Monday, April 24, 2006

National Anthems

I watched parts of two sporting events this weekend, both of which featured (naturally) the playing/singing of the U.S. national anthem before they started. And it struck me again just how much of a raw deal we've gotten with the ol' Star Spangled Banner.

I don't mean the words. The words are fine, and hey, I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free (except for my phone lines and e-mail messages). But the music itself is lame, lame, lame. I'd give it 1.5 stars out of fifty.

I know Broadway didn't exist, at least in anything resembling its current form, when Francis Scott Key composed the Star Spangled Banner in 1812. But I'm telling you, that melody is right out of some schmaltzy Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. It needs to be sung by somebody with a tophat and a cane. It is, of course, also notoriously difficult to sing. Countless great singers, such as Ashley Simpson and Justin Timberlake, have been needlessly embarrassed because they simply couldn't hit the high notes. I've honestly only heard one person (Jimi Hendrix) do it well. And that was great only because of the amazing guitar feedback.

This dire situation becomes painfully obvious whenever other national anthems are played. The Italian national anthem, which I heard several times during the recent Winter Olympics, sounded like an operatic aria. Puccini or Verdi would have been proud, and those Italians went at it with gusto and antipasto and other formidably Latin-sounding terms, just belting it out as if they were Pavarotti singing to the back row of the balcony. Then the American national anthem would be played, and I'd be ready to break into a tap dance, which you don't want to see.

We've been saddled with this thing for almost two hundred years now, and I say it's time to update the drab musical furniture. We need something more contemporary, more relevant, less prone to smarmy ridicule. I'd like to nominate Neil Young's "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World." I know Neil's Canadian, but really, we're about ready to annex those pesky Canucks anyway, so it should work out okay. Anyody else have any other suggestions?


Anonymous said...

This Land is Your Land, Woodie Guthrie, would be just perfect. Everyone knows it. It's public domain, now. It's a great song.

mg said...

true. the SSB is tough for most people to sing. plus there is no chorus.

i've also thought that our flag is in need of some serious graphic re-design.

Anonymous said...

Heck yes. Why not. We're rewriting the Constitution almost daily. So why not the Ol' Banner?

Cereal, I'm a Traditionalist on things that matter. I don't like canned church music (church kareoke), and I don't like screwing with the Anthem.

As far as the "average" singer not being able to do it, I kinda like that. Get a singer who either can do the song right or can cheat well. Last time I looked, there's quite a few keys available.

Oh, and while singing the Ol' Banner, please keep the vocal acrobatics to a minimum. That is, unless your only other option is to grab your crotch.

Martin said...

Andy, your satire is so subtle that your readers don't even recognize it as such. I mean, really, folks — if this were a serious piece of writing, would you expect to find "Ashley Simpson" and "needlessly embarrassed" in the same sentence? Or, for that matter, "Justin Timberlake" and "great singers"?

Anonymous said...


Doggone it.

Fell for that one.

Yer so tricky Ange.

It's a good thing we've got guys like Deputy Marty around to point the way to the fairly straight and somewhat narrow.

Ok. As long we're gonna sublet Kanadamn, I vote for
Triumph's "Fight the Good Fight", or even more fitting, Rush's "Witch Hunt".

I can hear the drums now....

Anonymous said...

Oops, I just realized that the range needed for "Fight the Good Fight" is Star Spangled squared.

"Witch Hunt" it is, then.

e said...

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the Heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause, it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

This is the fourth verse of the SSB. Much cooler than the first. The whole thing didn't become our national anthem until 1931. And it was appropriate during the Great Depression because it kept people from thinking of all of our "amber waves of grain" (our former national anthem) and reminded them that in 1814, when SSB was written, we were only a few breaths away from total devastation at the hands of our old friends the British.

So perhaps SSB is supposed to be a reminder that we're only a country because Napoleon was fighting the Brits in 1814. It has little to do with our pluck--more just dumb luck.

Anonymous said...

With regard to Jimi being the only person to do the anthem well, I am sure you are forgetting the version Marvin Gaye sang before one of the NBA playoff/championship games back in the 70's or 80's. One of the most soulful performances, IMHO, ole Marvin ever did.

mg said...

speaking of the national anthem...i read this today and found it interesting.

Andy Whitman said...

Thanks for the link, Michael. It's an interesting story. Aside from the language issues (what a tempest in a teapot), I was struck by the fact that one of the performers on the record was named Bulldog. I wonder if Francis Scott Key could have ever envisioned his poem being performed by Bulldog?