Why the US national anthem is terrible — and perfect

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Published on 4 Jul 2018, 12:00
Vox's Estelle Caswell and Joss Fong debate "The Star Spangled Banner"

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When Francis Scott Key attached his poem about the War of 1812 to a popular British song called "To Anacreon in Heaven," he kicked off over 200 years of painfully bad singing by patriotic Americans. The Star Spangled Banner became the official national anthem of the United States in 1931, but it had been used by the Army and Navy for decades before that and was popular from the start. One big problem? The melody wasn't exactly written for the masses, but for trained soloists.

Commentators pointed out early on that it was exceedingly difficult for most people to sing, suggesting that "America the Beautiful" might be a better alternative. Critics have noted that the music requires a uniquely wide vocal range, it's full of tricky intervals, and the lyrics are confusing and uninspiring.

But if you look at the national anthem as a sport, where we get to watch performers at the top of their game tackle the gauntlet that is the Star Spangled Banner, you may come to appreciate it. In this video, we debate whether the difficulty of the Star Spangled Banner is a feature or a bug for a national anthem.

Further reading:

Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America's National Anthem amazon.com/Star-Spangled-Banne...

Star Spangled Music: starspangledmusic.org

Slate: Proudly Hailed slate.com/articles/arts/music_...

Emily Cope: medium.com/@emilybcope/music-t...

Some songs don't just stick in your head, they change the music world forever. Join Estelle Caswell on a musical journey to discover the stories behind your favorite songs.

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