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by the dawn's early light
July 4, 2013 6:18 AM   Subscribe

It's a damn tough song to sing, that one we often hear on July 4th, but that didn't stop 'em from designating Francis Scott Key's clunky and tortuous little tune as the US national anthem. People have struggled with it ever since. There was one guy, though, who, back in 1969, performed a soaring, acid-drenched, whammy-barred and noise-punctuated version of it that still stands as one of the most daringly adventurous and poignant moments in American musical history: Mr Jimi Hendrix and his amazing rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.
posted by flapjax at midnite (115 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like Bruce's version too.

Happy 4th!
posted by chavenet at 6:28 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Will you turn that disrespectful junk off?
posted by pracowity at 6:29 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I, a Canadian, tried to honour my wife's Americanness by serenading her this morning.

Observations:

• that is a hella hard song to sing.

• the lyrics are also really difficult to recall, especially when you're in the middle part and it's all things gallantly streaming and bright stripes and starts and endless night and burstings in air. I wound up getting some of them right, but the song ended up being largely about pants, Cheetos, and our cat during the middle bit.

• no, seriously, that's a crazy hard song to sing. It's like the composer was busting ass until late in the night and then just said "fuck it" and Jackson Pollocked all over some staff paper and decided it would do.

• have you ever looked at the other verses? I did, after trying to remember the words. If you read the second verse, it's like you were declaring independence from fucking Cthulhu:

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Seriously, America, what the shit? It's like a John Carpenter movie but instead of Kurt Russell sawing the heads off zombies or whatnot you have a flag.

• it is really, really, quite amazingly difficult to sing.
posted by Shepherd at 6:29 AM on July 4, 2013 [106 favorites]


Marvin can sing it.
So can The Temptations.
posted by chavenet at 6:37 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


If it's tough to sing blame the Anacreontic Society...
posted by jim in austin at 6:38 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Anacreontic Song
posted by pracowity at 6:39 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Full lyrics, just cuz:

O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n 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!.
posted by grimjeer at 6:42 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


For those who find the original tune too difficult, try singing it to the tune of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:47 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Despite sharing an alma mater with Francis Scott Key, I have no real love for his song, either the poem he wrote or the pub tune to which it was set. I'm much more partial to Lift Every Voice and Sing, whose words actually mean something, or Stars and Stripes Forever, whose words don't particularly, but at least the tune is fun.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:49 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hendrix' version is transcendent. It's such an interesting mix of psychedelic and political anger, really captured its moment. Did he really debut it at Woodstock? Or had he played it that way before?
posted by Nelson at 6:49 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Marvin can sing it.
So can The Temptations


You know, even Marvin's version... I dunno. Don't get me wrong, I worship the ground Marvin Gaye walked on, but TSSB is just so utterly unsoulful that even a pure channeler of near-godlike musical perfection like Marvin Gaye can't really get it off the ground. His waaaay behind the beat phrasing, for example, can work like a charm with the right melody, but that performance strikes me as just, well, not really working. No fault of his, really. It's just that goddam song, man.

And the Temptations, well, they played it pretty straight, which is probably about the only way to do it if you're not Jimi Hendrix. They were fine, fine singers, of course, so it's perfectly adequate, and they threw in some nice harmonies, but, well, what can I say: the song sucks. When it comes to the Tempts, gimme Papa Was a Rolling Stone, Psychedelic Shack or Ball of Confusion any day!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:50 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always thought Whitney Houston's version was pretty spectacular.
posted by double bubble at 6:52 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not hard to sing. You just have to shout "O!" at the beginning of the second to last line. The stadium loudspeaker takes care of the rest.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:52 AM on July 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Francis Scott Key wrote "The Defense Of Fort McHenry" after observing that same fight in 1814. The National Parks Service has a pretty good page.

The "star-spangled banner" referred to in the anthem was enormous, "It measured 30 feet high by 42 feet long. ... The larger of the two flags had stripes two feet wide, and stars 24 inches from point to point. At that time, it was the practice to add one star and stripe for each new state joining the Union. In 1814, the United States flag had 15 stars and 15 stripes." You can see why Key kept his eye on it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:53 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love how Hendrix's rendition flows into 'Purple Haze'; it's a shame that this YT clip cuts off before that transition. Truly a historic performance.
Come to think of it, a purple haze would be what you'd get if you mixed red white and blue.
posted by Flashman at 6:53 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, and the actual flag is at the Smithsonian.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:57 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The aforementioned Whitney Houston performance. Somehow I managed to go my entire life without hearing this until her obit thread last year.
posted by Kosh at 7:01 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Will you turn that disrespectful junk off?
posted by pracowity


Respect the classics, man! It's Hendrix!
posted by azpenguin at 7:05 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hendrix' version is transcendent. It's such an interesting mix of psychedelic and political anger, really captured its moment. Did he really debut it at Woodstock? Or had he played it that way before?

