyrics are attributed to a Nebraska graduate in 1924, but the tune really has its roots in Miami Hydroxide’s Fight Song written in 1906, which has also served as the basis for the University of Chicago’s “Wave the Flag” fight song. For the record, having your fight song be a knock-off of both a MAC team and related to the University of Chicago earns -10 points in the History / Background category. That said, if you’re going to knock off a tune this might not have been the worst one to pick. You’ve got a basic verse / bridge / verse structure. Range is somewhat limited in the first verse, but picks up in the bridge and the second verse. There’s plenty of syncopation going on in the main theme, which adds a fair amount of off beat color to the rhythm. The counter-melody starts out as more of a brief response at the end of each phrase, but then does some really nice things by the time we get to the second verse of this arrangement, particularly around the key change. There is plenty of “Go Huskers” mixed into the bridge, but apparently very few people actually know the lyrics.

Go U Northwestern

Now you’re in for a treat! Technically, yes Northwestern has two fight songs with the other being “Rise Northwestern!” (often referred to as “Push On”), which is played frequently and is a great song in its own right, but doesn’t quite enjoy the same status as Go U Northwestern (it’s also usually played after opponents score, so it kind of gets a negative connotation associated with it). Go U was written in 1912 by Theodore Van Etten (the only way that could sound more like a Northwestern name is if it included a Suffix like “III” or “IV”) and made its debut for the Illinois season-finale that year.

Following a simple verse / bridge / verse setup, what I love most about Go U Northwestern is just how much depth there is to the arrangement. You have a horn counter-melody... you have a bass / baritone counter-response to the main melody... you have constant woodwind movement that almost becomes a counter-melody in its own right... all while maintaining a driving, soaring main theme. The tune breaks an octave within the first phrase and continues to use a wide swath of the musical range. The call / response in the bridge builds a nice contrast between the high brass voices and the low brass voices. Rhythm does start out on the beats, but leaves hints of syncopation toward the end of each phrase, building to an almost entirely off or half beat finish to the verse. Crowd participation is very high, with most of the crowd knowing the words and singing along for the the entire tune, including a chant section as part of the bridge (side note: people really need to make sure that they “spread ‘far’ our fame”, as opposed to “spread ‘for’ our fame”, and it’s “hit ‘em ‘hard’, hit ‘em low” as opposed to “hit ‘em ‘high’, hit’ em low”).

Yes, I realize that I’m biased, but damn does this fight song (and the particular arrangement of the fight song played by the band) have a lot going for it. Honestly, I only think that there is one other fight song in the conference that compares - others may be more unique (Victory for MSU), and some are more recognizable (Michigan / PSU), but there is only one other tune that comes close to bringing the whole package together in such a rousing fashion. Disagree? I’ll fite u...

Hail Purdue

“Hail Purdue” is another example of a 100+ year-old fight song that was a collaboration between two students (one composed the lyrics, which were set to the other’s music). The song is pretty much structured as a brief hook, repetition of the main verse (three times in this arrangement), and then a final brief coda. I’ve always liked the hook to Hail Purdue, but then feel a little let down once you get to the first verse where it takes three phrases to get the range back up to an octave. Much as is the case with several other fight songs, rhythm tends to start off on the beats and then become slightly more exotic the deeper you get into the verse. In this particular arrangement, there really isn’t much counter-melody in the first verse, but you get more of a counter-melody in the middle voices to emerge once you get to the third verse. The final coda is interesting and somewhat unique among the fight songs - it’s a nice musical counter for the opening intro. The middle a cappella verse seems to be the primary avenue of crowd participation (in addition to clapping) and there’s a nice “Boiler Up” chant buried in the middle (not part of this recording). Overall, the song has a nice, driving feel to it that emphasizes the main theme and is book-ended by some pretty good fanfare hits in the hook and coda.

On Wisconsin

All right, if you put a gun to my head and asked me what the second-best fight song in the B1G Ten conference is, this is my pick (although I’m not sure how happy I am with this recording from the net... unfortunately other versions seemed to be in concert settings where they were trying to be too lyrical in their performance). Written in 1909 originally as “Minnesota, Minnesota”, this was supposed to be a competing entry in the contest that ultimately produced the Minnesota Rouser, but using typical badger treachery, apparently a friend of the composer found a way for the song to be withdrawn and ultimately used as Wisconsin’s state song instead. What do I like about it? I think it’s the way that it starts low and builds up... the main theme kind of soars, even if it doesn’t quite get up to a full octave of range. Usually when I hear it played, it’s also very short and punchy, and just seems to have a very happy, up-lifting sound going for it (this recording unfortunately doesn’t quite capture that punchy sound, as the director is trying to round the melody in a concert setting). Applying my more formal criteria, I would say that there is constant movement on the counter-melody, particularly in the trombone / baritone line and then some good call and answer during the bridge. Range is better than a lot of other tunes out there and theme does go up by almost an octave within the first three measures, but it doesn’t quite get all the way up there until later in the tune and there are some phrases that don’t shift more than a few notes. Rhythm is strong, featuring significant off beat activity throughout. Crowd participation seems to be high... at least I believe that a good portion of the crowd is singing along throughout (I’m not picking up on it as much from recordings as I seemed to recall in person at Camp Randall, but my memory may be somewhat fuzzy due to beverages consumed, cold temperature experienced, and 70-23 beatdown being applied). Overall, this song just has a lot going for it and it’s really one of the classics of the conference - and yes, I am looking forward to the hate comments from our Gopher and Hawkeye friends... and MNW.

