Fellow Big Ten Blogger Spartans Weblog recently joined the SB Nation family of bloggers (the prolific Maize n Brew is Michigan’s representative in the group).  As part of the change, the webmaster retired the original brand and moved the domain over to the new digs at theonlycolors.com

Non-Spartan fans may not know that new site name is a salute to a line in the first verse of the M.S.U. Fight Song: “…fight for the only colors, green and white.” 

The Spartan counter to Michigan’s ‘The Victors’ and ‘The Notre Dame Victory March’ had its origins around 1914 or 1915 when the school was still Michigan Agricultural College (M.A.C.).  Here’s more from the poorly written history of the song found on msu.edu [fitesong.htm?]:

After the turn of the century, with the development of intra-school rivalries in football, schools found that they needed something beyond the available musical repertory for their partisans to sing and rally around. Out of this came a surge of original & distinctive school Fight Songs, most notably the Univeristy [sic] of Michigan’s and Notre Dame’s.

Here at Michigan State College the Fighting Aggies (later to be rechristened The Spartans) settled upon a song written by Bay City engineering student Francis Irving Lankey, class of 1916. Mr. Lankey had the designation of Yellmaster, equivalent to today’s head cheerleader.

The words today are pretty much as they were when he wrote them in 1914 or 1915 with the exception of the changes growing out of the school’s change in status from a College to a University (from M.A.C. to M.S.U.).

The song’s melody is said to be a taken from the Christian hymn “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” and Lankey was assisted by Arthur Sayles to come up with the original lyrics.  Contrary to the msu.edu contention that the words remain “pretty much as they were”, today’s lyrics actually include a few major changes. 

Yes, the song accounted for the change in the name of the school but there’s a bit more.  The Aggies understandably took pride in their core competency of farming and that’s reflected in the Lankey version.  But most interesting to me, the original lyrics were directed squarely at their friends just down the road:

On the banks of the Red Cedar,
There’s a school that’s known to all;
Its specialty is farming,
And those farmers play football;
Aggie teams are never beaten,
All through the game they’ll fight;
Fight for the only colors:
Green and White.

Smash right through that line of blue,
Watch the points keep growing.
Aggie teams are bound to win,
They’re fighting with a vim!
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Michigan is weakening,
We’re going to win this game.
Fight! Fight! Rah! Team, Fight!
Victory for M.A.C.!

Per my Spartan mole, the team sings the Michigan-focused version in the second verse when they play the Wolverines and maybe even at other times, he’s checking into that.  The Wikipedia page for the song has the former and current versions of the lyrics side-by-side if you need it.

Lankey tragically died in a plane crash in World War I and is memorialized on a plaque on campus (I believe just outside Spartan stadium?) remembering the members of the M.A.C. Varsity Club that perished in the war:

image

Sadly the gent who created the plaque might be from the same family tree as the person that wrote that msu.edu page.  The memorial misrepresents Lankey’s initials as “I.F.” instead of “F.I.” for Francis Irving, but it’s the thought.

Related:
* Was ‘The Victors’ ripped off?  Sidenote: If State can steal a song about Jesus, why can’t we borrow the tune from Elbel’s buddy?  That song doesn’t even mention J.C.!
* Know Your Foe – Michigan State:  More on the history of MSU including the fight song from Spawn of MZone’s excellent feature.

6 Comments

  1. Prolific? Wow. I would’ve settled for “existing.” Thanks Greg.

  2. “fitesong” – classic.

  3. I had always understood that the direct reference to Michigan in the original lyrics is because it was written the week of the MAC-UM football game where it debuted.

  4. I think it would be a fairly decent guess “fitesong” is spelled that way so as to fit the 8-character maximum from a decade ago. It’s quite a historic looking version of a web page.

  5. Interesting. My father (a 1960 MSU grad) always sings “smash right through for MSU” and I never had the heart to tell him he was doing it wrong. But it sounds like he’s historically accurate. I wonder what percentage of Sparty fans actually sing the current version of the song (and how many actually sing the word “vim”).

  6. Fun fact: if you listen to the hymn that the MSU fight song is supposedly based off of, it sounds nothing at all like the MSU fight song.

    And yes, we say vim.