There are apparently some 50 recordings of Hendrix playing the anthem, 28 made before Woodstock.
posted by Repack Rider at 7:07 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


I remember as a teenager in the '80s (into guitar based rock, but suffering horribly when the formerly hard rocking 98 Rock in Baltimore started playing Soft Cell, Berlin, Thompson Twins, Flock of Fucking Seagulls...) listening to "Midnight Metal", an hour at midnight on saturday of music that I actually liked. They played the Hendrix version of Star Spangled Banner and I was just blown away, I had no idea who it was or any context, but I knew I liked it, and it was like nothing else.
posted by 445supermag at 7:10 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let us not forget Enrico Palazzo
posted by entropicamericana at 7:10 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Can't beat the Isaac Asimov rendition.
posted by Omon Ra at 7:11 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The version by José Feliciano for the World Series in 1968 got so much press. Backroom wags sang "José, can you see?" But the better joke was that he couldn't have gotten away with such an unorthodox version if not blind.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:11 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post! I remember listening to that over and over on the Woodstock record as a kid, wondering what in the world Hendrix must have been doing on the guitar to get those sounds. After watching it I still have no idea.
posted by klausman at 7:15 AM on July 4, 2013


I've always thought Ms. Barr's rendition nicely sums up my feelings on a whole range of patriotic issues.
posted by item at 7:19 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are apparently some 50 recordings of Hendrix playing the anthem, 28 made before Woodstock.

I've probably listened to the majority of those recordings. The fascinating thing is that none of them comes close to the power and majesty of the Woodstock performance. It was a pretty standard element in Jimi's bag of tricks by then but he really went for it at Woodstock, like he knew it was gonna matter later. It's a lucky thing the tape and cameras were rolling.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:20 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Eddie Izzard's version is my personal favorite.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 7:21 AM on July 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


If you really want to hear a rendition faithful to the feeling of that tune, listen to The Combined Choirs of the US Armed Forces.

Happy 4th, y'all.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:26 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


wondering what in the world Hendrix must have been doing on the guitar to get those sounds. After watching it I still have no idea.

There's that scene in Ed Wood, where Bela Lugosi is doing that weird Dracula hand gesture, and Ed asks how he does it. He replies, "You must be Hungarian.... And you must be double-jointed." While Hendrix was neither Hungarian, nor double-jointed, I feel like that scene sort of captures the ineffable mystery of Jimi Hendrix's guitar technique.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:27 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


While Hendrix was neither Hungarian, nor double-jointed, I feel like that scene sort of captures the ineffable mystery of Jimi Hendrix's guitar technique.

Comparing my hands and Jimi's on the neck of similar guitars, it looks to me like he had very large hands and long fingers. His technique appears so casual that it's hard to believe the precision that results.
posted by Repack Rider at 7:30 AM on July 4, 2013


No "Baltimore" tag? *Looks around city proudly*
posted by josher71 at 7:32 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


As long as we are linking to versions of this song I have to link to this one, recorded a few nights ago at Fenway Park because my wife is in the chorus and I am super proud. With special bonus of O Canada because it was a Sox / Blue Jays game.
posted by bondcliff at 7:32 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Uuuugh, the freaking SSB, can we have literally any other song as the national anthem? I am drop dead serious, any other song. America The Beautiful. The Battle Hymn Of The Republic. Mamma Mia. The chicken dance. Anything.
posted by The Whelk at 7:36 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


This eventually gets around to the National Anthem...

One of my students last year is an aspiring singer, and she has a lot of raw talent, but she was terrified of singing in front of people. It took her a few months to work up to singing in front of me, and the day she did it she had to just stand and gather her thoughts for a full 5 minutes before she did it.

She gradually started singing in front of her classmates and a couple of other teachers, me playing the guitar and her singing Adele or that freaking cups song, and I started talking to her about doing the talent show, which she agreed to until the time came to sign up.

This was first grade, and as it happens I moved to second grade and took my whole class with me, so the next year we started up again with more and more people watching, and when the talent show came up she decided she was going to sing The Star Spangled Banner... she picks a notoriously difficult song for her first public performance.

She changed her mind 1000x in the days before, but her main concern was that she had to start the song low enough to hit the high note, and she had trouble with that low note. That same note in the middle of the song was fine, it was just starting the song.

(Those who don't have experience with singing children, there are very few 8-year-olds who would worry at all about staying in the same key, much less even know... this girl tells me when I forget to put my capo on because Rollin' in the Deep starts up here, not down there.)

Anyway, she got up there and did it, and it was very good-not-great from an objective standpoint, but the most amazing thing I've ever seen from my point of view. A whole bunch of her family was there, but her parents didn't tell anyone she was singing because they didn't think she would do it. Her grandma (whom I had never met) came up to me days later and told me that Ellie only got on the stage because of me and thanked me, which is really one of the highlights of my career.

