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Posted on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 11:17 a.m.

Annotated lyrics: 'I Want To Go Back To Michigan'

By Edward Vielmetti


The JOE mosaic marks where Joe Parker's Saloon once anchored the Catalpa Inn. Can you find this landmark underfoot as you take your Saturday stroll to Farmer's Market?

Courtesy Phil Dokas

In story and song, with links.

I want to go back to Michigan, To dear Ann Arbor town, Back to Joe's and the Orient, And back to some of the money I spent, I want to go back to Michigan, To dear Ann Arbor town, I want to go back; I got to go back, To Michigan.

"I Want To Go Back To Michigan" (attributed to "Anonymous") is one of the Michigan songs regularly sung by the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club.

The perpetual exodus of graduates from Ann Arbor to all corners of the world, and the annual call to nostalgia triggered by the football season, means that there is a vast and thriving market for expatriate longing to go back to college even for a few days. Here are some links to help you decode this song, which dates from about 100 years ago.

The song refers to locations which are either gone or mostly gone, or that live on vastly changed. It helps if you can envision a long-demolished three story commercial block with a cigar store on the ground floor and Masonic club rooms above, across the street from an old courthouse and its green square.


  • Lyrics, University of Michigan Alumni Association.
  • Lyrics, University of Michigan Men's Glee Club.
  • Photo: JOE. Mosaic inset at Joe Parker's Catalpa Inn. Photo Phil Dokas; available in all sizes under Creative Commons license.
  • Photo: Zemke's "The Orient" Cigar Store, 109 N Main St. Photo caption by Wystan Stevens. Although in the pre-Prohibition era the barbershop-cum-cigar-store had been a saloon, it was known as a townie establishment, and really not a student hangout: The students who wrote the song for one of the Michigan Union operas quoted the name along with that of Joe Parker's saloon -- a genuine student favorite -- because it happened to fit the meter and rhyme.
  • Masons at the Crossroads, Robert Blackburn, originally in the April 2009 Ann Arbor Observer. Ann Arbor did not have a new Masonic lodge until 1847, when Oriental No. 15 began meeting on the third floor of a commercial building at 109 North Main. It was joined there in 1850 by Washtenaw Chapter No. 6, Royal Arch Masons. Oriental No. 15 evidently inspired the name of a business, the Orient, in the same building. Variously described as a barbershop / cigar store, it was later immortalized in a U-M glee club song—and long outlived the lodge, which by 1856 had succumbed to the twin blows of Gold Rush fever and internal discord.
  • 1916 Polk's Ann Arbor Directory, North Main Street. This city directory shows the vigorous commerce on the west side of the 100 block of North Main Street, across from the courthouse, with stores selling books, cigars, two saloons and a hotel serving the downtown population. That block now holds 1 North Main, a title company, and a parking lot.
  • Michigan Expats, a blog from former Michigan residents, is complete with quite a bit of Michigan music. These particular ex-Michigananders hail from Flint.
  • Eleven Warriors, I Wanna Go Back, I Gotta Go Back... tells the story from the Ohio perspective. Ohio shares the same song, with differences.

Oh! Father and Mother pay all the bills, And we have all the fun, In the friendly rivalry of college life, Hooray! And we have to figure a helluva lot, To tell what we have done, With the coin we blew at dear ole' Michigan!


  • American Art Annual, 1917. University of Michigan College of Architecture, Emil Lorch, professor in charge. Tuition nine months, $57 for residents of the state; $87 for others. Enrollment 159.
  • General Register, University of Michigan, 1917. Medical school: The total amount of fees paid to the University during the whole four years course for matriculation, incidental expenses, materials used, and graduation is for Michigan students about $350.00 and for all others about $400.00, varying a little with the students actual laboratory expenses.
  • The median level of debt for Michigan graduates as they enter repayment is $20,458, says a September 2010 story.“I think it’s more a big deal for my mom right now than it is for me right now,” second-year student Jamal Meadows said. “I think it will hit me when I start to get the bills in a few years.”

The Screen Guild Theater did a radio production of "Easter Parade", with Judy Garland singing the Irving Berlin tune "I Want To Go Back To Michigan." If you are familiar with the Ann Arbor, Michigan song, this one will sound corny.

Edward Vielmetti hums University of Michigan Glee Club songs for