A few things first…
Here’s the Anthem’s lyrics. Yeah, let me know if your eyes don’t roll back in your head and make the sockets bleed reading them. Also note, the poem was written as “The Defense of Fort McHenry”…not exactly a big event by the time the anthem was adopted in 1931.
Wait–for the music, those aren’t the actual lyrics. Those are here. To create the Star Spangled Banner, they ripped off the song, To Anacreon in Heaven. Basically, it’s an English society/beer-drinking song. Yes, you read that right. The U.S. National Anthem is a pub/drinking song from London.
So, we go back to 1931 and the decision to have an official anthem. Nevermind that we have the Great Depression underway and a lot of serious issues to deal with, we have a debate on what should be the anthem and Congress INTENTIONALLY chose the worst option for a national anthem, a paean to war and the cheap symbolism of a flag…not to mention the U.S. getting it’s butt kicked throughout the War of 1812. I assure you, there were much, much, much better choices available for a song toportray the US as what Reagan later called ‘The City Upon the Hill’ that were also much more sing-able.
#1: Also written originally as a poem called ‘Pike’s Peak’ by Katherine Bates, it was put to music in 1910 and given a new title, “America the Beautiful.”
One of the people most associated with the song for many, many years was blues artist Ray Charles:
Can you really dispute which is a more beautiful song?
#2: I suppose you don’t need lyrics for an anthem (it has them, don’t worry…they are in the video about a minute in)–in which case you’ve got John Philip Souza’s 1896, “Stars and Stripes Forever”. As of 1987, this is the national march, but does that mean anything to anyone? Really? That’s basically an admission of “Hey, this should be the anthem, but we don’t want to change the one now, so here, be the National March.”
#3: Written during a different war in 1918, Irving Berlin composed “God Bless America” to inspire patriotism as US soldiers fought in Europe. The lyrics are here.
The singer associated with the song for 50+ years was Kate Smith. This is her singing it 1974 when she was in old age. So why this video? Because the Flyers didn’t play the anthem before games–they had Smith come out and sing “God Bless America” instead. How many of you reading this can remember an American sporting contest where the anthem wasn’t turned into a big puffy show of faux-patriotism? Exactly. And you know what? In 1974, *everyone* was totally fine with this.
#4: Another alternative available came from 1831, a century before the U.S. selected a national anthem. Indeed, it served as an unofficial anthem at United States official ceremonies for a century. The song is “My Country ’tis of Thee.” There’s a small problem with the song though. Just as the “Star Spangled Banner” ripped off music, so, too did this. The tune for “My Country ’tis of Thee” happens to be the British anthem “God Save the Queen” (until QE2 dies in which case it’ll become ‘King’ instead)
All of these songs were available and yet we chose the Star Spangled Banner. The lesson to take from this? Congress and the government can screw up everything.
Okay, today was the start of silly-season for me as a coach. That means the history-related stuff will slow down a bit. I figure you’ll see something every couple of weeks. If you like this stuff, spread the word, tell people, hit ‘Follow‘…or send me cash. Cash is preferred, honestly, but I understand if you want to stick with spreading the word.