Skip to content

The Musicology of Frivolity

An Informal Catalog of Princeton Class Songs

A Class Song is a pretty rare tradition at Princeton nowadays.

Over the past half-century or so, only a handful of classes seem to have penned their own campus ditty saluting the University & themselves. The previous hundred years had produced quite a few tunes of that sort. But most Class Songs have now long since faded from memory.

Here then, for posterity, is a brief informal catalog of songs in this obscure musical genre. Many are eponymous, with a title that includes specific class numerals or a major-reunion number. The lyrics all extol the University (sometimes facetiously) while exuding a good deal of classmate self-congratulation. (For an in-depth look at one classic example, complete with sheet music and a video, see Princeton’s Last Class Song?)

Most of the melodies are jaunty, and the humor is always (ummm . . .) collegiate. So just think of this survey as a case study in the Musicology of Frivolity.

— Tim Tulenko ‘67

In and Out of the Princeton Songbook

Centennial Carmina

Centennial Edition, 1969

The Class Song genre logically includes most any Princeton song that denotes a specific graduating class in its lyrics, its title, or both. Conversely, the term does not encompass tunes that sing about “classes” generically — ones with lyrics like “Where, oh where, are the verdant freshmen?” or “The seniors hold the steps tonight”. Ditto titles like “The Vow of the Sophomore“ or “A Sophomore Song”.

Most Class Song lyrics, naturally enough, are written in the first person plural (“We come back from far and near”). Many reference a major reunion, some cite other specific events in classmate history. In typical college-music fashion, some Class Songs come complete with an original melody while others are set to existing tunes.

For surveying such music, the natural starting point is the official bible of Princeton song, the Carmina Princetonia. Its most recent issue — the 1969 Centennial Edition — contains just a couple of Class Songs, many others having gone out of print long before. The real place to start is a hundred years farther back, with the original Carmina of 1869.

Nineteenth-Century Novelties

Carmina 1869

First Edition, 1869

Princeton’s earliest undergraduate music book — Songs of Old Nassau in 1859 — contained no explicitly class-specific songs. But a decade later, the first Carmina changed all that.

The 1869 Carmina launched a series of annual Class Odes. These eponymous anthems with abbreviated class numerals in the title (“’66 Class Ode”) were flowery and formulaic. Closely akin to senior-year Parting Songs, the Odes focused on impending graduation rather than current campus life. Numerous and ponderous, they eventually fell out of fashion (and the Carmina) by 1890.

Yet the book’s earliest editions did publish a few class-specific songs with lighter lyrics:

“The Song of the Class of ’74”: This one was rife with allusions to classmate exploits: “stamping” in Chapel, lighting a bonfire around the cannon, dodging Proctors, exasperating Tutors, gazing at girls. Cross-listed in the 1873 edition as simply the “’74 Class Song”, it arguably marks the real start of the genre.

“How ’75 Took the Clapper”: This literally sophomoric ditty in the 1873 Carmina contrasted '75's successful heist with '74's failed attempt.

“Bingo”: This perennial drinking song was the first Princeton song to celebrate multiple classes. Its debut lyrics in the 1869 edition were keyed to all four classes then on campus. They began “Here’s to Sixty-Nine, …always up to time” (sic). The otherwise-generic refrain was then augmented with substitute one-liners for 1870, ’71, & ‘72. This pattern continued over the next three decades. The1890 edition even supplied one-line shout-outs to no less than ten future graduating classes, from ‘90 thru ‘99. (Sample: “Here’s to ’97, for [they’re] sure to go to heaven”!)

Twentieth-Century Tune-Smithing

Carmina 1940, Twenty-fifth Edition

1940 Edition

The new century soon produced an even more flexible specimen:

“Oh, We’ll Whoop ‘Er Up for —”: Structurally, this ditty from the 1907 Carmina is the ultimate eponymous Class Song. The blank spots in the title and refrain make it universally applicable: just insert any class numerals there (or “Nassau Hall”). The rest of the lyrics are generic “rah, rah, rah, rah” stuff (literally) — ready to be sung by undergrad & alumni classes alike.

Most new Class Songs were reunion songs. Some were non-eponymous:

“For Princeton and the Class”: This one, “Written for the Class of 1901”, was a bit of a hybrid when it appeared in the 1907 Carmina. Sub-titled “A Class Ode”, it’s evidently the only song to be so labeled in the book since the 1880s. Yet unlike the earlier (undergrad) Odes, it is actually a reunion song (“We are the men of yes-ter-day”) and it lacks class numerals in the title.

