Quick little history lesson for everyone this week. Noted Friend Of The Pants Ryan sent us this interesting query Monday afternoon:
Found this in my grandparents record collection over the weekend. It’s from somewhere between 1912-1946. So B1G. pic.twitter.com/Owr7blnBva— Ryan Stites (@Brocktoon23) September 22, 2014
RE:last tweet, I’ve got some serious questions as to what the Iowa Corn Song is & why it is here instead of the fight song cc: @Adam_Jacobi— Ryan Stites (@Brocktoon23) September 22, 2014
Our first reaction was wondering, "yes, what is the Iowa Corn Song and how have we not heard of it?" And folks, it is a jaunty masterpiece. Enjoy:
HOTTEST MIX TAPE DROPPIN IN THE ONE NINE ONE TWO. YO-HO! YO-HO! YO-HO!
So yes—what exactly was this song doing on a (likely) pre-WW2 Big Ten mixtape or whatever they called compilation records back then? Not only is it not the current top fight song, it's not even on the University's list—and Iowa goes three-deep on fight songs (which seems unusual) plus its alma mater. There's the cleverly titled "Iowa Fight Song," "On Iowa," and "Roll Along Iowa," which is like the alternate gold jersey of fight songs. You're telling me none of those joints made the cut on this album Ryan found, but this forgotten masterpiece which is literally called the Iowa Corn Song did?
Let's back up a bit. The "Iowa Fight Song" and "Roll Along Iowa" are actually relatively recent additions to the songbook; the fight song being a 1951 joint from the Meredith Wilson and Roll Along Iowa (not to be confused with Limp Bizkit's seminal classic "Rollin'") joining the party in 1954.
So of the three current Iowa fight songs, only "On Iowa" (1919) existed early enough to be on this record. And according to Wikipedia, the cataloging system that would have produced the "35738" number visible on that record started in 1939. So this is from 1939 or 1940 then, yes?
Well, no—you'll also notice that six-digit number, 149111, which is a "matrix number" (please don't ask us to explain that) right below the catalog number. Search for that "149111" and "Columbia Records" and you get this listing, which gives us a catalog number of "1996-D," which is in a much earlier format. That listing says Columbia reached the "2000-D" mark in 1929, so this album would have been just four spots prior. So let's search "College Medley Fox Trot 1929" and oh ho ho ho.
Now we've got a record date of October 7, 1929, which means "On Iowa" was an option, but the album makers went with the Iowa Corn Song instead. Why? Well, "On Iowa" is great as fight songs go, but it has utterly no place on a foxtrot medley. The Iowa Corn Song, sure—listen to this album's version, which starts at 5:47 in the video above. Yep, that fits.
So there's the answer to your question, Ryan, but now we have one of our own:
Why the hell isn't the Iowa band playing the Iowa Corn Song anymore?
The lyrics are a dang treasure, as shown here, and please do not even tell me you don't want to sing "Yo-ho! Yo-ho! Yo-ho!" with 70,000-ish other people on a Kinnick Saturday. Yes, it's literally a "corny" song—oh, I hope you people didn't think I was getting all the way through this post and saving the joke for you in the comments, hell no—but it's not like Iowa has tried to distance itself from corn in any way; corn remains synonymous with the state to the point that we (briefly) had that farmer trophy in the Cy-Hawk Series just a few years ago.
Perhaps it's because it's a state of Iowa song and not a University of Iowa song. Okay, whatever. The band'll go out there and do routines for Steely Dan songs and nobody's head melts. We don't need a purity test for the music that comes out of the HMB's instruments. This isn't communist Russia.
Moreover, while it's not the de jure song of the state of Iowa, it was once the de facto state song. This passage is from the official Iowa website:
While Major Byers thus had the honor of writing Iowa's official song, the best known and most popular song of the state is the famous "Iowa Corn Song," which every loyal son and daughter of the Hawkeye State sings lustily on any and all occasions, reaching their hands as high toward Heaven as they possibly can when the words roar forth "That's where the tall corn grows."
LUSTILY ON ANY AND ALL OCCASIONS. Celebrate the deep eroticism of corn through the magic of song! Yo-ho! Yo-ho! Yo-ho!
Either way, the song fell out of favor with the school decades ago. The Des Moines Register's retrospective on the life of composer George Hamilton affirms the widespread popularity of the song, but also includes this sad note:
In 1957, on the other hand, "The Iowa Corn Song" was considered past its prime when the University of Iowa band chose not to perform it for Rose Bowl activities.
If it was already "past its prime" nearly 60 years ago, then its retro cred is virtually off the charts at this point. Will it take some work to teach the lyrics to Iowa fans after generations away from the consciousness? Yes, probably, but these are Iowa fans, not some brainless savages; we can learn! "If I can change and you can change, we all can change." Abraham Lincoln said that, probably. Anyway, we're getting off track. Point is, let's start playing that song again. We at BHGP demand it. Yo-ho! Yo-ho! Yo-ho!