College Football Throwback Thursday: How "Hang on Sloopy" became an Ohio State anthem
Just a week after the McCoys’s version topped the Billboard charts, the Ohio State University Marching Band first played “Hang on Sloopy” in the Shoe on Oct. 9, 1965 during halftime in a show to honor the arts.
So, today, we throwback to the events that led up to Ohio State fans adopting the rock ’n’ roll song as their anthem.
For more than 50 years, “Hang on Sloopy” has grown to become identified with Ohio State. But, how did Sloopy make it onto the same field as the Buckeyes?
The Vibrations, an R&B group in the 1960s, recorded the Afro-Cuban song “My Girl Sloopy.” Carl Fisher, the leader singer of The Vibrations, said that the group initially wrote the song about a girl who came from a "bad part of town" and dealt with discrimination.
“The song did mean a lot to me, but I never thought of it in the context of the younger kids coming up and adopting [it]," Fisher said to Ohio State.
Fisher said that during that time, it was common for record companies to take a black artist’s song and reproduce it with a white artist. So, a year later, The McCoys released its version of the song, “Hang on Sloopy.”
“I didn’t have any resentment against (The McCoys),” Fisher said to Ohio State. “They got a better pop sound, you know? But I did like the groove ours had with the Latin feel behind it. That’s what I liked about ours.”
As the McCoy’s version climbed in popularity, Ohio State student John Tatgenhorst worked to arrange music for the Ohio State marching band. He was at the Ohio State Fair when “Hang on Sloopy” came over the loud speakers.
“I liked it. I asked Charlie Spohn, the director, if I could do an arrangement for the band,” said Tatgenhorst to Ohio State.
Tatgenhorst said Spohn responded that the Ohio State University March Band does not play that kind of “stuff.” He continued to bug Spohn about the possibility of “Hang on Sloopy” being played, but he continued to shut him down.
That is, until one day, Spohn, according to Tatgenhorst, interrupted him while he was teaching to ask Tatgenhorst to arrange the song and bring it to him the next morning.
At 9:30 p.m. that evening, Tatgenhorst said he sat down to arrange what would become a staple of Ohio State football games.
“I wanted to do it in the key of G-flat,” said Tatgenhorst to Ohio State. “G-flat has six flats, and I was never to arrange anything in six flats.”
On a rainy afternoon, the band stepped onto the field, forming a ballerina while playing Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” before beginning to dance and play “Hang on Sloopy.”
According to Ohio State, Spohn hoped that the juxtaposition of the music would entertain the crowd. After the band played it a second time at the next game, Buckeye fans adopted the song as their own, even adding yelling O-H-I-O during the song.
“It kept getting bigger and bigger,” Tatgenhorst said.
Eventually, the song became so popular at games that the band decided to play it at every game between the third and fourth quarter, attempting to give the football players and fans a boost to finish out the game strong.
Today, “Hang on Sloopy” continues to be one of the most recognized traditions at Ohio State.
“I just hope they keep the music alive,” Fisher said.