You can read something again and again and still have no real idea what it is. I probably first heard about the Whiffenpoof song somewhere in the 1970s from reading Mad magazine. It was a parody version referencing something that is long lost in the mists of my unreliable memory (President Nixon? The films of Burt Reynolds? The Equal Rights Amendment?)
According to the world’s most accurate storehouse of knowledge, the Wikipedia.
The Yale Whiffenpoofs are the oldest collegiate a cappella group in the United States, established in 1909. Best known for “The Whiffenpoof Song,” the group comprises senior men who compete in the spring of their junior year for 14 spots. The business manager and musical director of the group, known in Whiff tradition respectively as the “Popocatepetl” and “Pitchpipe” are chosen by members of the previous year’s group, although an alumni organization maintains close ties with the group.
Yes, unless you’re a Yalie yourself, that probably sounds as exotic as living in a Yurt, but these people exist and are part of the rich fabric of American life. The Whiffenpoofs have appeared on television shows like The Gilmore Girls and also lent their particular brand of insistent entertainment to the Holy Night episode of The West Wing (2003).
I finally discovered what the Whiffenpoof song was the other day when I was cooking lamb chops for dinner. I was singing what I thought of as the introduction to the theme of 1970s television show Black Sheep Squadron.
“We are poor little lambs who have lost are way…” I crooned. Miss Raspberry Beret objected. She doesn’t like to be reminded that meat is murder. Then I wondered where this lyric came from originally and I hit the net.
So now we both know.
The Whiffenpoof Song
To the tables down at Morey’s
To the place where Louis dwells
To the dear old temple bar we love so well . . .
Sing the Whiffenpoofs assembled
With their glasses raised on high,
And the magic of their singing cast its spell . . .
Yes, the magic of their singing,
Of the songs we love so well,
Shall l wasting and Mavourneen and the rest,
We will serenade our Louis! (We will serenade our Louis!)
While life and voice shall last!
Then we’ll pass and be forgotten like the rest . . .
We’re poor little lambs
Who have lost our way?
Baa Baa Baa!
We’re little black sheep
Who have gone astray
Baa Baa Baa!
Gentlemen songsters off on a spree
( Doomed . . . ) Doomed from here to eternity
( Lord . . . ) Lord, have mercy on such as we
Baa Baa Baa!
Music by Tod B. Galloway and lyrics by Meade Minnigerode
with George S. Pomeroy, 1909, 1936