Marching bands have come a long way from their military origins, and so has the music bands play. Modern and popular music is something that makes a marching band entertaining.
There isn’t one kind of music that marching bands exclusively cover, and pairing a well-known or much-loved song with a fantastic drill makes fans want to watch halftime.
Today, many marching bands have gone viral because of their music and drill formations choices. But what makes a band performance go viral?
Performances go viral for many reasons, but some significant elements that viral marching bands add to their show are things like choreographed dance breaks, props, costumes, and playing hit songs.
Below is a list of the 25 Best Marching Band Cover Songs with viral potential. Have you played any of these songs with your marching band?
*Several bands are mentioned repeatedly in this article, not because they are better than other bands but because their shows have gone viral and they have played the songs listed below
1. Single Ladies – Beyonce
If there is a single song a marching band can perform that has the potential to go viral, it is Single Ladies by Beyonce.
Playing a great arrangement of the song is a great way to start. However, nothing surprises a stadium more than an entire marching band performing the iconic choreography from the music video.
For some reason, many people think marching band kids are nerds and are uncoordinated, so when the entire band does the Single Ladies dance, the crowd loses their minds.
Many college marching bands have performed this song as part of Beyonce, or Female Singer-themed shows, including
- The UF Gator Band,
- Michigan State University,
- UConn Band
- The Pride of Oklahoma.
- Florida State University Marching Chiefs
In 2014, the Marching Chiefs went viral when all 420 members of the band put their horns down and did the Single Ladies dance.
3. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
For many reasons, Bohemian Rhapsody is always a great song to cover with a marching band arrangement.
The song can be a part of a Queen show (it can be a stands tune.) The music can be technically challenging, and there is massive potential for incredible drill formations related to Queen or Freddie Mercury.
One element of the music that bands can use to their advantage to wow crowds is to focus on dynamics to go viral.
🎵 Note: Having the entire band hit a strong fortississimo (fff) for the lyrics “Mama, oooh, Didn’t mean to make you cry, if I’m not back again this time tomorrow” to lead into the “I see a little silhouetto of a man” portion will bring massive amounts of cheering from the fans.
This song will get the entire stadium singing and head-banging as if they were in Wayne’s World.
Many, if not all, college bands have played Bohemian Rhapsody at some time in their history; it is that popular. Check out the Michigan Marching Band playing this classic rock song starting at the 5-minute mark!
3. Thriller – Michael Jackson
Thriller is an incredibly popular marching band cover song with massive potential to make a band go viral. The music is well known, and many bands will perform this song if there is a Halloween game or a tribute to Michael Jackson.
There is so much with the drill that the band can do, and it has the opportunity for a crowd-favorite choreographed dance routine.
Thriller has been played endlessly by high school and college marching bands, but the drill or a dance break elevates the show enough to go viral.
Two examples of how Thriller can be performed would be the USC Trojan Marching Band’s dance break performing the original choreography from the music video and Florida State University Marching Chiefs’ dance performance while dressed as zombies for a Halloween show.
4. My Shot – Hamilton
The popularity of Hamilton has not waned in the last few years, and high school and college marching bands have done spectacular Hamilton shows or included My Shot in their performances as part of a medley.
Playing this song cleanly is key, as well as either utilizing a singer to rap the words or creating drill that can be easily associated with the musical Hamilton.
A great example of how a marching band can go viral playing My Shot would be the Brigham Young University’s Cougar Marching Band’s performance in 2021. The band was able to have singer and songwriter Alex Boye perform along with the band to add a famous face and name to a well-known song. Check out the video below!
5. The Imperial March – John Williams
The Imperial March is usually part of any Star Wars show performed by a marching band. John Williams is a brilliant composer, and his music is recognized by millions of movie fans globally.
In the last few years, there have been many colleges that have put together some incredible Star Wars shows, like:
- Ohio State University
- Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish,
- Auburn University
- USC Trojan Marching Band (who managed to get Mark Hamill to record an intro video for their halftime performance.)
All the new Star Wars films make Star Wars halftime shows popular, and everyone loves The Imperial March.
🎵 Note: To go viral without having Mark Hamill as your intro video, the drill that can be created for this song will take a show over the top. Formations to look like the Death Star or Darth Vader’s helmet look incredible on a football field. Below is Ohio State University’s Star Wars Show!
6. Industry Baby – Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X has dominated marching music for the last few years, and Industry Baby or any song from the MONTERO album are immediately a fan favorite.
