We’ve all had to make sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some were relatively small, and others much larger. I’ll place this one in the former category, but the impact it had on myself was far less than it was on the hundreds, potentially thousands, that rely on it to make a living. As a consequence of the pandemic and the restrictions that arose from it, the Canadian Football League (CFL) had to cancel their 2020 season. I had just become a season ticket holder of the league’s oldest franchise, the Toronto Argonauts, months prior to COVID-19 impacting daily North American life in March of 2020.
Thankfully, by the time 2021 rolled around, the CFL was able to go forth with a condensed 14-game season, and was it ever a blessing to football fans across the country! Players, coaches, management, support staff, TV crews, and several others could finally come together to bring this uniquely Canadian sport back, and put forth an enjoyable season overall given the circumstances. After what turned out to be a nail-biting, Twitter argument-causing work stoppage during the 2022 training camps, CFL fans are at last being treated to a full season of 18 games for the first time since 2019. Earlier in the off-season, I had to find a way to celebrate the arrival of a complete football schedule, and I did so in one of the few ways I know how to…
…by expanding my music collection!
CFL Songs is not at all typical of other records that I own. It marks the first full-length, sports-themed record in my collection (I’ll remind you here of the “OK Blue Jays” single I previously acquired). It also has the distinction of being the lone marching band album of any format in my possession. I have yet to meet a fellow millennial who is an enthusiast about marching band recordings, but I would have purchased this record no matter what music was on it. I mean, just look at that cover! Surrounding this young lady are the logos of all the teams that made up the CFL at the time of the record’s release (1969), and it’s rare to see all these 50-plus year logos all in one place these days. The variation on the Saskatchewan logo (marked “Regina” underneath) in particular I’ve never seen before. I usually see the logo as either just the “S” emblem or the full helmet rather than being encased in an oval, which seems to resemble a football-shaped swatch of the playing field given the colour. The Tiger-Cats logo has held that basic format for decades, and the double-E logo for Edmonton is a longtime-standby as well (though yellow is typically the secondary colour). To the merchandising departments of each respective city, get on bringing the more obscure of these back on t-shirts, hats, jerseys, decorative socks, temporary tattoos, or whatever it is that kids buy these days.
Collectors out there take note that a second version of this record exists featuring the radio stations that subscribe to the Canadian Talent Library on the front cover, and a track-by-track breakdown of the songwriters on the back. While it can typically be purchased for less money, I had to buy the more display-friendly RCA Victor version.
Of course, the reason for me writing this piece is for the music etched in the grooves. The cheers were written by a variety of contributors, but were arranged by big band leader Dal Richards for this recording. The back cover of this record (shown below) succinctly summarizes Richards’ career leading to the point of CFL Songs’ release, which was based in British Colombia through his work with the Lions organization and ballroom performances at the Hotel Vancouver (from where he also hosted a radio program). His work would lead to his appointment to the Order of Canada, and he was one of the founding inductees into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame. Another claim to fame of Dal’s is that he is credited as discovering singer Michael Bublé though a talent search for the Pacific National Exhibition in 1993. He passed away at age 97 on New Year’s Eve of 2015, the timing of which is significant given he would host a New Year’s Eve show every year from when he was 18 years old in 1935 through to 2014. He co-authored a book with Jim Taylor in 2009 titled One More Time in which he shares numerous anecdotes from his career.
Why am I deciding to analyze these songs in a power ranking format? How does that name make sense given that the songs (in the context of this record) will remain the same for all of time? From a certain perspective, they don’t. Some days, a song doesn’t resonate with you like it once did. You could interpret a lyric differently, a melody might sink its hooks into deeper than it did on previous listens, or you may develop a stronger or weaker personal association with a song as time passes. No ranking of any sort of music list (to me, anyway) should be finite. Heck, there are certain bands that I’ve been listening to for decades that I couldn’t even give you a consistent albums ranking from one day to the next. Like an actual power ranking in sports, this is my subjective opinion based on my observations in the present day. However, I likely will NOT be changing the ranking in the future because I’ll certainly keep thinking of other topics to write about. Frankly, I needed a title, and this one was as good as any.
