Who really botched the anthem at the Super Bowl

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Who really botched the national anthem

America, we need to talk.

It's been the elephant in the room for a while. It's awkward. It's uncomfortable. And it's inescapable. I'm talking about our national anthem.

After Christina Aguilera, who has confessedly been singing this since she was 7, memorably flubbed the lyrics at the Super Bowl, it's a good occasion to point out what an utter miscalculation this song is. It is a botch of nature. It combines the tune of a drinking song - "To Anacreon in Heaven" - with some of the most bizarre and dated lyrics ever attached to any song. Force a crowd to sing it, and you get the musical equivalent of a party you send to climb a mountain that loses a couple of guys in the first pass and a couple more in the next pass and finally comes straggling back to camp, irredeemably broken in spirit, having eaten Jeff.

Anyone who even casually glances at our national anthem cannot escape the conclusion that it is in no way - how shall I put this - singable?

If you strayed across this tune, you would assume that it required years of training to hit any of the notes with any consistency. You would be right. Then you would look at the lyrics and think, "This seems oddly specific! What a bizarre relic from the War of 1812." You would be right again.

At best, listening to someone sing the national anthem is barely palatable. At worst, it is history's most unbearable song, including "Baby" by Justin Bieber and the Aqua classic "Barbie Girl."

And there is a reason for this. Singers, especially the ones whom people ask to sing at large events, have a tendency to gussy up songs. They add notes seemingly at random, subtract other notes, bounce their voices up and down, and hold other notes long enough for Abraham Lincoln to deliver the entire Gettysburg Address. Many songs can handle this.

Then there's "The Star-Spangled Banner."

It's not only that the tune is terrible. It's that it's unoriginal. I can understand that, back in 1812, there were maybe three lyricists and no working composers in America, but this is no longer the case. So why do we have to keep this ungodly anthem, which makes even the best singer on earth sound like she swallowed a demonically possessed cat? Are we being quaint? Are we being ironic? Is it just that we take pleasure in watching Christina Aguilera fail - but not enough to make us pay for tickets to "Burlesque"?

It's more than the tune. The only original part of the song, the lyrics, are even worse. In case you don't remember them (be honest, you probably don't), here they are:

O, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?

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