Lil Nas X is a trendy artist, and the marching band arrangements of his music are excellent. Industry Baby, That’s What I Want, and/or Montero (Call Me By Your Name) can be performed as a stands tune or during halftime, doubling the potential for a band to go viral.
This song pairs well with dance breaks, horn movements, and the low brass gets its chance to wow the crowds.
Some marching bands that have played Industry Baby include:
- Southern University Human Jukebox
- USC Trojan Marching Band
- The Hampton University Marching Force
Check out the Southern University Human Jukebox and the Fabulous Dancing Dolls crush this arrangement of Industry Baby by Lil Nas X at the National Battle of the Bands.
7. Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
With the release of Top Gun: Maverick in 2022, many marching bands have dedicated halftime shows to Top Gun and the hit song Danger Zone from the first film in 1986. Danger Zone (or a Top Gun show) can go viral for some creative drill.
Spelling out the name Maverick, making the shape of aviator sunglasses, or recreating the Top Gun logo as part of a show paired with Danger Zone will look impressive.
If the band is big enough (most college and university bands), the band can form the shape of an airplane on the field, which looks impressive from the stands.
🎵 Note: To wow audiences, have the whole band move horizontally across the field in the plane formation and add a little touch of special effects. Have alternates or members of the color guard situated at the tail end of the plane, and as it “flies” down the field, have those students set off fire extinguishers to make a smoke trail to show the motion of the drill.
Of all the marching bands who have done a Top Gun show featuring Danger Zone, The Ohio State University Marching Band’s performance is marching perfection. Check out the video below to see their extraordinary performance.
8. Tetris Theme Song
Video game-inspired shows are great opportunities for a marching band to go viral. The show can be a mix of different video game songs but having the Tetris theme song in the show is a must!
The music is unique, fast, technical, and if the band has a large brass section, they can make the song sound even better.
No video game show is complete without making the logos and characters or having the band “play” the game with drill on the field.
With Tetris, the drill does not have to be complicated to be effective. It is a basic block shape from Tetris, moving from the back sideline to the front to fit together.
Many marching bands have done video game shows with the Tetris theme, like:
- The Iowa State University Cyclone Marching Band (ISUCFVMB)
- Michigan Marching Band
- The Ohio State University Marching Band
Watch the video below to see how cool Tetris on the field looks, courtesy of the Ohio State Marching Band.
9. Mr. Brightside – The Killers
Although Mr. Brightside was released in 2004, it is still one of those pop-rock songs everyone loves.
For a high school marching band, it can be played as part of a “retro” or “2000s” show and be a hit. When it comes to college marching bands playing Mr. Brighside, get ready for lots of jumping up and down and people singing as loud as they can.
The song can go viral because the stadium will start singing, which can be heard on all video recordings taken at the game.
If your band does a version of Mr. Brightside, share the video on Twitter and tag The Killers so they can react and retweet, which will make your band’s performance go viral.
Many college bands have performed Mr. Brightside in the stands, but two of the best would be The Band of the Fighting Irish from Notre Dame and the University of Texas Longhorn Band.
🎵 Note: Turn up the volume and listen closely because you can hear tens of thousands of fans singing the chorus in the video below from Notre Dame. The video of the Longhorn Band shows how much fun the band can have playing this song which audiences love (keep an eye out for the cymbal player jumping up and down and having an absolute blast.)
10. Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
Sweet Caroline is one of those songs you can’t help to sing along with, especially the bum bum bum part everyone adds to the chorus.
This song can go viral simply because everyone loves Sweet Caroline. The music is so much fun to play, and it is an opportunity to feature the trombone section. In most arrangements, the song is very trombone heavy, and a band can use that to its advantage.
Sweet Caroline can also be a stands tune, allowing the entire band to do small movements or each section to come up with a routine while they play to bring extra motion and attention to the band.
To go viral with Sweet Caroline, performing this song in a union the night before the first home game to get everyone hyped up or at a tailgate/parking lot, if possible, will make everyone sing along and record videos of the band playing.
Some marching bands that have performed Sweet Caroline include:
- The Florida State University Marching Chiefs
- Notre Dame’s Band of the Fighting Irish
- Ohio State University Marching Ban
- The Pride of Oklahoma, and many more.
Check out the video below to see how Notre Dame featured the trombones for their performance on campus!
11. James Bond Theme – Monty Norman
There are thousands of marching bands who have performed a James Bond show. With songs like Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, Skyfall, and No Time To Die, no Bond show is complete with one of the most iconic theme songs in film history.
