New US National Anthem?
October 1, 2001 5:23 PM   Subscribe

New US National Anthem? Slate's Dialogue this week is about alternatives to "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the US national anthem. Should we keep it? If we replaced it, what should we replace it with?
posted by kirkaracha (57 comments total)
"Welcome to the Jungle", of course.
posted by Hackworth at 5:26 PM on October 1, 2001

I'm not a big fan of the current impossible-to-sing anthem, but I think we're stuck with it because of the flag still being there after bombs bursting in air stuff. I vote for "America the Beautiful," specifically the Ray Chales gospel version, an I like how it passes the Casablanca test.

One of the Slate writers recommends "This Land is Your Land," but I think it's too dippy for a national anthem.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:27 PM on October 1, 2001

It sure as hell won't be "God bless America" as we would offend the agnostics/athiests/polytheists. The current one leaves god out of it (at least the first verse I know).
posted by revbrian at 5:31 PM on October 1, 2001

If you can get the original lyrics to This Land, you will notice that a line or two have been cut from the version we now have.
posted by Postroad at 5:32 PM on October 1, 2001

"God Save The Queen"?

[ ducks ]

(You've already nicked the tune for one of your songs. But no: not even the Brits like "GSTQ".)
posted by holgate at 5:33 PM on October 1, 2001

"America the Beautiful" would be a fine choice.

But "The Star-Spangled Banner" is not at all impossible to sing if you transpose it to a more reasonable key.
posted by kindall at 5:40 PM on October 1, 2001

the sex pistols version? okay.
posted by gelatinouscitizen at 5:41 PM on October 1, 2001

There is no other possible choice than "America the Beautiful." I've felt we should change it for a long time.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:48 PM on October 1, 2001

While we are at it, shouldn't we go ahead and redesign the flag and change the pledge of alligence? Did I mention the Consitution could use a little work?
posted by howa2396 at 5:50 PM on October 1, 2001

Well kindall, TSSB is a two-octave range in any key; unless you're trained, most people can't reliably traverse 2 octaves with any strength of voice, if at all. America the Beautiful would be my choice- TSSB can be ugly when sung, although a brass instrumental version- as played at the Olympics for example- can be quite stirring. But secretly, I've always envied "O, Canada"- I think, musically, it has it all over TSSB.
posted by hincandenza at 5:52 PM on October 1, 2001

I've always loved "The Star Spangled Banner." Everytime I listen to it, I get little chills, and I've never found 'America The Beautiful" to do that to me. While America is a nice song, it just doesn't have that meaning to me. I want to listen to something that can make me tear up.
posted by stoneegg21 at 5:53 PM on October 1, 2001

I've always been fond of the plaintive, soul-baring "Rump Shaker" by Wreckx-n-Effects.
posted by Karl at 5:54 PM on October 1, 2001

stoneegg21 - I'm with you on this. Still get the hair on the back of my neck standing up. That never happened until I knew the story behind the writing of the lyrics.
posted by revbrian at 5:57 PM on October 1, 2001

Good Lord. Let's all imagine baseball games starting with a singing of "This Land is Your Land."
posted by argybarg at 6:00 PM on October 1, 2001

actually, one of the comments about Star Spangled Banner is that it spans a twelfth, which is a wider range than most people can sing.

what is a twelfth? well, here's a quick definition of an octave (encyclopedia britannica, intro only). what the kids sing in the Sound of Music - doe, a deer, etc.? they go thru an octave. a twelfth goes 4 notes above that. it's a big reach. aim for a key where the low note is comfortable, and the high note will be hard to get. aim for the high note, and miss the low one.