I’m bucking tradition slightly with this post as I’ll likely be speaking as much about football as I am about music. How can I not? These are team cheers, so the two are virtually inseparable here. Also keep in mind that I’m certainly no marching music connoisseur. My experience with the genre is pretty much exclusively tied to the Santa Claus Parade, and as it often falls against a CFL playoff game, I settle for watching it on repeat most years.
There are three songs (“Football Is Fun”, “The Day of the Grey Cup” and “The Grey Cup March”) that I’m going to disqualify from my ranking since they aren’t team-specific. You don’t see traditional sports rankings place the championship trophy anywhere on a list. It’s what they play the game for, so you’d have to put the trophy as the imaginary point on the very top of the list. Imagine the Grey Cup (in this case, the related songs) as choice #0, or if you are into tier lists, it would stand alone at S-tier.
I will provide direct links to certain songs in the list should they exist on YouTube, but all others can be found on the Argonotes website. So let’s get on with it, and feel free to sing-along!
9. Saskatchewan Roughriders
On Roughriders, on Roughriders
Punch right through that line
March the ball on down the field
A touchdown every time
Roll Roughriders, oh Roughriders
Fight on for your fame
Fight fellows fight and we will win this game
This may be the shortest of all march songs here, but to be fair, many of the remaining anthems simply repeat all their lyrics a second time to pad the length a bit. Let’s start this one by looking a little into the origins of “On Roughriders.”
At first glance, the sleeve’s credit for lyrics seemingly gives the writer an injustice as “a CKCK staffer whose name cannot be recalled”. With a deeper inspection, one might think they had their name pulled from credit deliberately. The record lists both the composition that this song was based on (“On Wisconsin”) and its writers Carl Beck and William T. Purdy (Purdy wrote it as “Minnesota, Minnesota”, and Beck convinced him to change it to his alma matter and updated the lyric to fit football). Very little change was made to the lyrics here apart from the different team being referenced, but if you’re going to plagiarize from someone, you may as well pick from the best. It’s really by this reason that I’ve got to rank this at the bottom.
The song itself I can’t fault too deeply or anything. It swings musically better than many here, and for that reason I could understand why someone may wish to place this higher. Lyrically, there’s not much that grabs me as particularly clever, though there are a few lines of interest. Does “march the ball on down the field” imply forward, or could it be in reverse? It’s not out of the question that a football player moves the ball in the wrong direction. And does a touchdown every time go for the offensive side of the ball, or does that go for the defense as well? I know I’m nitpicking to an illogical point, but I’m really just stunned at the similarity between this song and the original. To its credit, at least it stops short of taking every verse from the source.
This shouldn’t necessarily upset those passionate fans in Saskatchewan, arguably the most loyal fan base in the league in recent years, particularly following the fundraising campaigns to save the team in the ‘80s and ‘90s in what has been established as a publicly-owned franchise business model. Other cheers were used by the club, and seem to have received a great deal more traction. “Green Is The Colour”, as pointed out by a CTV Regina article, has ties to the song “Blue Is The Colour” of the Chelsea football club. There’s also “Rider Pride” and “Paint The Whole World Green”. Take your pick of which you prefer, and their support is certainly strong enough for another creative type to come up with another contender.
8. Edmonton Eskimos (currently the Edmonton Elks)
We’re cheering fight, fight, fight on Eskimos
We’re marching right, right, right on Eskimos
We’re charging down the field for all to see
And cheering rah, rah, rah, fight on to victory
We’re fighting on till every game is won
The green and gold is bold and when we’re done
We’ll tell the world we’re proud of Edmonton
And the Edmonton Eskimos!
Musically, this fight song is rooted in “Washington and Lee Swing”. The original’s lyrics were by fantasy/mystery/horror author Clarence A. Robbins (a.k.a. Tod Robbins), who attended the titular university in Lexington, Virginia. The musical accompaniment was conceived by Mark W. Sheafe and Thornton W. Allen, whom I would assume were classmates of Robbins. As the title indicates, it does swing, very much a dixieland jazz vibe. It was a well-travelled song, so check out the legendary Louis Armstrong’s take on the W and L original or even a vocal version from Johnny Lang and his orchestra sung by The Beachcomers to hear other interpretations. When ported to Edmonton, Peggy Miller contributed the lyrics. She was no stranger to the music business. She also penned a song titled “The Fate Of The Flying Enterprise”, which was recorded by country music artists Donn Reynolds (who was often called “King of the Yodellers”) and Stu Davis.