Then about a week into summer vacation (just a few days ago) I got an e-mail from her dad, and it was a link to a video of her singing a song she wrote about me, which is about the best gift I've ever gotten.

So that's what I think of now when I hear the SSB.
posted by Huck500 at 7:38 AM on July 4, 2013 [48 favorites]


Uuuugh, the freaking SSB, can we have literally any other song as the national anthem? I am drop dead serious, any other song.

I love "The Star-Spangled Banner" because it's so unlike any other national anthem in the whole world, not to mention a constant reminder of how the USA actually started out. Laurie Anderson's gloss totally brings this out:
You know, recently a lot of people have been talking about changing the national anthem to "America the Beautiful". Now, I don't know really if that's such a great idea. I mean, I really like "The Star-Spangled Banner". I mean, it is kind of hard to sing with all those arpeggios, and you're out at the ballpark, and the fans are singing away, and it's sort of … pathetic, really, watching everybody trying to hang on to that melody.

The word are great, though. Just a lot questions, written during a fire.

Things like:
"Hey, do you see anything over there?"
"I don't know. There's a lot of smoke."
"Say, isn't that a flag?"
"Hmn, couldn't say, really. It's pretty early in the morning."
"Hey, do you smell something burning?"

I mean, that's the whole song. It is a big improvement over most national anthems, which are in 4/4 time. You know, "We're number one! This is the best place!"
On reflection, it's truly remarkable that our country adopted this curious song of near-defeated defiance rather than the conventional "our leader's going to win!" or "everybody grab a gun!" or "we are ready to die!" or "our country ahead of everything in the world!", etc., etc. Every time Americans have to make the effort to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner", by contrast, we're really asking if our country is still OK and if we made it through the night.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:45 AM on July 4, 2013 [62 favorites]


I've said it before and I'll say it again: America the Beautiful should be the National Anthem.

- Easier to sing
- Not about war (apart from the "heroes proved in liberating strife" bit)
- Lyric written by a lesbian poet
- The high note comes right where it should, on A-mer-i-ca, rather than on stuff about rockets and bombs (though explosives are, admittedly, awesome)
- Doesn't have an embarrassing verse about rivers of British blood

- Furthermore:
Ray Charles
Little Richard
Fozzie in The Muppet Movie
Mel Brooks impersonating Frank Sinatra
Estonian Men's Choir
NFL Players' Choir
Beyoncé (Obama inauguration performance)
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:47 AM on July 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Man, I love our National anthem, impossible vocal range and all. I don't think anything captures our underlying nature than a song that asks, "Through all the fog of war and strife (real and metaphorical), is our Union still a Union?"

Also, it's really designed to be sung by a full chorus, which is delightfully communist in this individualistic society. Or, by unique superstar Divas, which is typically celebrity-whoring for this individualistic society.
posted by muddgirl at 7:48 AM on July 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Or, I guess, by extremely drunk people, which is also pretty indicative.
posted by muddgirl at 7:57 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I liked this so much I had to post it onto Facebook--for a couple reasons. My former hippy dad loves Jimi. And my uber-conservative grandparents hate him.

(I'm lucky to have inherited my parents' musical taste.)
posted by chatongriffes at 7:57 AM on July 4, 2013


At all these football games and big events and such, they find some popular singer to sing the national anthem, and in my opinion they all sing it way too slow - I suspect because they want to show off with fancy melisma, and to show they can handle the range and hold those high notes, and mainly because they want to stay on camera as long as possible.

The song is much easier to sing and a lot more fun if you keep up the tempo and barrel right on through it.

The tune was originally a drinking song, and when it comes down to it, the Star Spangled Banner is best sung while drunk.

As muddgirl just said.
posted by tommyD at 7:58 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every time Americans have to make the effort to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner", by contrast, we're really asking if our country is still OK and if we made it through the night.

I never thought of it quite like that, nor had I read Laurie Anderson's thoughts on it, but I totally agree. We have a lot of shit in our history (Columbus Day? really? *shudders*), but celebrating our independence is pretty damn cool.

As an aside, though, I've always had a problem with fireworks. I can't help but think that they were originally designed to replicate "bombs bursting in air" (I have no idea if that's actually the case), and then I think of people in war-torn countries who live with those sights and sounds every day, and it harshes my holiday mellow. Not saying it's rational, especially given my appreciation for TSSB, but it's where my brain goes. (Plus, when I was little, the small short white bursty BOOM firecrackers scared the living daylights out of me.) /derail
posted by flyingsquirrel at 7:58 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was asked to sing the Star Spangled Banner once a couple of years ago for the opening of an Irish festival. I had never sung it before (not being an American), and was singing a version translated into Irish Gaelic. Echoing Shepherd above, it is a ridiculously hard song to sing to start with. Add to that the clunky translation into Irish, and it was a very awkward opening ceremonies.
posted by LN at 8:00 AM on July 4, 2013


have you ever looked at the other verses?

