Be not jealous of these honest fellows
June 1, 2003 11:44 AM   Subscribe

The origins of the Star-Spangled Banner may come as a surprise to many Americans. The tune was originally that of an old English drinking song about a gentlemen's club, the Anacreontic Society. Of course, the words may have changed, but the song remains the same. Thanks to Adbusters for the spark.
posted by majcher (12 comments total)
That last link is supposed to point here, of course.
posted by majcher at 11:45 AM on June 1, 2003

"This Land Is Your Land" lifts its tune, verbatim, from "When The World's On Fire", a tune recorded by the Carter Family (although they probably did not write it).
posted by skwm at 12:47 PM on June 1, 2003

ps: "When The World's On Fire" can be heard in glorious, shimmering RealAudio format here.
posted by skwm at 12:52 PM on June 1, 2003

I read somewhere that Eminem's 'The Real Slim Shady' was lifted from an old Winston Churchill speech.
posted by HTuttle at 3:25 PM on June 1, 2003

our national anthem.

three words:
posted by 11235813 at 3:30 PM on June 1, 2003

Damn... old English drinking song, you say?

If only it had been French. >:o)
posted by Blue Stone at 4:39 PM on June 1, 2003

English drinking songs are the origins of hundreds of tunes shich you wouldn't think for a second were originated that way. Just goes to show you that drinking English do a lot of singing.
posted by tomplus2 at 4:44 PM on June 1, 2003

Or that the singing English do a lot of drinking, one or the other...
posted by majcher at 6:44 PM on June 1, 2003

If you look at the lyrics of the original, I'm impressed that so many members of the Anacreon Club were so highly functional drunks. Try singing THOSE while slurring your words.

Also check out Negativland's "Our National Anthem" on their album Free for an interesting deconstruction of "The Star-Spangled Banner", with references to "Anacreon in Heaven."
posted by Vidiot at 9:02 PM on June 1, 2003

It's not that big a secret; I had a piano music book in my youth that had both the anthem and Anacreon lyrics. Also, speaking of my youth, the First Brigade Band civil-war music group {where the lyrics are cited} formerly did annual concerts at an art fair my father organized in a previous job. The members are not only all professional-quality musicians with (sometimes obsolete) instruments, they also maintain impeccable reproduction costumes and perform at many re-enactments.

It should also be noted that Francis Scott Key composed a poem entitled The Defence of Fort McHenry, which was later set to the music of a popular tune and called The Star Spangled Banner. In those days there was not much that separated British and American culture and probably few people thought of the song as distinctly "British", nor would such an association be something that was popularly shunned. It was just a drinking song that a lot of people knew.

On that note let me say that sitting in a bar with music blaring, while trying to have an abbreviated, yelled conversation, is something less of an experience than singing with friends.

The traditional a capella group Oak Ash & Thorn have an absolutely wonderful interpretation of To Anacreon in Heav'n [mp3]. (I've looked; there's none better. These guys sound like they're having fun, which is the point.)

majcher, you should have saved this until September 13, the 199th anniversary!
posted by dhartung at 11:35 PM on June 1, 2003

Haven't heard Oak Ash & Thorn yet, but I was in an a capella group that also did what I think was an absolutely wonderful version of the original song.

Our national anthem's patchwork - somewhat Frankenstein-esque - history is evident in many ways, not least that the opening question ends in a downward melody, sounding like a table-pounding definitive statement.

There are also scansion problems, of course. I was reading "Ramona the Pest" to my kindergartner, in which Ramona mishears the phrase "the dawn's early light" as "the dawnzer lee light." I realized my daughter didn't get the joke, because as dedicated pinko anti-Americans, we had never spent time singing the national anthem around the house, and she's never been to a baseball game. So I stopped reading and sang her the song to give her the background. When I came to the line "the bombs bursting in air," with its godawful accent on "the," I emphasized that a little and she burst out laughing. When I was finished, she absolutely refused to believe that this absurd song was our national anthem.

Unfortunately, it is.
posted by soyjoy at 9:23 AM on June 2, 2003

I learned this in Washington DC, at Smithsonian's own exhibit of the original flag. Great little site about the history of the banner itself, I might add.
posted by Down10 at 11:37 AM on June 2, 2003

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