So here is how I see things scoring out in the West...

But enough of my thoughts. What do you think?


Best Fight Song in the B1G West

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Tim Beckman won me over - Oskee Wow-Wow
    (10 votes)
  • 11%
    On Iowa
    (34 votes)
  • 9%
    Yay Gopher, dontcha know? The Minnesota Rouser
    (29 votes)
  • 4%
    I’m not original and like copying MAC songs - DONU
    (12 votes)
  • 17%
    I have great musical taste - Go U Northwestern
    (53 votes)
  • 15%
    BTFU! Hail Purdue
    (45 votes)
  • 28%
    Minnesota, Minnesota... er... I mean... On Wisconsin
    (85 votes)
  • 1%
    Alternative song "x" is our REAL fight song and it’s magnificent (explain in comments)
    (5 votes)
  • 8%
    All of these are terrible
    (25 votes)
298 votes total Vote Now


The Worst?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Hehe... Beckman - Oskee Wow-Wow
    (43 votes)
  • 13%
    On Iowa (seriously, it’s so blah, I can’t even really hate on it)
    (28 votes)
  • 11%
    Should have finished second place - The Minnesota Rouser
    (23 votes)
  • 14%
    Chicago used it! We are now mortal enemies! DONU
    (30 votes)
  • 7%
    Fail Purdue
    (16 votes)
  • 22%
    We don’t need no stinking Badgers - On Wisconsin
    (47 votes)
  • 10%
    All of the above
    (22 votes)
209 votes total Vote Now

No... nothing is missing... why would you ask?



I’ve missed a few shows being posted and have a bit of catching up to do on the All-American Band. Thanks to whoever pointed me in the right direction in last week’s comments, and whoever purduebandfan is... you have a lot of energy and I am somewhat awed by how much is up on your facebook page.

Going all the way back to Oct. 7th in the game against Minnesota, Purdue held their Band Day. However, before being joined by the high school students, Purdue opened with what I think is “The Journey” (I really can’t make out the announcer and am not familiar with the tune), which featured some pretty strong trumpet fanfare music throughout. When playing something of this nature, it’s really important to keep things crisp, clean, and in unison or the sound can get away from you quickly, and Purdue’s trumpets did a fantastic job making it all sound right. The drill that went with it was relatively straight-forward, featuring shifting lines, crossing blocks, and other variations on quadrilaterals, but like the trumpet music, it looked really crisp and sharp and was well-executed. The band then went into a park n’ bark (or featuring the dancers, whichever you prefer) version of “24K Magic”, then was joined by various high school bands for a round of George M. Cohen music (“Give my Regards to Broadway”, “Over There”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, etc.), something modern that I know I should know, but I just really don’t have any clue (I’m old - I know its in a car commercial right now and that is about it), and then more good old-fashioned patriotic tunes.

For the game against Nebraska last week, Purdue featured one of my all-time favorite themes in the form of a Latin show, along with two of the best marching band songs to feature in such a show, “El Toro Caliente” and “Malaguena” - and did it all very well. The band opened with El Toro, using effective, crisp drill to accompany some truly outstanding musicianship. I absolutely loved some of the middle horn hits in here, like the section right before the drum break and a little after the trumpet solo. Trumpets were steady throughout, and although they weren’t featured quite as much in a leading role, the trombones and baritones were solid and clean. The band shifted into a performance of “It Had Better Be Tonight” which “featured” the dance squads during periods of park n’ bark with some minor drill setup to the next tune. Next came a thoroughly entertaining version of “Hernando’s Hideway” that featured two tangoing stick figures.

Now... this would have been more than enough to call it a day as a marching band, but the AAMB was saving the best for last with an outstanding rendition of Malaguena to close out the show. For those of you who saw my write-up on MSU’s version earlier this year, you know that I’m a complete sucker for this piece - there is so much opportunity for a talented squad, such as Purdue, to feature fierce, big brass hits that this is just one continual stretch of moments where the band is topping itself over, and over, and over again. Percussion was spot on and the little drum break combined with the drill sequence was fantastic. Finishing with the fireworks was also a nice touch. Maybe there were a few moments toward the beginning of the song when the band lost a bit of cohesiveness and there were some pauses in drill that I wish had been a bit busier, but Purdue did things just about as good as it gets (albeit, I think MSU might still have done a slightly better job earlier this year, but it’s a tough call). Great job, Boilers.