There's an apocryphal story about WW1 or WW2, where the Germans had trained agents to speak nigh-perfect colloquial English and trained them on American culture so they could get behind enemy lines and fuck with us.

So anyhow, such an agent is intercepted by some sentries or whatever, who start questioning him as having one of your own wandering in from the German lines is a mite suspicious. Everything is going well for our intrepid agent until they ask him to sing the SSB. He starts, gets it all right, but when he launches into the second verse they just shoot him, because what second verse?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:05 AM on July 4, 2013 [38 favorites]


they find some popular singer to sing the national anthem, and in my opinion they all sing it way too slow

Yep.
posted by bondcliff at 8:08 AM on July 4, 2013


It's so commercialized now. We have to sing the national anthem as a regular obstacle before we can enjoy a baseball game. Divas perform it, maybe just to advance their careers:
  • Destiny's Child
  • Mariah Carey
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Whitney Houston
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Stephen Colbert
  • Beyoncé
  • Cher
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Roseanne

    But it's not just about these beautiful people singing the beautiful national anthem. It's about joining in a wonderful chorus with others, singing something bigger. You don't have to believe the words. Joining the song doesn't make you join a religion or a political party. You could be singing any country's anthem. Just try singing a song for something bigger, just one time. That's the point.

  • posted by twoleftfeet at 8:08 AM on July 4, 2013


    Whitney Houston's was lip synched.

    Beyonce for real.
    posted by bukvich at 8:10 AM on July 4, 2013


    Uuuugh, the freaking SSB, can we have literally any other song as the national anthem?

    Say what you like about the SSB, it is at least better than (sorry guys) Advance Australia Fair, which sounds like it was written by a committee in 1978 who were given the task of writing something so insipid and meaningless it posed no danger of inspiring any unhealthy emotion.

    The award for the most national-anthem-iest anthem would have to go to the anthem of the USSR.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:14 AM on July 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


    As long as we're talking about changes to the national anthem that aren't ever going to happen, my vote is for some rousing version of "John Brown's Body" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", both of which have always made me feel more patriotic than any other song. The tune is a really solid march, singable by all, and the words themselves (at least in my preferred version) are a reflection of a time when heroes went out to save the nation and change its course for the better. (Which really misrepresents the civil war greatly, but national anthems are generally not about Truth.)
    posted by TypographicalError at 8:17 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    On a whim, did my own Hendrix-y (meaning... it was on an electric guitar) version yesterday. Here it is.
    posted by 3FLryan at 8:19 AM on July 4, 2013


    The other thing I like about the SSB (vs. America the Beautiful or The Battle Hymn) is that the verse we sing is nice and secular. It's nice to have one patriotic thing that's so.
    posted by muddgirl at 8:24 AM on July 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


    "O say can you see" + "I'm your mama, I'm your daddy" = Storm Large's Star Strangled Pushernoia.
    posted by ottereroticist at 8:31 AM on July 4, 2013


    Oh if we're going to change the national anthem, can I vote for This Land is Your Land?
    When the sun come shining, then I was strolling
    In wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling;
    The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting:
    This land was made for you and me.
    posted by Nelson at 8:39 AM on July 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


    Can't beat the Isaac Asimov rendition. yt

    I have hear Asimov's speaking voice in at least a dozen recorded interviews and lectures but never realized until today that he and Alan Arkin were the same guy.
    posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:42 AM on July 4, 2013


    Okay, I found the original lyrics on Wikipedia:

    To Anacreon in Heav'n where he sat in full glee
    A few sons of harmony sent a petition
    That he their inspirer and patron would be
    When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian
    Voice fiddle and flute no longer be mute
    I'll lend you my name and inspire you to boot
    And besides I'll instruct you like me to intwine
    The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine.

    So it's all about learning to drink and fuck, apparently.

    And there's five more verses, dealing with an argument between various Greek gods about whether they should teach puny humans to drink and fuck.
    posted by tommyD at 8:42 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


    • it is really, really, quite amazingly difficult to sing.

    Hundreds of millions of people sing that song all the time. GET O'ER IT, MAN
    posted by Hoopo at 8:43 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Whitest Kids U Know has the origin of the song and a beautiful rendition of the original version....

    (Warning: homophobic slurs as british troop mocks Francis Scott Key/Americans -- Not particularly keen on that part, but I can also see how it makes the sketch work -- basically a much more aggressive "yankee doodle" mockery). But mostly, pay attention for their new and improved version!
    posted by symbioid at 8:52 AM on July 4, 2013


    tommyD: "Okay, I found the original lyrics on Wikipedia:
    ...The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine.
    "

    So I'm like what's "myrtle" and looked it up and wiki says "Venus of the Myrtle, an epithet that merged the goddess with the little-known deity Murcia."

