Seattle native Ann Wilson of the rock band Heart sang the national anthem at the NFC Championship game between the 49ers and the Seahawks and drew mixed reactions. I love Heart and especially Ann’s brazen voice, but have to admit she went a lil’ sour when she sang “the land of the free.”
It was as if she decided to go somewhere vocally and halfway there, she realized it was a wrong turn and took a hasty detour. Still, overall, I liked the rock ’n’ roll attitude she infused into Francis Scott Key’s tune.
At least she got the words right.
I was at an Oakland Raiders game years ago and singer/actress Lainie Kazan was about to sing it and I noticed she was holding (gasp!) lyric cheat sheets! Then she compounded that faux pas by screwing up the words anyway. Raider Nation booed her lustily.
Of course, the worst-ever rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” has to be Roseanne Barr’s 1990 screech-fest before a San Diego Padres game.
The best, cited by many, was the late Whitney Houston’s superb version sang before Super Bowl XXV in 1991. It was delivered sweetly, powerfully and yet with appropriate understatement, using the exquisite and now tragically silenced instrument Houston possessed.
My favorite rendition was performed by U.S. Army veteran James Marshall Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969. The dynamic, feedback-drenched instrumental version he coaxed out of his Stratocaster just, well, strikes a chord with this old-school rocker.
As a first-grader at Camp Allen Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., I was taught the words and melody of the song. What was not taught to me was what the heck the song was about.
In September 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem called “Defence of Fort M’Henry” during the War of 1812. It actually has four stanzas, but the familiar first one is all most Americans know. In brief, the first stanza is about seeing the American flag fly over the ramparts, or protective walls, of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore.
One of the more interesting lines is in the third verse that mentions slavery: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.” That almost sounds like an early Black Sabbath lyric.
Anyway, the poem that Key wrote was ironically set to the tune of a popular British drinking song and, by an act of Congress in 1931, became the official national anthem of the United States.
I know there are some who do not like when singers “jazz it up,” but to me that’s fine as long as it is not overdone. I don’t like different arrangements, though. I prefer singers just sing the traditional freakin’ tune and swing a beer stein back and forth if they must.
What’s more important to me is not the singer, but how those present behave when it is sung.
A few months ago, I was working at the Armijo High School snack bar during a football game and when the national anthem was sung before the varsity contest, I was irritated by a gaggle of moronic, giggling teenage girls who desperately needed to do a Google search for the word “respect.”
I was taught that when the national anthem is sang or played, you stand, remove any headgear, face the flag and place your right hand over your heart. If you are a member of the armed forces – active duty or retired – you give a military salute at the first note and hold it until the last.
The only time I didn’t stand during the national anthem was when the TV used to sign off at midnight and play it. I must confess, I thought it was kinda silly to stand at the Travis Air Force Base Theater as a kid while it was played before watching “The Pink Panther.”
Now, though, I enjoy sometimes catching the national anthem blasting over Travis’s loudspeakers, nicknamed “The Giant Voice,” every day at 16:30 (4:30 p.m.). It is an instrumental version and has no bum notes, no forgotten words, and it sweetly, and in a rather surreal way, seems to come from the sky.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].