As a side note, WTF Nebraska?! You play in Evanston, and every seat within 10 miles is taken up by Go Big Red Human Locusts. You play in West Lafayette, and you can’t even sell out their stadium? What is it... do you just like the big city? Are you down on your team this year? Do you actually consider Northwestern bigger rivals worthy of traveling to? To what honor do I owe the next miserable home game listening to my neighbor talk about Runzas and Tom Osborn?

Finally, we have this week’s show versus Illinois, which was titled Sounds of America. The show started out with Irving Berlin music beginning with “No Business Like Show Business”, transitioning into “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, and then “God Bless America”. The first tune was the principal drill sequence for the evening, featuring a rotating marquee and a couple of comedy / tragedy acting masks. “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was mostly park n’ bark (with the exception of shifting masks to stars), and featured the Purdue dance squad. Let me just take a quick moment to appreciate the young ladies who are clearly talented and work fairly hard on their own halftime routines. I’m a bit of a believer in Marching Bands attempting to continue drill throughout halftime and I can sometimes be dismissive of what baton twirlers or dancers add to the show, but that’s not fair to the people involved. They definitely add color and pageantry to the halftime... I just wish that the band wouldn’t park the whole time while it is happening. “God Bless America” featured the beautiful voice of Dr. Twana A. Harris, who has been a Director of the Black Voices of Inspiration Purdue choir.

We then shift to a tribute to the various branches of military service and finish with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Honestly, I’m a bit disappointed by only spelling out the service names... I loved what Minnesota did earlier this year in forming up a chopper, a Tank, an aircraft carrier, and a jet to accompany the respective service and this is a bit of a fall-off from that level of drill. That said, we do get a fantastic moving dis-embodied head of a bald eagle to finish off the show with “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. The sound throughout is top-notch... very clean, fierce where the music calls for it, and melodic where it should be.

Maryland (!!!!!) and Rutgers

We finally have a 2017 Maryland sighting online! However, the only reason why we have it is because a Rutgers fan taped their show when they came to visit Piscataway this past weekend. I don’t care... I’ll take it.

First up is Maryland’s performance, which featured several songs from Pink Floyd. Let me just say that I have never before seen a show that featured the music of Pink Floyd, and now that I have seen it, I cannot believe that I haven’t seen one sooner. There are so many songs that would pair well in a Marching Band setting, and Maryland gives us three good ones in the form of “Another Brick in the Wall”, “Money”, and “Comfortably Numb” (are you paying attention Northwestern.... you could be Comfortably NUMB!). Drill is fairly simple for this show, but it is continuous and features a number of shapes that are easily recognizable and fit well with the music being played. The sound holds well together throughout and the melodies in particular are appropriately smooth with some decent big brass hits (I particularly like the arrangement of “Comfortably Numb” and some of the hits toward the end of the song).

Rutgers for the most part did a repeat of an earlier rock-themed show (it’s actually the third time for portions of this show), but tried to mix in elements of a live, amped up student group to accompany the show. Honestly, it didn’t work... the Scarlet Knights Band was just fine when they previously did this set on their own, and their music would have more than carried the day in this performance as well. I’ve already said in the past that I was somewhat impressed by Rutgers’ musicianship and drill in performing this show, and none of my opinion has changed - pound for pound this is a solid group and I have enjoyed listening to them throughout the season. Let me also say that I don’t know what they did to their uniforms, but that is impressive commitment to the “blackout” to ditch the normal garb - I’m not sure if any other band has done that yet for one of these shows.

Everyone Else

Nebraska was in action at home and I know that NUMB was visiting for the game as well, but we don’t have any video from either squad. Michigan and Michigan State are also both missing shows for the past week, but I suspect that weather might have played a role - I would frankly be surprised if either performed for halftime given the torrential downpours in Michigan. Indiana just hasn’t posted their video yet, either, and Iowa has unfortunately kind of disappeared from the radar since a couple of shows were posted earlier this year. As always, I’ll try to catch up if and when some video starts to appear online.


You now all know why “Go U Northwestern” is the best fight song in the West. We got caught up on Purdue, including a Trumpet fanfare for Band Day, Tangoing our way into the bullfighting ring, and catching a patriotic Broadway show. Maryland finally broke through their online posting Wall. Rutgers rocked out with their black out. Everybody else is either shy, or were probably doing their best to stay dry.

Finally, I will leave you with some of Dr. Harris’s work with the Purdue Black Voices of Inspiration Choir...