    Maybe FSK had dyslexia and thought Murcia was MURICA! So rewrote the lyrics because of that.
    posted by symbioid at 8:56 AM on July 4, 2013


    Arnold McCuller + the drums [alas, but a clip] involuntarily straightens my spine
    posted by maggieb at 9:10 AM on July 4, 2013


    "The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word 'free' to a note so high nobody can reach it." - Tony Kushner, Angels in America
    posted by Bromius at 9:11 AM on July 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


    No refuge could save the hireling and slave.

    A pretty accurate anthem for America in that period.
    posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:21 AM on July 4, 2013


    Here's our anthem.

    Strong and peaceful, wise and brave,
    Fighting the fight for the whole world to save,
    We the people will ceaselessly strive
    To keep our great revolution alive!
    Unfurl the banners! Look at the screen!
    Never before has such glory been seen!
    Oceania! Oceania! Oceania, tis for thee!
    Every deed, every thought, tis for thee!
    Every deed, every thought, tis for thee!
    Every deed, every thought, tis for thee!

    posted by Celsius1414 at 9:23 AM on July 4, 2013


    I remember reading a short story, probably one of those "3-minute mysteries," in which a guy ferrets out a Nazi or Communist spy, because he correctly assumes that the spy would have to zealously memorize all these bits of American popular culture. All he had to do was quiz people about the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner. The only one to answer correctly was the spy, because no real American goes beyond the first verse.
    posted by jonp72 at 9:43 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Best and Worst National Anthem Performances
    posted by jonp72 at 9:48 AM on July 4, 2013


    It would take about three minutes to read to the point in this thread where that story was first mentioned.
    posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:48 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    On reflection, it's truly remarkable that our country adopted this curious song of near-defeated defiance rather than the conventional "our leader's going to win!" or "everybody grab a gun!" or "we are ready to die!" or "our country ahead of everything in the world!", etc., etc. Every time Americans have to make the effort to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner", by contrast, we're really asking if our country is still OK and if we made it through the night.

    I happened to be at the Braves game last 4th of July. It's definitely possible to turn the US national anthem into a display of nationalism. It was way more uncomfortable than I ever would have expected to be at a baseball game, and I've been to a lot of baseball games. (I'm also mostly listen to baseball on the radio and was really not prepared for exactly how racist the tomahawk chop thing is.)

    Spain has solved the lyrics problem by not having lyrics (at least for now). According to Wikipedia, Bosnia's has no official lyrics either, but there are some written. I have a soft spot for the East German national anthem because it's exactly the sort of thing you'd have expected them to come up with in 1949. The tune is also interchangeable with the German national anthem, so they could keep the words when reunification happened (which they expected would be within like five years and would clearly result in everyone folding into the DDR).
    posted by hoyland at 9:56 AM on July 4, 2013


    Happy Independence Day, America! (Or is it happy 4th of July? Both names seem to be used a lot.)
    posted by Kevin Street at 10:01 AM on July 4, 2013


    I've always been a fan of this rendition by Huey Lewis and the News. Nice harmony, and not a lot of unnecessary embellishment--they start, sing the song well, and finish in around a minute.
    posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:04 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


    The Whelk: "Uuuugh, the freaking SSB, can we have literally any other song as the national anthem? I am drop dead serious, any other song. America The Beautiful. The Battle Hymn Of The Republic. Mamma Mia. The chicken dance. Anything."

    How about "This Land Is Your Land"?

    Really.

    I was listening to the kid's radio show (Saturday mornings, KDHX, 7-9 Central time) last week and they played TLIYL. Not the original Woody, but a nice clear version that was conducive to turning up in the car. SO I did.

    The twerp in the car next to me with the Ron Paul bumper stickers looked aghast.
    posted by notsnot at 10:20 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


    I'm a naturalized citizen (a long and arduous process) and so I have a pretty abiding love for the Star Spangled Banner as an expression of my feelings around what being a citizen means to me. But boy do I hate the way most anthem singers perform it. The "divas" at large events most of all. Too slow, too much embellishment, diverging too much from the melody, making it about them rather than about the anthem.

    Most female singers also choose a key that is way beyond what most people in attendance can manage, so you never get very many people singing along. I'm lucky that I get to go to hockey games sometimes where everyone sings along because the normal performers sing it straight up and with the high notes reachable. (They did a duet at opening night this year that was one of my favorite versions of the anthem. Not amazing and iconic or anything, but kind of workman-like and serviceable, and therefore enjoyable.) Having 18,000 people singing along at the best of their ability is, I think, the best way to enjoy the SSB.

    I also have to say that what muddgirl said "I don't think anything captures our underlying nature [better] than a song that asks, "Through all the fog of war and strife (real and metaphorical), is our Union still a Union?"" really resonates with me. That's a very good way to articulate my feelings too.
    posted by gemmy at 10:20 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


    Was there some comedian who sang all 4 stanzas at a baseball game, lengthening the Star Spangled Banner out to 6 or 7 minutes? I want to say it was Borat, but I don't think it was him, and I don't think whoever did it was butchering the lyrics. I looked for it on YouTube awhile back but couldn't find it. In a way it was interesting hearing all those extra lyrics.
    posted by crapmatic at 10:23 AM on July 4, 2013


    It would take about three minutes to read to the point in this thread where that story was first mentioned.

