"The Morrow Plots Song"

Semester break during Bruce Johnson’s grad school year, 1970-71, found him visiting his friend, Lawrence Eyre, in New Haven, where Eyre had lingered at Yale for a year of divinity school. (Back then, dear reader, semester break took place at the end of January and beginning of February.) While at the Yale campus, Johnson was able to hear the Whiffenpoofs sing at one of their regular Monday night dinners at Morey’s Temple Bar (of “Whiffenpoof Song” fame). He also got a look at the Whiffenpoof songbook and copied one piece that caught his eye, a satiric number about certain landmarks around New Haven called “Saloon.” (More about “Saloon” later.) It occurred to Johnson that The Other Guys might be able to make hay with a funny original song, similarly about a Champaign-Urbana landmark. And so it was that, in a dormitory room at Yale in early February 1971, Johnson put pen to paper and wrote the lyrics for what was to become “The Morrow Plots Song.”
Upon returning to the Illinois campus for the second semester, Johnson showed his opus to the O.G., who liked it well enough to learn it immediately, sort of spontaneously arranging the music as a group. The tune of the introduction was, of course, the Illinois State Song; the verse was an adaptation of a familiar drinking song (do the words “Roll me over in the clover” ring a bell?); and the chorus sort of suggested itself. If the musical arrangement was actually ever composed and written down, it was by some later generation of O.G. “The Morrow Plots Song” was first performed at a party at the College of Agriculture, appropriately enough, as R.E.O.G. Ken Pletcher reminds the author, and was included in the O.G.’s portion of the Glee Club’s 1971 Spring Concert. It quickly became a staple of The Other Guys’ repertoire and has been in active use continuously to this day (2015). It has even been the subject of at least one feature story in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and in 2007 was recorded as a music video by The Other Guys for the new BigTenNetwork.com website. The song was even the cause of one dustup with the Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs (see below). “The Morrow Plots Story,” which is used to introduce “The Morrow Plots Song,” is not something for which Johnson can claim authorship (although he would be proud to do so). Featuring members of the octet playing the parts of the corn, the library, the sun and the world-class U. of I. “enginerds,” it was penned by some later creative O.G. (roughly between 1981 and 1985) and has now become as much a part of the tradition of performance as the song itself.
The problem that arose with “The Morrow Plots Song” stemmed from the fact that the original lyrics of the last verse went, “Oh, the band is full of flutes, California’s full of fruits, and the whole world’s full of smokers trying to quit . . .” etc. At one point around 1979 or 1980, a gay and lesbian student group at the U. of I. took umbrage at this verse -- at least, at the inflection which was being given to these words in performance -- and filed a complaint with the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs under a provision of the student conduct code which forbids any activity that exposed a person to ridicule on the basis of, among other things, sexual preference. Johnson (by then, living in New York City) was consulted by phone, and he quickly recommended that new lyrics be substituted; he told the then-current O.G. that he felt that an aggressive defense of the original lyrics and the O.G.’s constitutional right to use them was a battle neither worth fighting nor likely capable of being successful. The resulting change in the lyrics led to a tradition of “filling in the blank” at each performance of the song, so that nobody really knew what California was going to be declared to be full of until the designated blank-filler spoke. Around 2011, the line was changed again to completely delete any reference to California being full of anything.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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