🎵 Note: The viral potential of this song revolves around the drill. The band can create 007 on the field, a gun, spell James Bond, or just Bond, and for a unique touch, make a martini shaken, not stirred.
This is one of the best opening songs to a halftime show, just like a film. The song is rather brisk, allowing quick pass-through transitions or rotating shapes on the field.
Some bands that have performed some excellent shows with the James Bond theme include NC State, the Marching Virginians, Ohio State, and the Florida State Marching Chiefs.
Check out the Ohio State University Marching Band’s James Bond drill.
12. Game of Thrones Theme – Ramin Djawadi
One way to go viral is by playing the Game of Thrones Theme on the field or in the stands.
Now that the prequel series House of the Dragon aired in 2022, there is bound to be a resurgence of G.o.T themed shows. The theme’s music is well known; it sounds incredible with a marching band, and fans love to hear it.
If your band is doing a G.o.T. show, the drill will take the show over the edge. Making a dragon and using fire extinguishers to make smoke come out of its mouth looks impressive on the field and in the stands.
Other drill ideas include:
- the stylized GOT abbreviation
- complex patterns
- rotating circle drill
A relatively new show concept with the Game of Thrones theme is a “binge-watch” or “TV show” inspired performance.
Ohio State and LSU did tv show-themed halftime performances, and LSU went viral for the performance below.
13. We Don’t Talk About Bruno – Lin-Manuel Miranda
The Disney animated film Encanto brought us one of the most popular songs; We Don’t Talk About Bruno. This song can be used in a Disney show which is always a huge hit, and the stadium will sing along with the music from their childhood.
The song was the first song from an animated Disney film to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, which hasn’t happened since 1993 with A Whole New World from Aladdin.
The drill can be all Encanto-inspired or unique formations spanning the entire football field.
🎵 Note: The movie is still relatively new, and not many marching bands have played We Don’t Talk About Bruno, but in September 2022, the Michigan Marching Band and the school’s Musical Theatre Department joined together for a show titled Places Where We Sing.
14. Rocket Man – Sir. Elton John
The music of Sir. Elton John is incredibly popular for marching bands to play. Rocket Man is a great song that can be used as a ballad in a halftime show or a shortened version highlighting the chorus when used in a medley.
With Cold Heart with Dua Lipa and Elton John released on Sir Elton John’s album The Lockdown Sessions being blasted on the radio in the US and abroad, Rocket Man has grown popular with younger audiences and college students.
There are so many fun shapes a band can do for the drill. If you want to get creative, a rocket, an astronaut, stars, or a pair of star-shaped sunglasses.
Many high school and college marching bands have performed Rocket Man during halftime shows dedicated to Sir. Elton John, like:
- Ohio State University
- University of Kentucky Wildcat Marching Band
- West Virginia University’s Pride of West Virginia
- This article mentions them many times, but check out Ohio State University Marching Band’s tribute show to Sir. Elton John!
15. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper – Blue Ӧyster Cult
Alone or part of a Saturday Night Live show, (Don’t Fear) The Reaper by Blue Ӧyster Cult is a song that sounds spectacular when arranged for and covered by a marching band.
Classic rock from the 1970s and 1980s doesn’t often scream “marching band,” but all marching bands can play more than Sousa marches.
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper is also well known by most crowds at a football game (older adults). (Don’t Fear) The Reaper is the one time you can have a bunch of people on the field banging cowbells.
🎵 Note: The cowbell is the ticket to a viral moment because it is goofy and adds to the song in a way that people love.
Two marching bands have performed this song in the last 20ish years, the Ohio University Marching 110 and the Florida State University Marching Chiefs. Check out the first video of the Marching 110; the sound quality is less than perfect so listen to the second video of the Marching Chiefs’ arrangement of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper.
16. Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi
Another classic rock hit, Livin’ On A Prayer, by itself or as part of a Bon Jovi tribute show, has serious viral potential. Like many songs on this list, Livin’ On A Prayer is a song that will get the entire stadium singing along.
A packed stadium, the marching band playing loud, and fans singing to a song are the trifecta for going viral as a marching band. Livin’ On A Prayer will give you the trifecta every time, guaranteed.
The music is fun to play, and if your band has any trumpet “screamers” (people who can play incredibly high notes), they can shine with this song.
Marching bands that have brought the house down with Livin’ On A Prayer include the Florida State University Marching Chiefs, the University of Texas Longhorn Band, Penn State, Temple University, and Auburn University.