I've been curious about this for a while - after all, as noted in the conversation, SSB has only been the anthem, officially, since 1931. (the flag goes back considerably further - given that it's the one Key was writing about in 1812.) personally, I go for either America the Beautiful - happy, peaceful, no god/war, written by a woman! - or This Land is Your Land - gotta be true to my lefty roots. :) (and it makes me tear up, too.)

but I doubt it will change. too many would freak out too much.

now, about that pledge of allegiance....
posted by epersonae at 6:00 PM on October 1, 2001

What about those songs that America actually wrote? I vote for "Horse with No Name."
posted by shinybeast at 6:05 PM on October 1, 2001

Another pseudo-sarcastic, hopefully humorous suggestion:
"Kicker Of Elves" by Guided By Voices
posted by noisemartyr at 6:15 PM on October 1, 2001

...and the band America is from the U.K.
posted by noisemartyr at 6:16 PM on October 1, 2001

Leave it as it is. America the Beautiful is insipid and cloying, and the "God shed his grace on thee" part always makes me think of fleas.
posted by rushmc at 6:18 PM on October 1, 2001

"Rock Me Like a Hurricane"

...would be my first choice.
posted by mathowie at 6:27 PM on October 1, 2001

"One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces " by Ben Folds Five
posted by jcterminal at 6:29 PM on October 1, 2001

Let's see; TSSB, GBA, GSTQ... how about U.N.I.T.Y. ?

Gotta let'em know.

Plus, Mathowie, isn't "Rock You Like a Hurricane" the rock anthem of one of the most successful rock bands to ever come out of Eastern Europe.
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 6:41 PM on October 1, 2001

The Ray Charles version of "America the Beautiful" should be played before every major national sporting event. So it's tops in my book. Otherwise, my pick for an anthem would be Otis Redding's "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)." It's a happy song (really) about nothing, really, with a chorus taken from a game show or cigarette ad, one. Can't remember, exactly. But it's the sound of freedom.
posted by raysmj at 6:42 PM on October 1, 2001

Mahnamahna. Or maybe "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel.
posted by bargle at 6:45 PM on October 1, 2001

I'm not a big fan of the current impossible-to-sing anthem, but . . .

Well, if easy to sing is our criteria, we might as well make Row-Row-Row-Your-Boat our nation anthem. As far as I know, no one has taken it yet and pretty much everyone over three has already got the words down.
posted by leo at 7:01 PM on October 1, 2001

Star Spangled banner rules. It is a great "f-u" type thing. It's like "yeah, there's bombs and all this other crap but the flippin' flag is still there!" It was especially stirring after I visited the real Fort McHenry.

Plus sporting events would be at a loss without the huge cheer and/or whistling at the pretty girl who's singing (see Skins/Chargers week one - I was there) between "land of the free"..."home of the brave".
posted by owillis at 7:54 PM on October 1, 2001

I always thought "Shook Me All Night Long" should be the National Anthem. I think we should leave it as is, even though its hard to sing, I prefer it over America The Beautiful...
posted by black8 at 7:56 PM on October 1, 2001

"Great Balls of Fire"?

No wait, I got a better one....

"US Forces" (Midnight Oil)

US Forces give the nod
It's a setback for your country
Bombs and trenches all in rows
Bombs and threats still ask for more
Divided world the CIA
They do control the issue
You leave us with no time to talk
You can write your own assessment

Sing me songs of no denying
Seems to me too many trying
Waiting for the next big thing

Will you know it when you see it
High risk children dogs of war
Now market movements call the shots
Business deals in parking lots
Waiting for the meat of tomorrow

Sing me songs...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:04 PM on October 1, 2001

Now I know why Islands in the Stream has been playing in my head for a while. I even posted the lyrics at MeTa.

Only down side is that it was written by Aussies.
posted by tamim at 8:04 PM on October 1, 2001

I reckon it should be The Children Are Our Future.
posted by Neale at 8:12 PM on October 1, 2001

...and the band America is from the U.K.

No they're not, they're good ole American army brats.

For the record, "America the Beautiful" is a crap song. "Look how pretty it is here!" Sheesh, send a postcard or something. I'm with Oliver.