Not much changed in general to the music, with Dal making nice flourishes to put his stamp on it. Lyrically, this one feels a tad too redundant. Repetition can work to good effect, but next to how it’s used in other marches on the record, it pales slightly in comparison. Team name change aside, I couldn’t see this being dusted off for game use. Still, if I were to pull a highlight of these lyrics, I feel “The Green and Gold Is Bold” makes for an excellent slogan. It rings especially true if those colours are worn in Calgary.
The fight song would do the team well in the decade that followed the recording, with the then-Eskimos going on to earn the city’s first Grey Cup in nineteen years in 1975, and proceeding to win five-straight titles from 1978 to 1982. They would hand the torch off to the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League to truly earn the “City of Champions” title for that period. The Elks haven’t looked too good in the past few seasons, but quick turnarounds are known to occur in a nine-team league.
7. Ottawa Rough Riders (currently the Ottawa Redblacks)
“The Rough Riders March”
On down the field, Rough Riders
We’re behind you to a man
Single field goals, forward passes
Get the touches when you can
This is your year, Rough Riders
We’re the gang to cheer you on
Rough east, tough east
Grey Cup final you can make it
On, Rough Riders, On
Pull that line, gang
Rough and tumble
Hit’em hard and make them fumble
Make them fumble!
This song apparently originated as another Saskatchewan song called “The Saskatchewan Roughrider March” when it was written by Dan Crone. The Ottawa team got its name in 1898, whereas their counterparts in the Prairies didn’t take the too-similar-for-comfort name until 1924. Was this some form of revenge taken by Crone on behalf of the city he relocated to? If it’s his song, can’t he use it how he likes? There’s no reference to Ottawa or Saskatchewan in either team’s track on CFL Songs, so either team can technically claim either on.
Could the current Redblacks franchise adapt this song to use today? It could work, and it wouldn’t be too bad a choice. “Get the touches when you can” has that stereotypical Canadian politeness ring to it. Getting the touches all of the time is too unrealistic anyway, right? This cheer does stand out for its notable rhythmic variations, which divides the lyrics up a bit unevenly. The “Pull that line” section seems like it’s tagged onto an existing song, but it’s a nice football lyric regardless. It shows that the object of contact is to create scoring chances rather than an attempt to injure the opponent.
The Ottawa Rough Riders happened to be the Grey Cup champs the year the record was released (1969). Yes, they happened to beat the Roughriders from the west to do that. The Rough Riders vs Roughriders joke is a tired one from those that like to take shots at Canadian football, but the match-up in the 57th Grey Cup would go down as a classic and Ottawa quarterback Russ Jackson’s last game. The quarterback on the western Riders (Ron Lancaster), happened to be Jackson’s former teammate before transitioning to his biggest rival, so what a manner to go off into the sunset.
6. Montreal Alouettes
“The Alouette March”
On the go, on the go
We’ll be in the great big show
With the Alouette march
We will try, we will try
Yes, with all our courage, try
With the Alouette march
We will move right along
We won’t let our public down
As we fight to win the game
We’ll be on our way to victory
As one and all, we fight to see
The Cup run back to our home town
We won’t let the defense interfere
We’ll break down teams from far and near
And practicing the Alouette march
What’s the crossover appeal with the Habs fans in the city? Do they bust out the “Ole!” chant at Alouettes games too? No matter, this is one they can chant whether the team is trailing or leading.
Credit here goes to pair of Evans and Borelli, apparently professional tunesmiths according to the back of the sleeve. Or is it once person with a hyphenated name? It’s a bit of a hard search being provided surnames only, with the Evans barrelling machine being what my search engine tends to believe I’m searching for. If they had anything to do with that, they’d truly be men of all seasons.