    Yes, but no true MeFite would read the entire thread before posting their slightly related comment just to check if it was a double. *BANG*
    posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:30 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


    Did he really debut it at Woodstock?

    Apparently this is a common belief, but it's not true. Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about seeing Hendrix's star-spangled debut (in public): August 16, 1968. My ticket to the show? $3.
    posted by LeLiLo at 10:36 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Matt Haimovitz does a nice acoustic cello cover specifically of the of the Hendrix version.
    posted by JiBB at 10:40 AM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


    By the time this came to my ears I had heard our National Anthem performed a hundred times. Maybe more. When Jimi played it, though, was the first time I understood it.

    Bombs, bursting in air
    Rockets, their red glare
    Our flag, yeah, still there.

    Fucking amazing, all that.

    Rock In Peace, Jimi.
    posted by mule98J at 10:44 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    It's quite a nice song to hear played by solo trumpet. When I was a kid, my uncle used to get up on the roof and play it at his house on the 4th and the whole neighborhood would go silent for the duration. Pretty heady stuff.

    I quite like the Battle Hymn of the Republic as patriotic songs go, but it is a hymn and it's probably best to not have an overtly religious song as the national anthem.
    posted by dismas at 11:04 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Like American democracy, the SSB has the highest aspirations, and the most awful execution when the average American gets involved.
    posted by blue_beetle at 11:08 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Here's our anthem.

    Um...maybe if you live in Oceania.

    I live in Eurasia. We've always been at war with Oceania. Check your privilege.
    posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:11 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


    "Like American democracy, the SSB has the highest aspirations, and the most awful execution when the average American gets involved."

    You know, I'm going to say it's almost the exact opposite. The Star Spangled Banner has high aspirations, yes - but if an average person really gives it a go, it doesn't matter if they do the song perfectly. What matters is that they believe in something beautiful and soaring, and tried their best to make it come to life.
    posted by Kevin Street at 11:17 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Of course, as far as alternate anthem options go, I'm partial to The Stars and Stripes Forever.
    posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:23 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


    How awesome would it be to have "You're a Grand Old Flag" as our anthem? Imagine the divas slowing that song down as much as possible.
    posted by muddgirl at 12:06 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I think the complaints that the SSB is too militaristic are misplaced. This isn't a song about the US going and invading some other country. This is the British attacking Baltimore. They also burned our capitol in that same war and were seizing our ships on the high seas and kidnapping our sailors before the war even started. This was the US withstanding an attack from an overbearing foreign invader. Why shouldn't the citizens of Baltimore be happy to see that Fort McHenry hadn't fallen?
    posted by Area Man at 12:09 PM on July 4, 2013


    I like how on Youtube I can just switch it off after a couple opening groans.
    posted by telstar at 12:12 PM on July 4, 2013


    I think the complaints that the SSB is too militaristic are misplaced.

    Well, Keys certainly wasn't too keen on the US going and invading some other country:
    Like many Americans, Key, a 35-year-old Washington lawyer, was fervently opposed to the war the United States, angered over violations of American sovereignty, had declared on Britain in 1812. In part, this reflected his devout Christianity, and in part, his cultural affinity with England. Most of all, Key could not abide the idea that his country would attack the British colonies in Canada — innocent third parties, in his view — to settle its grievances with Great Britain.

    After British victories on the Canadian front in the fall of 1813 forced the United States to abandon its plans to capture Montreal, he shared his delight with John Randolph, the former House representative from Virginia and his closest friend.

    “This I suppose is treason, but as your Patrick Henry said, ‘If it be treason, I glory in the name of traitor,’ ” Key wrote. “I have never thought of those poor creatures without being reconciled to any disgrace or defeat of our arms.”

    Of course, he wasn't keen on US soil being invaded either. SSB is more about "DEFENSE! DEFENSE!"
    posted by Kabanos at 12:33 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


    twoleftfeet, thanks for linking to that combined choirs version, made all the more pleasant for me was when I clicked on the link and saw Tim Sharp staring back at me, as I've sung in a choir he conducted.
    posted by grimjeer at 12:43 PM on July 4, 2013


    On reflection, it's truly remarkable that our country adopted this curious song of near-defeated defiance

    Ukraine's anthem is a defiant "Ukraine is not yet dead", apparently inspired by a similarly titled Polish national anthem. Mind you, it does eventually go on to "everybody grab a gun!" and "we are ready to die!" themes.
    posted by Kabanos at 12:45 PM on July 4, 2013


    People love to complain about the SSB, and I agree it's not that easy to sing, but I think that when sung en masse it's one of the nicest national anthems. Which makes sense -- it was a tune meant to be sung by a bunch of half-drunk guys in the backroom of the tavern. I don't think it's a song that really favors the solo singer, which makes it a shame that that is how it is usually presented.