But wait. Why is there a national song anyway? Who came up with that concept? Why not have a national dance, a national posture, a national scent, a national facial expression? Aren't these all equally (il)logical?
posted by rodii at 8:13 PM on October 1, 2001

Holy Aussie thread hijack, Batman!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:14 PM on October 1, 2001

Well, for once I find myself in agreement with Ms. Ten Pounds Of Sincerity In A Five Pound Bag, herself, Joan Baez, and vote for America The Beautiful. Especially when there's on line tablature in a weird variant of Open C and standard tuning. And, to drive the Falwell faction nutso, the lyrics were written by a lesbian. And as Ms. Baez noted, it's in C and doesn't require a three octave range. It's something we all can sing--can't get more inclusive than that. And that last verse..
posted by y2karl at 8:20 PM on October 1, 2001

Born in The USA! Springsteen has a few to choose from, and all are pretty easy to sing along with.
posted by BlueScreen at 8:21 PM on October 1, 2001

"...a national facial expression?"

there is. usually accompanied by a middle finger.
posted by jcterminal at 8:24 PM on October 1, 2001

no wait, that's new jersey, my bad.
posted by jcterminal at 8:25 PM on October 1, 2001

BlueScreen - have you ever actually listened to that song? The lyrics aren't exactly the patriotic drivel that I'm assuming you think they are.

(Of course, if you are aware of that, then I withdraw my snarky comment. I might vote for that song too, if I actually had a vote, and if I hadn't been so annoyed the first time 'round by buzz-cut frat boys pumping their beer-slick fists in the air and bellowing 'Bown In Da YooEssAyyy' whenever possible, resolutely missing the bittersweet point of the freaking song...

*takes a breath*)

jcterminal : I was going to go for a national posture, but I left my flame-retardant suit at the cleaners....
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:30 PM on October 1, 2001

Based on the average person's rendition of "Happy Birthday", I don't think relative singability is a very important criterion for choosing a national anthem. No matter what the selection, out of the mouth of the average citizen, it'll still still be a study in atonal moaning.

I think we could do a lot worse than the 'ol Banner, it sounds damn fine with enough fireworks at the end.

But imagine standing up, putting your hand over your heart and singing "Yellow Submarine"...THAT would be cool!
posted by groundhog at 8:30 PM on October 1, 2001

Blue: Sure, a song about a disillusioned Vietnam vet. "Nebraska," similarly, is a motherlode. There's that peppy song about the Starkweather killings, then the one which tells the story of a guy about to be killed in Atlantic City. Also, the nerve-wracked guy in "State Trooper" asking "somebody out there" to "deliver me from nowhere." Those would work. Sing along, everybody.
posted by raysmj at 8:33 PM on October 1, 2001

There are two reasons I would prefer to change our national anthem.

First, the music for the "Star Spangled Banner" is actually an old English drinking song. Francis Scott Key wrote the words but used a tune that already existed.

Second is the gawdawful third verse.

On the other hand, I think the music for "America the Beautiful" is far better, and there's nothing in the lyrics I feel ashamed of.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:40 PM on October 1, 2001

I also wish we would use "America the Beautiful". In the right circumstances, it can be the trigger for tears.

The original tune of our current anthem was intended for groups of serious amaetur singers (choral societies). The range is one that takes some training to get evenly.

One of the problems with the public's singing of the current anthem, is that the general public only knows the words, and has at best a vague idea of the tune.

I have a recording of the original text, "To Anachreon in Heaven" (for the curious, its by The Hilliard Ensemble, and the recording is titled "The Singing Club, and is on the Harmonia Mundi label). When I have played the track to the "general public", they get curious looks on their faces. Something about it is familiar, but they can't really say what. So the tune, without the expected words or without the contextual cues (start of the ball game), is not recognized by many.

