Certainly with the jets flying out over the roofed stadium (viewable to the spectators inside only on TV – how American) it’s incredibly easy (and incredibly fun) to laugh at the patriotism on show at an American Super bowl. And if any American readers are insulted at a priggish British student poking fun at their great country, you only have to watch Michael Douglas’ video montage prior to the match.
A tribute to the American fighting spirit against a backdrop of Vietnam, World Wars and 9/11 footage and then a link to how the Green Bay Packers were founded by a shipping clerk (assumed good American stock) and how the Pittsburgh Steelers were named after steel that “forged this great nation,”. I shit you not. Then to top it all off how Americans watch the Super Bowl “united” and how “this is so much bigger than just a football game.”
And in a way it is, or at least it shows one side of the multi-faceted thing that is the USA. The side that does everything huge. The broadcast is 5 hours long. The mid-time show this year featured Black Eyed Peas ft. Usher and Slash. And the news coverage is massive, especially when something goes wrong.
One of the biggest talking points this time round was the superfluously long and warbled rendition of Star Spangled Banner belted out by Christina Aguilera which included a fluffed line. However she is not the first and will by no means the last. From Olympian Carl Lewis to Anastacia, many have tried and partially failed to remember the entirety of those 8 lines. Here are my top 5 and worst 5 renditions of national anthems:
Amongst the best is undoubtedly Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock doing Star Spangled Banner. Hendrix’s distorted and warped solo starts off fairly conventionally before descending into something more resembling a Sonic Youth album than anything ‘respectable’. Some say he was trying to convey the message of American destruction in the Vietnam war. Regardless, it’s Hendrix doing what he does best; making every note scream for all its worth.
Next up is a less contentious choice: Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV doing Star Spangled Banner. The classic, you might say. Later released as a charity single, Houston’s version is totally euphoric and boundless in energy. Nothing overly fancy. Just immense vocal talent.
Not many national anthems deserve recognition as actual classical gems, but Uruguay’s is an exception. At around 5 minutes long, it’s the longest national anthem in the world, rising and falling like a microcosmic symphony/opera overture.
While we’re on it, any rendition of the Italian national anthem is worth a mention. Like Uruguay’s, Italy’s is just better written than most out there. Belting out “Siam pronto alla morte/ L’Italia chiamo” (We are ready to die/Italy has called) you’re unlikely to get anything much more patriotic and surprisingly upbeat.
And last but not least we come to the Beatles doing God Save The Queen. Okay, so it was only a twenty second snippet during a 1969 rooftop gig, but still the Beatles’ practically monophonic line with a music box backing is weird, yet humorous. More importantly it’s by the Beatles. Its mere existence makes it viable for the top 5.
And now for the worst. Unrivalled in the cringe stakes is Brian May with his almost impossible to watch rendition of God Save the Queen. Standing on the roof of Buckingham Palace adding Cowell-esque variations to desperately attach as much elative feeling as possible. Yannis Philappakis of Foals called it “one of the most repugnant things I’ve ever seen.” I’d have to agree.
Next up is Roseanne Barr’s Star Spangled Banner. She was so unenthusiastic about the duty of singing a national anthem she forgot which key it was in. Maybe a purposeful botch. She hasn’t really recovered since. Even got a complaint from Bush senior.
R Kelly’s attempts at the anthem were equally catastrophic, opting to sing it in his in his sugared R n B style, prompting dancing in the boxing ring he was performing from and a shout of “clap your hands now.”. More boos than claps inevitably followed.
Sticking with the American anthem we get to another infamous classic, this time from Aerosmith’s Stephen Tyler. The flamboyant gravelled rockstar belts the first notes out fine. And being a car rally, refined is not really the style that should be attempted. However it rapidly flops as Tyler can’t really hit those high notes with any level of grace, or tune.
And finally for a rendition of the most bizarre variety from Josh Groban & Flea. In it Flea plucks away ineffectually at his bass like he’s playing with the Chilis when he’s actually with every American mum’s heartthrob, making it pretty weird to watch. In general, it’s just wrong.
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