The Alouette folk song theme plays at the track’s intro, which is a nice touch. It feels a bit like a Broadway number, but I’m no expert on that end either. That may very well be the writing duo’s professionalism showing through. It builds very nicely as it proceeds into the second half of the lyrics, but I could also see the faster portions of the song becoming a bit of a washout when being sung by a large crowd with the change of rhythm and pace throwing some for a loop. There are also certain portions of the words I’d change if I could. For instance, I would change the “We won’t let the defense interfere” to “We won’t let their defense interfere”. I only state this out of superstitious precaution as any fan would hate to see their own defense snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Still, really not too bad a song.
There have been several highs and lows with the Montreal CFL franchise following the release of CFL Songs. A constant threat to win for much of the 1970s (where they won three Grey Cups), but the team folded prior to the 1987 season (contrary to the “we won’t let our public down” line) after briefly being rebranded as the Concordes. Fortunately, they came back a decade later after importing the Baltimore Stallions franchise and re-anointed as the Alouettes. They were often the best that the East Division had to offer in their first fifteen or so years back in Canada, and will surely rise again.
5. Calgary Stampeders
Hit’em again, ye men of Calgary
Get on the ball, and let’s go marching down the field
While there’s a goal in sight
Play on with all your might
Till the victory’s won get on and fight, fight, fight
We’re all behind you, men of Calgary
So when your backs are to the wall we’ll never yield
Come on you red and white
We need a win tonight
Hit’em again, ye men of Calgary!
Right in the middle of the pack is a good place for this songwriters’ tribute to the Calgary Stampeders. The only writer listed on this song was Roy Price, and I’ll once again have to thank the Argonotes website for providing details from the Calgary native’s obituary (seen as it appeared in the Calgary Herald). A long-standing member of the Arcadians Orchestra in the Crowsnest Pass as well as the John Petro Trio, I unfortunately can’t track down any recordings featuring the man or whether he wrote the lyrics, music, or both.
Not exactly a cheer one might concoct these days with an old(e) English flair (while quaint, it can just as easily be subbed out for “you” or “our”), but the messaging here is so important for any fan base to adhere to. Primarily of all lines here are the ones that demonstrate loyalty, such as “so when your backs are to the wall we’ll never yield”. Nowhere does it mention that the players will yield, because I’m sure that there were some seasons where that would have been the case (for instance, they were the only CFL team in the 1980s to not win a single playoff game). The whole song intertwines the importance of fan participation and that while supporters can demand a strong effort from players, they’ve got the player’s backs and can feed the team confidence even at the worst of times.
Price may go down as a visionary when considering the Stampeders’ box office results. They appear to have earned one of the most-consistent turnouts at their home games over the past fifty years. With quarterbacks such as Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, Henry Burris, and Bo-Levi Mitchell helping lead the charge over the years, I’m not all that shocked.
4. B.C. Lions
Come on and roar, you Lions, roar
That’s what a Lion’s roar is for
From the mountains to the sea
You are the pride of all B.C.
Buckle down and play the game
You’ll lead us all to football fame
We love the L, the I, the O, N, S
Come on and roar you lions
Roar you lions
Roar you Lions roar!
RAH! RAH! RAH!
This one goes for the less-is-more approach, and does so admirably. You shouldn’t be striving to litter a cheer with tounge-twisters or hard-to-pronounce words, rather aim for something that is memorable. Considering its continued use and feature on the Lions’ official website, they did just that.
Though he can be perhaps accused of providing a more spirited cheer for his hometown team compared against some of the others, “Roar Lions Roar” gets the team portion of the record off to a strong start regardless of Dal’s personal ties. This isn’t a broken record, but here’s a familiar lyricist for you: Peggy Miller, the very same woman who provided the Edmonton cheer. I would have expected her to be a Lions booster rather than an Eskies fan from Edmonton since I feel she had a much better go on this track. As the link within the Argonotes page points out, the Eskimos song came first, so the extra passage in time between songs (however long it truly was) seems to have sharpened her abilities. Musically, it’s based off “The Sunshine of Your Smile” (listed on this album as “I Love the Sunshine of Your Smile”). With the original’s music by Lilian Ray and lyrics by Leonard Cooke, it’s been recorded by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra, British singer Mike Berry, and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Such different sounds in each of these, and I think Dal and his orchestra’s take adds well to the variety (I hardly recognize it!).