Organizer: The New England Rubbish Deconstruction Society; The NERDS The first american team to participate in Junkyard Wars.
posted by rjnerd at 8:55 PM on October 1, 2001

I'm in favor of Talking Heads' The Big Country. Imagine the schoolchildren:

I wouldn't live there if you paid me.
I couldn't live like that, no siree!
I couldn't do the things the way those people do.
I couldn't live there if you paid me to.

posted by argybarg at 8:57 PM on October 1, 2001

Whatever we choose, I say we select Celine Dion to sing it.
posted by dogmatic at 9:02 PM on October 1, 2001

Bad news... "Row Row Row Your Boat" has already been taken by Cuba.
posted by shinybeast at 9:08 PM on October 1, 2001

i'm thinkin 'wang chung' by ... wang chung.

'everybody have fun tonight!
everybody wang chung tonight!'

hell yeah.
posted by aenemated at 9:25 PM on October 1, 2001

'everybody have fun tonight!
everybody wang chung tonight!'

Sorry, that anthem is taken by Maury Povich.
posted by kindall at 9:41 PM on October 1, 2001

Well, at least there's still "She Talks To Me With Her Body" by the Bar-Kays. I spose that'll do.
posted by leo at 9:51 PM on October 1, 2001

Every fifty years or so, all the countries of the world should put their anthems in a hat, and the leader of each country would have to go and pick one, and that would be the anthem for the next half-century.

We might get La Marseillaise, or La Bayamesa, or who knows. It'd be fun!
posted by fidelity at 9:52 PM on October 1, 2001

"Bad news... "Row Row Row Your Boat" has already been taken by Cuba."

THAT brought a tear to my eye.
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 11:01 PM on October 1, 2001

actually, only the first verse of America the Beautiful is about how pretty the country is. There are 8 verses to the song (though a couple of the verses are minor variants on earlier ones). This is my favorite verse:

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
posted by meep at 3:29 AM on October 2, 2001

The Marsellaise is the best national anthem ever in my opinion, especially as they make it rhyme by adding 'uh' onto the end of each line. As for the UK national anthem, I think Kylie Minogue's 'Spinning Around' should be adopted, and the pop princess herself should replace the royal family as head of state of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. Think of the frocks.
posted by Summer at 3:44 AM on October 2, 2001

Umm.. Barney? "I love you, you love me...?"
posted by Perigee at 5:11 AM on October 2, 2001

as long as we don't choose that god-awful Lee Greenwood song....
posted by brand-gnu at 8:09 AM on October 2, 2001

America the Beautiful is a pretty song, but I don't like it as a national anthem. Someone above pointed out that "God Bless America" won't work cuz of the "god" part - well, please note ATB has a fair amount of "god" in it too. That doesn't sit well with me. And overall, ATB is a little too sugary, too Oprah-Remembering-Your-Spirit.
posted by dnash at 8:39 AM on October 2, 2001

NPR over the weekend ran a piece about Irving Berlin and God Bless America. Seems for a while (I think in the 30s and early 40s) wanted it as the national anthem, as it was "easier to sing and remember the lyrics to."

I remember the piece because according to NPR, the reasons the opponents gave was the while the SSB was written by an American "born in the United States, of American parents", Irving Berlin was "a Jew, born in Russia". Sheesh.

I guess that the controversy ended when Berlin himself said that the country can only have one national anthem, and that it could not be changed
posted by rshah21 at 2:32 PM on October 2, 2001

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Egad, the doggerel!!
posted by rushmc at 4:37 PM on October 2, 2001

Oak, Ash & Thorn have a dandy downloadable MP3 of them doing To Anacreon in Heaven.

I have to be honest. It's unsingable but TSSB is great. ATB is nice in the right place but smarmy and uncharismatic. GBA is perfect for the national period of mourning we've just been through. And to my complete surprise, for the very first time in my life, I liked Lee Greenwood singing God Bless the USA (Proud to be an American) at Yankee Stadium during that event -- perhaps the association with a world-class city of obvious diversity, rather than, say, a NASCAR audience, helped.
posted by dhartung at 9:15 PM on October 2, 2001

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