"Sacred Bird March": Even without numerals, there's no mistaking the source of this title — the Class of 1899. The song salutes the avian-effigy mascot that they trundled in the P-rade for decades (possibly the first-ever P-rade float). Written for their 10th Reunion in 1909, the song never appeared in the Carmina (probably just too facetious . . .).

“To Princeton”: This one was composed for 1887’s 25th Reunion in 1912 (1914 Carmina). Modestly enough, the class numerals don’t appear in the title. Yet plenty of classmate chest-thumping comes through in the lyrics (“Secure, serene, un-terrified, we pass on our conquering way”).

Notably, the two best-known twentieth-century Class Songs do reflect their numerals in the title:

“The 1905 Reunion Song”: Nassoons fans may recognize this one more readily by its solemn opening line, “Drawn by allegiance the years cannot sever”. Oddly, the Centennial Carmina says the lyrics were written in 1957 (two years after 1905’s 50th Reunion).

”1907 Song” (a.k.a. “Princeton’s Sons”): This one is to be sung by alumni gathering “Back with the class and back where the Nass used to stand in days of yore.” Its rollicking march tune remains a favorite of the Tiger Band. Written some time after 1936, this song somehow never made it into the Carmina. But its lyrics are still preserved on the Band’s website (8th song listed there).

Sequestered Treasures?

Through mid-century and beyond, a smattering of other Class Songs got penned, mostly for major reunions. Their typically-narrow circulation made them pretty ephemeral, but documentary clues pointing to some of them do exist.

• Class of 1940 25th Reunion Song?: The 1969 Centennial Carmina makes passing mention of such a song but does not reproduce the score. So it’s unclear whether the title actually included the class numerals and/or the major-reunion number. And the lyrics, presumably written in 1965, remain untraced.

Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library

Seeley G. Mudd LIbrary

Then there’s the tantalizing trove of Princeton Sheet Music1 and unofficial “Campus/Class Songbooks”2 that has long lain behind closed doors in Princeton’s Mudd Library archives (temporarily shut in 2020-21 for renovation and the pandemic). Without perusing the collected scores, it’s hard to judge how many actual Class Songs might turn up there. But catalog notes about sheet-music titles & dates do afford a few preliminary inferences:

“Decennial March” (1898): Probably the Class of 1888’s 10th Reunion song.

“Reunion March” (1909): Definitely the Class of 1879’s 30th Reunion song.

“Princeton Seventy Nine” (1914): Presumably 1879’s 35th Reunion song.

“Twentieth Reunion March” (1936): Said to be the Class of 1915’s.

“Our First Fiftieth” (1975): Definitely the Class of 1925’s.

“The ’44 Song” (1940): Possibly the only Class Song ever written during freshman year!

Future archival research may well shed lots more light on these and other sequestered treasures.

Latest in the Long Line

Class of 1967 Banner

"...Made in Heaven"

In the meantime, posterity can readily peruse Princeton’s most recent Class Song:

“Sixty-Seven, Made in Heaven”: Composed in 1987 shortly before 1967’s 20th Reunion, this one started out as a reverie about campus life in the 1960s. Additional verses since 2012 about ‘67’s major reunions have now carried the lyrics forward into the 21st century. Written decades after the Centennial Edition was compiled, the song has never appeared in the Carmina nor been deposited in the Archives.

But it does now appear in a Princetoniana Museum exhibit. That display presents ‘67’s anthem as a classic example of what a Class Song looks & sounds like. The exhibit comes complete with a video performance, sheet music, and explanatory notes on the lyrics. It even raises the not-so-frivolous question: Can this be Princeton’s Last Class Song?

Sources:

Songs of Old Nassau. Copyright by M. W. Dodd, New York, 1859. Courtesy Google Books.

Carmina Princetonia: A Collection of the Songs of Princeton College. Copyright by Stelle & Smith, Princeton, N.J., 1869. Courtesy Google Books.

Carmina Princetonia [subtitles and publishers vary], 1873, 1894, 1900, 1905, 1910, 1914, passim. Courtesy Hathi Trust.

Carmina Princetonia: The University Song Book. Copyright by Martin R. Dennis & Co., Newark, N.J., 1890. Courtesy Google Books.

Carmina Princetonia: The University Songbook. Copyright by G. Schirmer, Inc., New York, 1940.

Carmina Princetonia: The Songbook of Princeton University, Centennial Edition. Copyright by G. Schirmer Inc., New York, 1968.


Footnotes:

1Series 2: Sheet Music, Princeton Music Collection, AC056, Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

2Series 1: Songbooks, Princeton Music Collection, AC056, Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library.