Check out the video below to see the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Band get the fans singing along while they play this rock hit.
17. About Damn Time – Lizzo
About Damn Time by the self-proclaimed “band nerd” Lizzo. Lizzo has been brought to tears listening to and seeing HBCU or “black marching bands” play her music.
To be honest, any Lizzo song works for a marching band arrangement for a halftime show or stands tune.
About Damn Time is the latest Lizzo song to hit the marching field, and how “new” the song elevates the viral potential of a band performance.
Bands that have played About Damn Time in the stands or on the field include:
- The UCLA Marching Band
- Arizona State
- Michigan Marching Band
- The University of Massachusetts
Some HBCU bands that have played About Damn Time include:
- The FAMU Marching 100
- Central State University Band
- Alcorn State
- Southern University Human Jukebox
The Human Jukebox played many Lizzo songs and was in her music video for the song Good As Hell.
18. Lay All Your Love On Me – ABBA
The Swedish disco/pop group ABBA is not a group covered by many marching bands, but they should be. Lay All Your Love On Me is a bop and makes a great opening or closing song.
When it comes to the arrangement itself, there is a lot that can be done with dynamics, tempo, and a wide range of pitches and keys.
🎵 Note: Simple drill like spelling ABBA on the field can be done with any sized band, same with hearts to stick to the song’s theme. A fun dance routine can be a viral moment with this song.
Lay All Your Love On Me has been performed by the CAL band with their alumni band members during homecoming. Another band to perform this song is the Oregon State University Marching Band which uses Lay All Your Love On Me as their opening song and plays with the tempo excellently. Check out that video below!
19. 1812 Overture – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
What makes the 1812 Overture a good marching band cover song is that it can be played during halftime or arranged as a stands tune like the Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish.
The technicality of the music is impressive, even to fans who have never heard the entire song or know who Tchaikovsky was. Drill and special effects are a great way to go viral with the 1812 Overture.
Having the band create a large cannon is an awesome visual in and of itself. The drumline can create cannon sounds, and fire extinguishers can leave a smoking cannon barrel.
Some bands that have brought the 1812 Overture to the field include the Ohio State Marching Band, Texas Longhorn Band, and Florida State University Marching Chiefs.
Check out the joint performance of the 1812 Overture featuring both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University marching bands.
20. Paint It Black – The Rolling Stones
Paint It Black, by The Rolling Stones, is one of those songs that people have heard in many different variations and instrumentations; for example, Ramin Djawadi’s mindblowing orchestral arrangement is used several times in the first season of HBO’s Westworld and Netflix’s new show Wednesday uses a unique cello version of the song.
Paint It Black has so much potential to go viral when played by a marching band both on the field or in the stands. The drill for Paint It Black can take a good show to a viral one.
Formations like a guitar, the Hot Lips logo, complex rotating shapes, or a hard-hitting company front paired with this rock song are great ways to go viral.
Some marching bands have performed Paint It Black as part of a tribute show to The Rolling Stones, and others, like the University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band play Paint It Black as a stands tune.
Some great marching band performances of this song have been done by Ohio State University, Indiana University, University of Central Florida (UCF), and the Wisconsin Marching Band. Listen to UCF’s exciting arrangement of Paint It Black below!
21. What Is Hip? – Tower of Power
R&B, soul, and funk music make perfect marching band cover songs, especially any song by the group Tower of Power. Their song What Is Hip?, however, might be the best Tower of Power song a marching band can cover.
What Is Hip? was released in 1973 and is not something everyone in the stadium will instantly recognize, which works to the band’s advantage. Older fans might know the song, but for younger fans, What Is Hip? is a funk song that you can’t help but dance or clap along with the musicians.
Unlike the other songs on this list, the drill or a dance routine is not what can make What Is Hip? go viral. The music is what can make this cover go viral. In every marching band cover song, one section gets stuck with the “boring” part. That is not the case when it comes to What Is Hip?.
The drumline can have a solo moment in some arrangements, which fans love. The song has brass instruments in it, but the low brass plays the role of a funky bass guitar line that truly drives the song. Upper brass and woodwinds have lots of runs, and the entire band can use dynamics to make the song hit.
Some marching bands who have played spectacular arrangements of What Is Hip? include the FSU Marching Chiefs, LSU’s Golden Band From Tiger Land, Western Michigan University Bronco Band, and the Ohio State University Marching Band.