Though it tends to be a cliché in cheer-leading circles, I enjoy the spelling out of the team name in this song. It is a cheer, after all, so any pretentiousness should be left at the door. So long as you don’t follow it up with a “what’s it spell?”, I think it’s good use. It’s much harder for the Stampeders or Roughriders to pull it off without abbreviating the name or using extreme creativity. It’s very much adaptable for usage at a game, where the rowdiness of fans could really make the RAHs sound like ROARs.
Relating to the crowds, I was very encouraged to see the Lions reach ticket sales in their home-opening game versus Edmonton that haven’t been seen for several seasons. Like many CFL fans, I also appreciate that they’ve started the year handing the reigns to a Canadian quarterback in Nathan Rourke (see him rip apart my Argos). To those that don’t follow the league, having a Canadian under centre is a rather rare occurrence. Seeing a kid from Victoria earn such an opportunity hopefully stirs more fan interest north of the 49th parallel, and continue to boost west coast attendance.
3. Hamilton Tiger-Cats
“The Tiger-Cat Marching Song”
We love those Cats, those Tiger-Cats
The team with the spirit and fight
They’ll grouch and snarl and charge and stride
To win with all their might
We love those Cats, those Tiger-Cats
We don’t find adversity
For we’ll wiskee-wee-wee and oskee-wa-wa
Right on to victory
The writing credit on this one is liable to baffle some CFL fans. Jake Gaudaur? The president/general manager of the Tiger-Cats? Didn’t he have a team to worry about running? Actually, his span in team management led to Hamilton making it to nine Grey Cup games and winning four of those (plus one as a player in 1953) before becoming the CFL’s longest-serving commissioner in 1968. I’d say he knew football well enough to take on a side-hobby.
Strangers to the CFL may be wondering what all that “wiskee-wee-wee and oskee-wa-wa” stuff is in this song, but the sport’s fans are long-used to hearing this phrasing in a long-running Tiger-Cats fan cheer. Without getting too deep into the weeds of it, I’ll refer you to the following Toronto Sun article where the roots are explored. Also, here’s another amusing article from the Hamilton Spectator unveiling possible American roots of the Oskee-Wee-Wee chant as well as the lyric collaboration on this marching song with then-head coach Ralph Sazio.
Once again, we get the KISS method (the acronymn for “Keep It Simple, Stupid” rather than the theatrical rock band) done properly. Very boisterous, punchy, and sticks in your head. I’d say it wouldn’t be out of place as a theme for a Sixties TV show along the lines of The Flintstones (the Spectator article points out the same thing, but I view it more positively). The song itself is fun enough as it stands, but the personal stakes of Gaudaur (and Sazio) help give this a boost in the rankings.
I’ll add that while the song touts that “we don’t find adversity”, the modern age hasn’t been as kind as the Tiger-Cats haven’t won a Grey Cup since 1999, but I’ll be fair in pointing out the following. In the time since the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were founded in 1950, they’ve played in the Grey Cup game twenty-two times versus the Argos’ twelve championship appearances over the same stretch.
And speaking of the Double Blue…
2. Toronto Argonauts
Go, Toronto Argos go, go, go!
Pull together, fight the foe foe foe!
Scoring touchdowns for the blue on blue
The Argos will win for you!
Full of fight and courage you can’t stop
They pile up the points until they reach the top
Pull together till the Grey Cup’s won
Go, Argos go, go, go!
Surprise, surprise that I put this so high, right? Well I did put Hamilton’s at number 3. Call me biased if you must, but at least you can tell this isn’t merely a ranking of my preferred teams.
This cheer was penned by Johnny Burt, with (once again, thanks to the Argonotes site for pointing this out) an uncredited lyric contribution by Jill Loring. Burt led an orchestra of his own, and had an extensive performance and recording career that includes the supervising, producing, writing and arrangement work with artists such as Peter Appleyard, John Perrone, and Denny Vaughan. A good portion of this work was tied to his role as music director for the Canadian Talent Library, whom as mentioned earlier had their hand in the release of CFL Songs.
