The Star-Spangled Banner was not America’s first National Anthem. That honor goes to Eye Of The Tiger, which–and you might not know this–was written in 1771 by Ben Franklin. (That guy really was good at everything.) In March of 1782, the Anthem switched over to a tune called Flagons Of Port And Fuck You, which contained the immortal lines:
Don’t be fancy
Blow me, Nancy
Ride in freedom’s toboggan.
It was quickly abandoned due to making no sense even for the 18th century.
In 1814, the War of 1812 was going on; 1813 felt very left out. The British Navy was shelling Fort McHenry on their way to take the city of Baltimore. A lawyer named Francis Scott Key witnessed the artillery barrage and did what anyone would do in the middle of a firefight: he wrote a poem about a flag. And not just any flag – a remarkably persistent one. In a way, Francis Scott Key stole the theme of his poem from The Cat Came Back. In another way, he didn’t.
Key’s poem was entitled “The Star-Spangled Banner;” it had four verses originally, because no one in the 19th century could write with any brevity, and they’re all terrible. Look at this bullshit:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
A national anthem can’t have the word “hireling” in it. That’s a rule; it’s in the Bible. Ezekiel, or maybe Judges. Also: vauntingly? Kiss my balls, Francis Scott Key. Get that weak shit out of here.
After a few years, the poem got married to a melody from an English drinking song, at which point it became a perfectly American artifact: stolen, and about blowing shit up. In 1899, the Navy started playing the ditty at official gatherings, followed by other agencies and then President Wilson had the band play it while he purged all the blacks out of the civil service, and finally in 1931–having no other pressing matters to attend to–Congress passed a bill naming The Star-Spangled Banner the official anthem, and Hoover signed it into law.
Since then, the song has been performed well maybe a dozen times. Whitney Houston did a good job, and so did Marvin Gaye; other than that, it’s dire. The melody stretches over an octave-and-a-half and everyone begins at too high a pitch, so they’re screeching by the end. PLUS the lyrics are written in backwards-talking poet-ese (looking at you, “o’er”) AND it’s too damn long even if you speed through it, let alone the high-stake melismatics that the pop stars feel the need to throw in there that elongates the tune to a length that might only be described as Dark Staresque ALSO it’s just all about war, maaaaaaan.
We’ve got better songs to be the anthem:
- America the Beautiful.
- My Country, Tis of Thee.
- Livin’ in America. (Tough because of the lyrics. I know there’s a line about superhighways going coast-to-coast, but other than that it’s just James Brown making James Brown noises.)
- Monster Mash. (Follow my logic: What says America? Halloween. What says Halloween? America. Also–and I feel like people forget this all the time–that tune was a graveyard smash. Despacito is a big hit, but is it a graveyard smash? No. Therefore, Monster Mash should be the National Anthem. Ipso facto and QED.
- Whatever that Serge Gainsbourg number where it sounds like his girlfriend is having an orgasm is called.