    I definitely prefer it above the usual bruited about options -- I find _America the Beautiful_ terribly bland, and I adore _This Land Is Your Land_ as a song, but I don't think it's very anthem-y.
    posted by tavella at 1:09 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    As a landowner (my wife and I own the lot upon which our house sits), I object to This Land is Our Land. Stay out of my backyard!
    posted by Area Man at 1:26 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Rin onthe Rox can sing the Star Spangled Banner - even in a bathroom!




    ....
    And this is where I thank Mrs. Sibberson for teaching me all of the words and forcing all of her classes to SPELL THE LYRICS correctly, too!
    She was awesome!
    posted by TangerineGurl at 1:44 PM on July 4, 2013


    Area Man: "I think the complaints that the SSB is too militaristic are misplaced. This isn't a song about the US going and invading some other country. This is the British attacking Baltimore. They also burned our capitol in that same war and were seizing our ships on the high seas and kidnapping our sailors before the war even started. This was the US withstanding an attack from an overbearing foreign invader. Why shouldn't the citizens of Baltimore be happy to see that Fort McHenry hadn't fallen?"

    Isn't something that apparently encourages us to talk about "our capital", "our ships" and "our sailors" in the context of a war that took place 200 years ago just a wee bit nationalist? We're not the citizens of Baltimore in 1812, even those of us who live in Baltimore. I mean, I really don't care about the War of 1812. I'm not outraged the White House got burned. Not having much in the way of centuries old national grudges is one of pluses to this country.*

    *Though if the weird shit people say is any indication, they suddenly develop as 24 hour one against the British on the Fourth of July.
    posted by hoyland at 2:11 PM on July 4, 2013


    (Yeah, the battle was 1814. Whatever.)
    posted by hoyland at 2:12 PM on July 4, 2013


    Sing the national anthem—and try it in the key of G
    "All the good folks who've complained about the national anthem over the years—unsingable, full of war imagery—are wrong, wrong, wrong. It's magnificent. And it's not about war. It's about the survival of our flag and all that it stands for. The anthem and the flag do not belong to a particular political agenda."
    posted by 445supermag at 2:22 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Stu Hamm is one of the best rock bassists -- ever. I heard him play the SSB, solo on the bass, apparently a trademark rendition of his.

    It rivals Jimi. Okay, maybe not. but it's good.
    posted by Repack Rider at 2:24 PM on July 4, 2013


    Strange song, but Happy Birthday America.
    posted by scottymac at 2:25 PM on July 4, 2013


    A very moving rendition

    The most unique?

    Some other songs:

    The one!

    Here's a song that would make a great national anthem, even if you're agnostic - from a time gone by

    This is sung by an Estonian Choir, the only group I could find to sing it straight!
    posted by Vibrissae at 2:35 PM on July 4, 2013


    How have we gotten to 94 comments without a mention of Jim Cornelison? (Chicago Blackhawks anthem singer and fellow IU alum!)
    posted by SisterHavana at 2:48 PM on July 4, 2013


    Isn't something that apparently encourages us to talk about "our capital", "our ships" and "our sailors" in the context of a war that took place 200 years ago just a wee bit nationalist?

    You want a national anthem to not be nationalist?

    "Oh say can't you see, we shouldn't be a countree"

    "Oh Canada, wish I lived somewhere else"

    "We're not children of the fatherland, we're just singing though our nose"
    posted by tommyD at 3:01 PM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


    "This Land Is Your Land" should be the American national anthem. This is so screamingly obvious that it hardly needs restating.

    That said, 'Murrica! Fuck yeah!
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:02 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Apologies, I didn't mean to leave out my friends in the UK.

    "God (blank) the (blanking) queen
    Don't need no (blanking) queen.
    Let's move to France."
    posted by tommyD at 3:37 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


    Speaking of, shouldn't some Limey be linking to the A Night At The Opera version? If anything can compete with the Hendrix Banner, it's got to be the Queen Queen.
    posted by No-sword at 3:56 PM on July 4, 2013


    what, R. Kelly's version doesn't get any love? I remember people being really pissed about it, because of the stepping dancers, and the "everybody clap your hands" part at the end. Honestly, I can see how some people might see it as too excessive and over the top, but I think this version is pretty cool, from a musical standpoint.