The musical accompaniment on this one great, and meshes very well to the vocal melodies. Like others here with their respective teams, this song makes fairly frequent appearances at Argonauts games, and I know first-hand that this is a fun one to sing! Integrating the phrase “Pull Together” (the team’s slogan) is key, though I’m not sure that it needed to be referenced twice. Simplicity and memorability is once again king here, and the quasi-polka vibe of the song brings others along for an Oktoberfest-like celebration. Or maybe I’m only imagining the polka given the team’s associations to the man that played Gus Polinski.
My fellow Toronto fans can surely forgive me for not making this the top cheer, especially considering the release of this recording did little to break their cursed on-field performance. It turns out it would take some time for this song to work its magic on the franchise, who were mired in a lengthy Grey Cup drought that began after 1952 and did not end until beating the home-field B.C. Lions in 1983’s championship match. That was one hell of a celebration, with an enthusiasm I would love to see return to the city!
1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
We’re proud of the Blue Bomber name
So proud of its glory and fame
We’re best in the west
And we’ll take on the rest
When we get to the East-West game
Let’s fight through that line down the field
Our Blue Bomber teams never yield
Let’s fight on for victory
For great is our destiny
So fight on, Blue Bombers, fight
We’ll shout as you go charging by
We’ll send up our cheers to the sky
Behind you we’ll stand
You’re the best in the land
And we’ll shout out our praise on high
Let’s fight down the field
Yard by yard
Let’s fight down the field
For we want a touchdown, team
And we want a chance to scream
So fight on, Blue Bombers, fight!
Effort doesn’t always count on the scoreboard, but it certainly shows in this march. While I applauded the minimal lyric approach of a number of the previous cheers, I couldn’t justify ranking anything else above this relative epic. It’s practically a love letter to the team, and arguably to the Canadian brand of football itself.
John Craig is the credited lyricist. If you want to use Discogs as a guide to this man’s music career, I’d advise against it in this case. The John Craig linked there appears to be a Chicago-based producer. Any name that consists of two first names is often a common one, with this particular gentleman being the winner of a radio contest at CJOB in Winnipeg. In the chance that it is the same John Craig, now’s a good time to go on record as saying “Doing My Own Thing” is a pretty killer track! However, there is one Chicago connection much easier to confirm. The “Bombers’ Victory March” is set to, or at least inspired by, “Illinois Loyalty” by T.H. Guild. No surprise that the musical motif isn’t breaking new ground, but the lyrics appear to have been given a fairly strong transformation.
Given that the title alone implies they’ve won already, could you imagine a crowd erupting into this chant during the first quarter? Those would be some cojones on display, especially if they can replicate the confident delivery of this group of singers! Not only do they know that the team will be in the East-West game (another way of saying the Grey Cup championship), but talking that they “never yield” and that greatness is their “destiny” would be so insufferable for opposing fans to hear. If not for this song, their chant could just as easily be “Nah Nah Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye!” Basically, a nicely-crafted taunt. At the same time, the loyalty and pride from the fan base shines through to make up a very well-rounded cheer from top-to-bottom.
The fact they are back-to-back Grey Cup champs coming into the 2022 season is a timely coincidence. Additionally, they’ve obtained a 7-0 record so far into the current season (prior to Week 8), a feat they have not achieved since 1960. That’s good enough reason as any for Manitobans to spin this track if they don’t already do so, especially as they just climbed to 8-0 as I put the finishing touches on this piece.
What did I learn from all this? I guess that the genre of marching band music is not unlike others in that there is so much nicking of music ideas (intended or not) that I fear to look into the origins of the theme song to Coach. And don’t take the rankings too seriously if my choices upset you. Treat it like Whose Line Is It Anyway? where the points don’t matter. Seriously though, I just love learning more and more about this league as I follow it, and love seeing the passion in all forms.
On a personal note, in between football games at BMO Field this season, I’ll be doing some armchairing of the non-music variety by getting some snaps in with the Canadian Armchair Football board game. While I’m very glad that I’ve now got appropriate musical accompaniment for this board game, I still have a strong inkling that a (The) Who record can work just as well.