If you want to hear the song arranged for marching bands, we highly recommend listening to both the Ohio State University and FSU Marching Chiefs versions which have been recorded for CDs, because there isn’t any noise from crowds or filmed from a strange position in the stands.
To see the drill is the best part of the song, check out LSU Tiger Marching Band’s 2013 performance below!
22. You’re The One That I Want – Grease
Grease is a classic film, and the soundtrack’s music is great and well-known. You’re The One That I Want is a must for a Grease-themed show, but it can also work for a love-themed show.
The song makes a fantastic and energetic closing song and can use two different things to make the band go viral: drill and costumes.
The drill for this song can be hearts on the field, the word Grease, or abstract swirls, and honestly, any shape the audience can recognize steps the song up another level.
Some marching bands are very strict with their uniforms and may be opposed to the idea of the band dressing up like Pink Ladies, Greasers, or 1950s-inspired outfits for the show, but the costumes can be an exciting and fun surprise for the fans.
A performance on Halloween doesn’t have to be the only costume show a band does. A costume indicates a fun show that people want to stick around in their seats during halftime. Pair the costumes with neat drill and one of the most singable songs from the film Grease and prepare to go viral.
Some bands that have played You’re The One That I Want include the UCLA Bruin Marching Band, Ohio State University, FSU Marching Chiefs, and the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band. Check out the video below of the FSU Marching Chiefs’ Grease show and their costumes!
23. Locked Out of Heaven – Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars’ hit song Locked Out of Heaven was incredibly popular for marching bands to play back in 2013 through 2015 for a reason.
The song is so much better arranged for marching band. Many predominantly white institutions (PWI) universities have played Locked Out of Heaven. Still, it is the HBCU marching bands that have made this song an ideal marching band cover with viral potential.
The powerful brass lines with screamers in an HBCU band hit a listener like a punch in the stomach (a good thing) with the force and sound they produce when playing Locked Out of Heaven.
Note: Many HBCU bands have used their dance teams to increase the chances of the show going viral. Unlike pom-squads or a traditional dance team, HBCU dance teams use the majorette-style.
These groups are high energy, placed in front of the band in the stands, include acrobatic stunts, and is a fusion of jazz, West African, and hip-hop styles of dance.
With a killer brass line plus a fantastic dance team, unlike other colleges, HBCU marching bands have a cult following.
HBCUs that have played Locked Out of Heaven include Jackson State University’s Sonic Boom of the South, and NC A&T State’s Blue and Gold Marching Machine. Check out Jackson State University playing Locked Out of Heaven, featuring their Prancing J-settes on the field and in the stands!
24. Gangsta’s Paradise – Coolio
Rap and Hip Hop covers might not sound like a “marching band” thing, but when it comes to these genres, HBCU marching bands absolutely crush it.
Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise was a hit when it was released in 1995 and has been transformed into a stands tune within the last nine years. In the previous three years, some fantastic marching bands have played this song which has gone viral several times.
Beyond being an “atypical” genre for marching music, Gangsta’s Paradise is a well-known song, the percussion section can shine, and of course, the brass section drives the entire song.
To go viral, playing the song is great but getting fans to sing along with the band is something that people love to do, hear, and see.
Some bands that have played jaw-dropping arrangements of Gangsta’s Paradise include Southern University’s Human Boombox. Langston University, Tennessee State University, and NC A&T Blue and Gold Marching Machine. Check out the video below to listen to a marching band cover of Gangsta’s Paradise.
25. Butter – BTS
K-pop has become incredibly popular in the United States in recent years, and a K-pop show or BTS show isn’t complete without the song Butter.
The song is a fun little pop number and doesn’t need to be complicated to be good. The viral potential of this song is due to BTS and K-pop’s fandom, and it is not a genre people associate with marching bands.
A band plays Butter; it is all over social media and quickly turns viral. The drill can be simple, like spelling out Butter, BTS, or even K-pop.
The music will make the song go viral, so complex drill is not the part of the performance people who haven’t marched will pay much notice to.
🎵 Note: Sometimes marching bands are hesitant to play top 10 radio hits because, by the time the band arranges the music and creates a show, the song might not be popular anymore.
People get excited when a marching band plays a song they know and like. That is what makes non-band fans stay in their seats during halftime instead of leaving for snacks or the restroom.
Many bands have covered Butter by BTS, including the USC Trojan Marching Band, Temple University Diamond Marching Band, UCLA Bruin Marching Band, and Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish. Check out the BTS-themed show performed by the UCLA Bruin Marching Band below!
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