    I also like Jose Feliciano's version, and I remember he caught lots of shit for that version; it practically ruined his career here in the U.S. Marvin Gaye (posted upthread) also did a hell of a job; I think that is my favorite one, out of all the different ones I've heard. I don't really agree with the idea that you can't "jazz up" or alter the national anthem, though; I think that all of those different versions show how different the song can be, and still be cool.

    and of course, the funniest "version" I've ever heard is this one by Pamela Bell!
    posted by KillaSeal at 6:44 PM on July 4, 2013


    I know the verses to Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and to America the Beautiful, but...the Star-Spangled Banner is more than one verse? For real? You sure? Dang, I gotta go learn these now.
    posted by wenestvedt at 6:58 PM on July 4, 2013


    Stu Hamm is one of the best rock bassists -- ever

    I can think of at least two things wrong with this sentence.
    posted by thelonius at 7:06 PM on July 4, 2013


    You want a national anthem to not be nationalist?

    Sure...? Someone tossed out American the Beautiful as a suggestion above. It'd be an unfortunate choice now because of the God line, but it's pretty clearly on the patriotism side of that hazy line between patriotism and nationalism. Heck, even God Bless America skips the nationalism if you strike the first lines (that don't normally get sung), though it's obviously overtly religious. This Land Is Your Land, also mentioned above, (which, let's face it, would never be a serious contender even in a hypothetical world where it was like the national anthem would be changed) doesn't explicitly mention the country at all. There are certainly countries with far more militaristic and nationalist national anthems out there (no references to 'impure blood' here) and the unused verses are just boring rather than awkward, but I prefer national anthems in the "We would like nice things to happen to our country" vein.
    posted by hoyland at 7:11 PM on July 4, 2013


    "There were one quadrillion nations in the Universe, but the nation Dwayne Hoover and Kilgore Trout belonged to was the only with the national anthem which was gibberish springled with question marks." Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
    posted by How the runs scored at 7:16 PM on July 4, 2013


    People love to complain about the SSB, and I agree it's not that easy to sing, but I think that when sung en masse it's one of the nicest national anthems. Which makes sense -- it was a tune meant to be sung by a bunch of half-drunk guys in the backroom of the tavern. I don't think it's a song that really favors the solo singer, which makes it a shame that that is how it is usually presented.

    You make an excellent point. I have done a lot of tavern singing of songs of a similar kind and age, this one included, and they are great as a group song - with one important caveat. People singing in a giant group on tavern songs don't all sing the melody. And Americans mostly only know about singing the melody. There was a time when busting out harmonies for this song that fit comfortably in the range of your own voice was an easy task for the average American, practiced on hymn singing and school choir and the like. My dad's generation is the last one I think really has this sort of thing down as a widespread skill. It can be learned, though, and I wish more people had the chance. One try a year won't do it. There is nothing like ringing that song out with a rich, resonant group of four or more different harmony lines.
    posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


    You know what's lacking in SSB? A latin phrase!
    posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:13 PM on July 4, 2013


    That's what our state songs are for. Talk about songs nobody knows.
    posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on July 4, 2013


    Well that and avoiding the part about watering the soil with impure blood.
    posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:18 PM on July 4, 2013


    Watch the Jackson 5 singing the National Anthem, the part where they get to "the rockets' red glare", and you can just see that little Michael is going to be a really big star one day.
    posted by twoleftfeet at 8:19 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


    I said milataristic, not nationalistic. If you object to the very idea of any national identity, then I don't think your issue with the SSB is really the lyrics. The sentiments of a Baltimore resident who didn't want his city sacked are not particularly objectionable when compared to other national anthems. Some of the complaining about the song seems to come from people trying to seem edgy and leftist.
    posted by Area Man at 9:51 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


    I saw Jimi's SSB on TV early one Sunday morning for some reason and minutes later heard Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" on the radio. Might have been the last time I did acid, come to think of it.
    posted by Camofrog at 10:13 PM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


    One of my favorite renditions.
    posted by CarolynG at 2:30 AM on July 5, 2013


    What bothers me most about the whole thing is not the unsingable tune, but the fact that the syntax of that first verse if so convoluted that it's very difficult to figure out what the hell is going on, especially when you are a kid. I mean, really read the thing and try to parse it.

    It seems like the anthem should have a more accessible meaning than that.
    posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 7:14 AM on July 5, 2013


    It seems like the anthem should have a more accessible meaning than that.

    I don't think it's the song itself that should change (you wouldn't change Shakespeare or Chaucer or the Declaration of Independence because they are hard to read), but perhaps the teaching of the song. It's worth learning.

    It uses a poetic or rhetorical technique called apophasis (I think) which is to name something by not directly naming it. The lines describe the thing the viewer is searching for indirectly and with descriptors, only naming it as "our flag" and then more vividly "that star-spangled banner" toward the end, as though it becomes clearer and more visible as the dawn breaks and the battle ends.

    O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
    What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
    Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
    O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
    And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
    O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    Like muddgirl, I love that it's in the form of a question to another person.
    posted by Miko at 9:07 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


    I'll say this: almost all potential national anthems are infinitely superior to Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (which is what my country-music-loving niece is playing this exact moment). I worry if it were put up to a vote what we might end up with.
    posted by dhartung at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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